Why Are Junk Email Ads Still a Thing?

Right out of college, I got a job managing the direct marketing program for a very large sports company. My educational background was in marketing, but this was the first time I handled direct mail campaigns. What intrigued me about it was that at that time, success was getting a response of only 2-3 percent from the hundreds or thousands of mailers we distributed every few weeks.

We bought mail lists that we hoped matched our audience and basically hoped for the best. Targeted-advertising technology did not exist, but it does today. So I am surprised that in 2016 even major companies still resort to sending ads indiscriminately via email.

In recent weeks, for example, I got ads for "50 Plus" dresses and sports bras (Do they know something that I don't?). I also spotted ads for boats and mountain climbing expeditions, neither of which interest me.

I am pretty sure I did not express an interest in any of these topics online. Yet I get dozens of ads about them each week, all of which are promptly deleted. On the other hand, if I see ads about food, discounts on hotels and flights, or scuba diving, I almost always check them out.

To say that junk email ads are a problem would be an understatement, and it's on the rise. In my case, the only company that seems to get my targeted interests right is Amazon, which employs a special AI engine that scans my overall shopping interests and mostly sends me ads that are truly relative. But even Google misses the mark with me continually.

There are many companies trying to solve this problem, but the one thing I think will have the biggest impact is AI and machine learning.

In a recent article in Digital Marketing Magazine, Stephen Upstone, CEO and co-founder of LoopMe, argued that "artificial intelligence is the future of the advertising industry, not an add-on or a nice-to-have but a fundamental component of each campaign. By implementing this technology not only can we improve short-term campaign results for brands, but long-term online experiences for us all."

I certainly hope Upstone is correct and that the advertising industry does indeed adopt AI and apply it aggressively to their email marketing campaigns. If they do, perhaps my email box will become more useful.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.