Google sent me junk mail to drum up ad business

Commentary: You think Google is the world's most sophisticated online ad company? So why is it using junk mail -- via snail mail -- to get ad business?

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Does online advertising not work as well as it might?

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

My mailbox isn't what it used to be.

These days, I wander out to it, believing that it will likely contain some magazines I forgot to cancel, a book from Amazon that the mailman managed to squeeze inside and a fair smattering of junk mail.

On Monday, though, there was something truly strange.

Yes, it was junk mail. But it was junk mail from Google. 

"Get your business to show up on Google," said the headline on the front. 

As if this wasn't enough to excite me, beneath were the words: "You might be surprised at the number of people in Sausalito who are searching Google for exactly what you have to offer."

Exactly what I have to offer? Oh, you mean my genial sense of bonhomie and encyclopedic knowledge of the Golden State Warriors, circa 2002?

I was, indeed, surprised. Surprised that Google was using snail mail advertising to tell me how effective (apparently) online advertising is.

Had I been profiled as a technological Neanderthal by some grasping algorithm? It seemed like it.

When I gleefully opened up the junk mail, there was a little picture of what an ad would look like if people searched my name. Of course, the Google algorithm was using the name that's on my legal documents. 

Oddly, it seems not to know that no one, other than members of officialdom, knows me as Krzysztof Matyszczyk. The only people who'll search my name, therefore, will work for, say, the DMV. I'm not sure I'd like to advertise to them.

Still, the ad panted: "Get $150 of free credit when you spend $150." Gosh, that almost sounded like something for nothing.

I entered the entirely unmemorable URL featured on the junk mail, just to check if this was really Google. It led me to a genuine Google AdWords page that encouraged me to be seen more than I was currently.

Google makes around 90 percent of its revenue from online advertising. The use of junk mail, however, offers a curious counterpoint to its apparent effectiveness. I'm not aware of the company ever propositioning me, say, online to buy its ads, which you'd think it would know how to do. 

Google didn't respond to two requests for comment on this curious juxtaposition.

Some might argue, of course, that the behemoth uses many different media, such as TV and billboards, to advertise its wares. 

But this particular ware is its online advertising prowess, one that, some -- including governments -- say, is too powerful.

Could it be that it's not quite as powerful as people think?

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.

Special Reports: CNET's in-depth features in one place.