Man, They Got Me

I woke up this morning very happy; the weather in Boston has leaped from cold and rainy to hot, it's a holiday for most, and the Boston Marathon will commence a bit later. What's not to be happy about?

I started my morning ritual by taking my computer out of sleep mode, signing on to AOL Instant Messenger, and opening a browser to check my email. My computer suddenly became clad with almost 20 unwanted pop-ups (some dirty), my homepage had changed, and someone hacked into my AIM account and spammed me. I mean, I write about this crap all the time. Who knew they'd get me? It's quite hard to think of anything positive in online advertising and digital media when you've been victimized, too.

This weekend I was at a cookout among all non-ad folk. I think this may have been a first. For quite a while, people wanted to know about me... not my career, what board spots I have, which brand I'd launched, my opinion on the effectiveness of political advertising, whether or not I believed in CAN-SPAM, the upfronts and how it relates to online, etc. They wanted to know how I liked my chicken cooked, did I want another drink, am I warm enough or do I need a sweater from the breeze off the water... you get the drift.

All of a sudden, some tipsy and overly friendly guy comes out and wants to know everything there is to know about me. Red flag. Red flag. Of course he came to the big question, "What do you do for a living?"

This is one of the most dreaded questions I could have been asked. I simply said, "advertising." "Oh so you make TV commercials? I like the Bud ads but there are too many commercials," he said. I was happy to leave it there then one of my (non-industry friends) told him that was not what I did. Dumbfounded, he probed further. I told him I work on advertising related to the Internet. Big mistake on my part. Of course he asked what Bud did online. When I said I don't work on Bud but it is a great account, my friends started saying what a brand snob I was.

They said, "Man she doesn't even drink Bud." I thought this was funny and would steer the conversation away to a more appropriate (non ad folk) BBQ debate or a new game of Texas Hold 'Em. Of course my friends wanted me to explain what I did. For some reason they think what I do is "cool," yet strange.

After trying to simplify and dumb down online advertising, a chuckle came out of him. His revelation was none other than, "Oh you do those annoying pop-ups!" This, of course, caught the attention of the bulk of the room. Heads spun like something out of the Exorcist. No, no I'm not that girl, I thought. A conversation spread like wildfire on how pop-ups suck, online gambling, how Mapquest directions are never accurate, who has the better computer, the fastest Internet connection, the most pirated songs, cool DVDs, etc.

I won't go on. Has this happened to you? Do you sometimes wish we had a simple answer to the question, "What do you do?" I do. I decided to go online like a "typical" user. I wanted to see what they experience through an innocent (or ignorant) pair of eyes.

I was glad I chose and personalized my homepage and wondered if they could, too. I figured if they couldn't, they probably had somewhat of a localized browser or email client as they most likely entered in their zip code when registering. Or perhaps they had one of the big 300-lb gorillas as an ISP. So they probably saw the local weather and news headlines. Maybe a bit of entertainment was mixed in. I surfed on feeling a bit more positive. Bam, an unwanted pop-up came up with a tricky way to close out, too many "buddies" IMed me at the same time, my cell phone rang, Britney Spears flashed by - she has a video depicting the way she would commit suicide, - and AOL is not only promoting, but showing the full version online, damn another pop-up, what if kids see this, great, someone hacked into my AIM and gave me a virus, sh*t, I wrote about this not too long ago... how could this happen to me?

My happy morning was strangled by a defeated crusade. Many user experiences are bad. Whose responsibility is this? The ISPs, the advertisers, the technology vendors? Does this force everyone to buy software to protect their computers?

Chime in and tell me if you've had a similar experience (BBQ or not). Let me know who is responsible for this. Now, it's back to the Marathon and warm weather. My machine isn't my friend today.