Opinion | I Used Google Ads for Social Engineering. It Worked.

After the ISIS campaign ended, Google left behind a blueprint. The blueprint shows, step by step, how you can create your own redirect ads to sway any belief or opinion — held by any Google user, anywhere in the world — of your choice.

You don’t have to be a marketer with years of experience to do this. You just need to follow the instructions and put up a credit card (a few hundred bucks will suffice).

Recently, I followed the blueprint and created a redirect campaign of my own.

The first step was to identify the problem I wanted to address. I thought about Kevin Hines and how his fate might have changed if cellphones with Google had existed back in 2000 when he tried to take his own life.

Could Kevin have been redirected? Could he have been persuaded — by a few lines of ad copy and a persuasive landing page — not to jump? I wondered if I could redirect the next Kevin Hines. The goal of my first redirect campaign was to sway the ideology of suicidal people.

The problem my campaign addressed: Suicidal people are underserved on Google. In 2010, Google startedmaking theNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline the top result of certain searches relating to suicide. It also forced autocomplete not to finish such searches.

The weakness of Google’s initiative is that not enough variations of searches trigger the hotline. A search for “I am suicidal” will result in the hotline. But a search for I’m going to end it” won’t always. “I intend to die” won’t ever. A lot of “higher-funnel” searches don’t trigger the hotline.

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No More Google

I hoped my redirect campaign would fill the gap in Google’s suicide algorithm. I would measure my campaign’s success by how many suicidal searchers clicked my ad and then called the number on my website, which forwarded to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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