06 April 2018

Contextual advertising

This is slightly amusing. I have been reading a paperback collection* of stories by Karen Blixen (author and heroine of Out of Africa), translated from Danish to German.

The first story is about the fictional de Cats family, set in 19th century Amsterdam. The de Cats are wealthy and influential, and have for generations been noted for their marked virtuousness, good works etc, but in every generation they have one particularly black sheep. When the current black sheep, Jeremy de Cats, returns to Amsterdam to turn over a new leaf and begins to behave blamelessly, the other de Cats inexplicably start to behave badly, and they realise that their virtuousness is somehow fated always to require one black sheep. After some abortive efforts, they decide to offer Jeremy a princely annual sum to return to his wicked ways. The offer is accepted, with the result that things go back to normal, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

Just after the point when the offer is made, near the end of the story, you turn the page and, instead of the expected continuation of text, the entire left page is occupied by an advert for Pfandbriefe (bonds issued by commercial banks):

A fortune ... in return for the promise to do nothing useful. Sadly, offers of this kind are nowadays quite rare.

So don’t bother waiting for one; do something that is useful. Consider the possibility of other, equally pleasant ways of increasing your wealth.

I don’t recall coming across an advert in the middle of a book before. The edition is from 1989 (publisher: Rowohlt). Perhaps this is still done occasionally in German paperbacks.

The notion of an advert linked specifically to the text next to which it occurs is intriguing. We see a version of this with TV ads: watch a movie set in France, and you’re likely to get adverts from Danone or L’Oréal. And of course there are those annoying ads in web pages.

* Tania Blixen, Gespensterpferde, Rowohlt, 1989