Baden-Württemberg: The difficult handling of Internet advertising

Unsolicited videos, advertisements, hotel offers - online advertising is annoying.

Baden-Württemberg: The difficult handling of Internet advertising

Unsolicited videos, advertisements, hotel offers - online advertising is annoying. Often at least. Are we at her mercy? No, according to marketing expert Tropp. If only we weren't so comfortable.

Pforzheim (dpa / lsw) - One of the first words that the 20-month-old Elias spoke was: "BMW". And the kid pointed to one. Marketing professor Jörg Tropp still doesn't know why his son did this. The family drives a different brand.

"In any case, the fact is that the consumer world is cognitively networked with the living environment of a person very early on," says the communication scientist from the Pforzheim University. For him, the experience with his son was one of the triggers to get to the bottom of modern advertising.

A noticeable amount of shoe advertising after shopping for boots, annoying videos before you click on news or hotel offers in your favorite holiday destination - advertising on the Internet is everywhere. Mostly annoying, at times frighteningly accurate. How do they know all this? "Every like on Instagram, every comment on Twitter, every online purchase leaves a mark," says expert Tropp. And the user has the dull feeling of being at the mercy of unknown powers.

"Algorithms collect and combine everything they can about us to gain insights into our likes, wants, needs and intentions," he explains. In his book "Networked Seductions" he also shows that users do not have to be defenseless. With a few tricks and clicks, they could counter the temptations of the consumer industry in a more self-determined manner.

According to Tropp, the prerequisite is that consumers have the necessary knowledge to be able to distinguish information from commercial messages and are consistently careful about the information they disclose about themselves. He points out that you can install an ad blocker program (adblocker), use search engines like Metager or Startpage instead of Google and surf in privacy browsers like Brave, Epic and Tor. Even deleting cookies can have a big effect and ban the annoying liposuction advertising. Tropp emphasizes: "We don't have to allow every cookie out of convenience."

The main problem from his point of view: "We run the risk of becoming blind to commercial messages." A Stanford study of almost 8,000 young people in the US showed that they can hardly distinguish between news and advertising on the Internet. An investigation by the British media regulator Ofcom came to a similar conclusion. It doesn't look any better in Germany: According to a study by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and several state media authorities, 56 percent of those surveyed over the age of 18 thought that an editorially designed advertisement was information.

Thomas Rathgeb, Head of the Media Competence Department at the State Agency for Communication (LfK), explains it like this: When young people receive messages from friends, favorite music, games, news, classic online advertising and advertising content from influencers via the same "channel", the distinction is difficult. "Keeping an overview here and recognizing advertising is not easy given the short, image-heavy and strictly formatted offers." The media authorities offer various forms of help on the Internet. Rathgeb emphasizes that background knowledge of how social media works is necessary. Media education is still given too little attention in schools.

Marketing expert Tropp also sees a lot of catching up to do for schools. Even the youngest should be better equipped to deal with Instagram, Facebook, Google and Co. "We have to secure our consumer sovereignty," he warns.

The core of the problem is old. As early as 1957, US consumer critic Vance Packard warned of the pitfalls of advertisers in his classic "The Secret Seducers". "The attempt to turn off the will of consumers is nothing new in itself," says Tropp. What is new, however, are the undreamt-of possibilities for the advertising industry through networking on the Internet.

The Pforzheim professor does not want to demonize advertising. Rather, he pleads for a new "culture of seduction". What is needed is an attitude on the part of companies that is characterized by empathy and sustainability. "Central communicative resources such as transparency, trust and respect must no longer be used up by advertising." At the same time, consumers would have to come from the comfortable corner and implement their knowledge. Habit, laziness or lack of time: "We know a lot about advertising - and still act differently." That has to stop, says Tropp.