Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Revisiting a Spectacularly Unfortunate Ad Placement, 12 Years Later

In preparation for my 1-year layoff anniversary (this Thursday), I was going through some of my old AOL files, when I came across a news item from October, 1996, that I'd saved and forgotten. It's about a 12-year-old kid who killed his mother, then himself, because he'd run up a big AOL bill.

Tragic story, of course -- even moreso, because AOL went to unlimited pricing two months later.

However, the reason I'd saved the HTML file and accompanying graphics (it's an AP story, but it was on the Washington Post), was because of the intersection between commerce and news -- check out the ad:

Erols Unlimited Internet
Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help

Go to Main Story
Go to Today's Top News

Online Bills Lead to Tragedy

Tuesday, October 1, 1996; 10:50 a.m. EDT

CALIFORNIA, Mo. (AP) -- A 12-year-old boy may have killed his mother and himself after the two fought about the boy's extensive time spent using a computer online service, investigators said.

The body of Ann Hoffman, 42, was found Thursday at her home with six gunshots in her head, Sheriff Kenny Jones said. Her son, Brad Hoffman-Parker, had a single gunshot to the head, and a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol was found nearby.

A day earlier, Hoffman's ex-husband, David Lee Parker, visited her and his son to discuss the seventh-grader's use of an Internet access service, Jones said. The parents shared custody of the boy.

The father claimed Hoffman "was upset over the bills, because of America Online" and that the boy spent "long hours" using a personal computer in the home, Jones said.

Investigators had not determined how much time Brad spent online and the amount of his bills. California is 110 miles east of Kansas City.

© Copyright 1996 The Associated Press

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Yes, in a story about a kid who committed a murder-suicide thanks to AOL and hourly metered Internet access, the ad is for a "Why Pay Hourly?" Erols Internet unlimited pricing plan.

The ad, which I assume was served up because Erols had targeted AOL keywords, is either spectacularly inappropriate, or spectacularly appropriate, depending on your point of view.

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  • Did you hear the latest from AOL? They're closing down hometown, including journals. At least someone came up with a program to migrate our journals (sans pictures) to Blogger.

    By Blogger Donna, At 10/15/2008 11:27 AM  

  • Yes, I saw -- will probably do a quick bit about it, but most of the other folks seem to have it covered.

    By Blogger Joelogon, At 10/15/2008 12:09 PM  

  • As a newspaper reporter, I once reported the story of a man who died in his swimming pool (probably drowning). The story was put on the front page, on which the centerpiece photo was a child diving into a pool (the local pool was opening that day).

    Also, in an online edition of a piece I wrote on a fatal car crash, an insurance company ad, showing an animated car accident said "life comes at you fast."

    On both of these incidents, I (who have nothing to do with design or ad placement) received irate emails from either family or friends.

    By Blogger David, At 10/17/2008 9:04 PM  

  • David -- Nice. The animation is an especially nice touch.

    By Blogger Joelogon, At 10/18/2008 5:13 PM  

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