Today, my non-EA friend asked me "Hey, could you call off the EAs?". He heard an ad for What We Owe The Future  in a podcast yesterday. "Nice," he thought; "I've heard of Will MacAskill." Then he heard another ad in a different podcast. And then he watched three YouTube videos in a row, each from different creators, that again included ads. Now he is genuinely annoyed.

This exact pattern showed up in the Carrick Flynn campaign. So many EA funds went into advertising that people got frustrated by how many ads they received. 

There is such a thing as too much money in advertising! Oregon voters came to believe that Carrick was funded by bottomless money to be a crypto shill. And now smart people, who watch YouTube channels and listen to podcasts that are EA-adjacent, will rightfully get suspicious about who is putting this much money into promoting... a book about philosophy?

Hope this anecdotal experience informs how we publicize/market/advertise in the future!




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Hi Tae, thank you so much for writing this post! I’m coordinating WWOTF ads and this is really helpful feedback to get. We’ve thought a lot about the trade-off between reaching potentially interested audiences while not oversaturating those audiences in a way that’s off-putting, and have taken many steps to avoid doing so (most importantly, by not narrowing our target audience so greatly that the same people get bombarded). Ensuring we don’t oversaturate audiences is a key priority. 

If it’s alright, I’d love to hear more details about exactly which ads your friend encountered — I’ll contact you via DM. If other people have other relevant experiences that they want to share, please email me at — it’s very helpful and very actionable to get feedback right now, since we can adapt and iterate ads in real-time. 

Sure! Thank you very much for your, ahem, forethought about this complicated task. Please pardon the naive post about a topic that you all have worked hard on already :)

Tae so I guess now you can tell your friend that you've Called off the EAs :P

Yes, I am pretty amused about this

Is it possible that the only people experiencing oversaturation are people who are mostly inevitably already so into the topic that there's no way it'll damage their relationship with EA, in which case it's fine?

A related issue: Nobody is going to make this an official criticism of longtermism, but I have heard a nonzero amount of backchannel grousing among people who've published books about how well-funded the WWOTF rollout is which I think may generate some resentment/backlash among jealous writers. 

Part of the ad overload problem you're pointing out comes from the nature of both elections and book releases. They're both things that happen once and benefit from gaining a lot of momentum in a short period of time (winning the election, getting on best-seller lists).  As a consequence: 

  • Ad frequency (how often the same user sees an ad) becomes really high in a short period of time. 
  • There's not a whole lot of time to do creative / copy testing and optimization, so users are often hit with the same or similar ads. 

Ads that are offered on a more ongoing basis can reach users more gradually, making it more likely that they're not targeted again until 1. a lot of time has passed and 2. the ad content / copy has changed due to optimization over time. 

So one takeaway could be finding ways to advertise effectively over time instead of in bursts! 

You may be right, but at least in general, it's pretty common for ad targeting to serve the same ad to someone many times. This happens to me all the time.

FWIW it's not clear to me that buying ads for What We Owe the Future is a good idea, but I'm sure Will et al. have thought about it more than I have.

Not sure, but it feels like maybe being targeted multiple times by a large corporation (e.g. Pepsi) is less annoying than being targeted by a more niche thing

yeah I was archive binging two related shows and heard the same betterhelp ad hundreds of times.

For what it's worth, I feel like YouTube should know by now that I'm interested in effective altruism, yet I've gotten no ads for the book. I'm not sure how this campaign is being done.

My initial thought: if someone doesn’t like hearing about EA, that’s unfortunate, but it sounds like they’re probably not going to be very interested in EA if they’re letting that fact actually get in the way of them getting engaged in EA. Elections are quite different from making personal decisions about your interests/community. At the same time, it seems very valuable to make sure people who would be very interested in EA are aware of it (earlier).

I'll just continue my anecdote! As it happens, the #1 concern that my friend has about EA is that EAs work sinisterly hard to convince people to accept the narrow-minded longtermist agenda. So, the frequency of ads itself increases his skepticism of the integrity of the movement. (Another manifestation of this pattern is that many AI safety researchers see AI ethics researchers as straight-up wrong about what matters in the broader field of AI, and therefore need to be convinced rather than collaborated with.)

(Edit: the above paragraph is an anecdote, and I'm speaking generally in the following paragraphs)

I think it is quite fair for someone with EA tendencies, who is just hearing of EA for the first time through these ads, to form a skeptical first impression of a group that invests heavily in selling an unintuitive worldview. 

I strongly agree that it's a good sign if a person investigates such things instead of writing them off immediately, indicating a willingness to take unusual ideas seriously. However, the mental habit of openness/curiosity is also unusual and is often developed through EA involvement; we can't expect everyone to come in with full-fledged EA virtues.

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I heard about EA in the NPR interview, and for me, that was an effective invitation.    Focusing on more free media sounds good.

I dunno about ads, that channel is so polluted with crap.   I kinda get how ads could turn people off to a message they might otherwise be receptive to.

The kind of ads were talking about here (podcast and YouTube sponsorship) don't go through the fancy highly optimized real time bidding process: they're embedded into the content at the time it's originally created. If someone happens to follow several different people who all accept the same sponsorship, they get a lot of the same ad. Regardless of whether annoyance is a solved problem in the more typical case (I'm not convinced) it's definitely not a solved problem for these channels.

newer fancier systems insert the ad at download time so it can be updated, but I don't believe targeted.

Good point! This is only for podcasts, not YouTube, right?

yes for embedded ads but youtube itself inserts ads that I assume are quite well targeted

YouTube does, but I don't think this campaign is using them? The EA plugs I've seen on YouTube have all been the sponsor directly.

Totally possible. I have red so I don't see YT ads and I haven't run into embedded ads in this campaign either.

These also typically perform worse than a host read-out. And also I don't think they yet have user-level sophisticated targeting so they can't put on frequency caps for individuals.

I'm surprised Google hasn't managed that

Podcast advertising isn't a Google product. 

Google has frequency caps for YouTube Ads (e.g. pre-roll) but creators can't customise their own sponsored ads reads by geography/individuals (also that'd be a LOT of potential ad reads as they'd need their own inventory etc).

apologies, i mixed threads and thought your comment was about youtube ads, not podcasts, in part because podcast ad insertions frequently are host read outs

I don't think optimal ad targeting is nearly as solved a problem as you claim it is. 

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