The eerie future of AdWords targeting
As Google continues to purchase new companies and their technologies, columnist Todd Saunders imagines how the search giant might integrate advertising into these technologies -- for good or evil.
“OK Google, tell me how creepy things are going to get.”
How would your 2006 selves respond to our advertising toolbox of today?
- You can target ads to people based on their income level who are also currently at the airport with advanced geotargeting!
- You can follow your potential customers around with the very products they looked at but decided not to buy with dynamic remarketing.
- You can trigger ads to people based on what they say inside their emails with Gmail Ads.
Much of what we internet users and advertisers deem as normal would have been considered creepy or just plain impossible 10 years ago.
With demographic targeting for search, cross-device attribution and much more rolling out this year, it’s time to ask: What’s next? What will be the new norm of 2026?
Since 2001, Google (and now its holding company, Alphabet) have acquired about one tech company per month. Some, like YouTube, have gone from media storage companies to cultural cornerstones under Google’s wing. Others have shaped the way we advertise, analyze and distribute media to new audiences. And some could be changing the future of advertising as we speak.
Even further, Google now has a huge line of Google products that could potentially access our most sensitive data within the “Internet of Things.”
Let’s throw privacy and rights to use aside for a moment, put on our tinfoil hats and have some fun. Based on Google’s current products and acquisitions, here are five good and five evil targeting techniques that could one day be coming to an AdWords dashboard near you.
1. Google’s Nest smart home devices
Google acquired home automation device company Nest Labs for $3.2 billion in January 2014. That’s twice YouTube’s price tag!
Currently, Nest has thermostat and smoke detector devices, which bring the devil and the angel to your shoulder.
Good example: Device not working or temperature fluctuating abnormally? Serve ads for discount heating repair services.
Evil example: Serve ads for home and life insurance to people who freak out when the fire alarm goes off but the internal temperature doesn’t exceed 80 degrees (false alarm!).
2. Weather targeting
Though public information doesn’t necessarily mean “use as you please and make advertising revenue off of it,” there are public data sets Google could really have some fun with. Much like dayparting, which shows your ads during certain times of the day, Google could leverage public weather APIs to allow targeting only around weather.
Why promote winter styles if New York hasn’t even gone below 40 degrees Fahrenheit?
Good example: Advertise spa weekends to people in areas where the temperature hasn’t reached above freezing for a week (shoutout to the polar vortex in the Midwest in 2013–14).
Evil example: Serve ads for house repair in areas recently ravaged by natural disasters.
3. The robots are listening
Google recently launched Google Home, a device similar to Amazon’s Alexa that’s meant to help you complete daily tasks and Google search random stuff.
What makes these devices tick?
They’re always listening.
So, coming to a creepy device near you, eavesdrop retargeting. Forget standard remarketing where users show active interest in your products or services. Any time your brand is mentioned, you could send users coupons or discounts on future purchases.
Honestly, I’m not so convinced that this doesn’t already exist. Reddit concurs.
The good and the evil examples here are kinda obvious. What other menacing or user-friendly uses can you think of?
4. Fitness tracking… or health level targeting?
Perhaps I’m a bit of a cynic, but removing data privacy from health data gathered from Android-connected smart watches has the most powerful advertising potential and definitely the most devious.
Good example: Someone just took up running. Let’s send them ads for more gear to keep them going or downloadable content for training plans!
Evil example: Tempt people with tasty local food ads after they’re done working out. Segment audiences based on their resting heart rate. Did someone say segmenting by users with a pacemaker? I did. I’m not proud.
5. Chromecast behavioral targeting
Facebook is able to target people’s interests in specific media much more effectively than Google. That is, until Google starts tapping into Chromecast data gathered.
You can identify which shows some users like and put them into interest targeting groups for search and display ads.
I’d also be interested in serving ads on mobile to people using their Chromecast. Overall daily media consumption is accelerating because many people use devices while watching TV.
Major audience segments could be:
- hours spent watching TV per day;
- genres of shows;
- platforms subscribed to;
- or you could show ads directly on Chromecast during shows.
Good example: A user just watched a horror flick on Chromecast, and their heart rate is elevated — it may be a good time to send them products for the risk-averse, like home security systems or insurance. Help them feel better!
Bad example: Serving ads on the Chromecast interface. I think this would be terrible, but it affords Google the ability to place video ads on platforms that aren’t YouTube. I hope this doesn’t happen, and I don’t think it will.
So, am I crazy?
Looking at Google’s past, I might not be. Google has brought its ads infrastructure to new products before. Waze, the live-navigation platform acquired in June of 2013, launched its ad platform earlier this year with strong results for early advertisers.
Similarly, YouTube went from acquired by Google in 2006, to bringing in “non-material” revenue in 2007, to doubling its estimated ad revenue to $5.6 billion, according to eMarketer. In fact, TechCrunch called Google’s YouTube acquisition the greatest digital media acquisition of all time.
It’s apparent that when Google acquires various platforms and products, they quickly turn a profit by bringing their ads infrastructure to the table. So I have two questions:
- Why not?
- Do you know what’s coming next?
Join the discussion on Twitter! Todd Saunders @ToddSaunders and Search Engine Land @SEngineLand.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.