The dodgy world of Internet advertising

2011-06-21 00:00

DON’T you just love the Internet? It’s wonderful to be able to ask deep and meaningful questions of people all over the world. Just the other night, I asked someone through a Facebook chat site whether it was raining in Scotland. And it was. How did we ever live without knowing things like that?

I do have a few niggles about this online life though. Especially when it comes to Internet advertising. Just recently, I’ve noticed a few discrepancies between the Promised Land photos of magnificent resorts, with the less-than-perfect hard-core realities. Take a recent trip, where we planned to go deep into the heart of the Natal Midlands to get up close and personal with nature. What was meant to be a day of idyllic basking in the sun alongside a tranquil lake, with just the whisk of fly fishermen’s lines to rustle the breeze, turned into a bit of a nightmare. After checking out the resort — picture the beautiful photograph online of a deep, seraphic-blue pool, with trout leaping out of it to ripple the reflections of willow trees heavy with kingfishers — I told all that we were guaranteed a day of bliss in natural splendour. The place was called Illyria, or some similar sounding heavenly name. After packing up luxurious picnics and trekking in convoy across half of KwaZulu-Natal, we arrived at Illyria to find it was a dump. Literally. The trout dam was a shrunken muddy puddle, with a few dead fish tails sticking out. The lake was surrounded and filled mostly by mounds of builder’s rubble as the now divorced owners each built his and her own fort in the war zone that had been their home. You think the owner could have mentioned this small detail when I mailed her several times before we came. We took our picnics home, and enjoyed them next to our pocket-handkerchief-sized splash pool. We didn’t catch many fish.

Recently, I also looked forward to a stay in a bed and breakfast in the “heart of the bushveld”, where I would wake “to the song of hundreds of Africa’s finest birds.” Another of the prime attractions to me of these luxurious “chalets” was the online picture of a deep ball-and-claw bath tub, which overlooked the previously mentioned glorious bushveld stretching way out to the horizon. I am definitely not a shower person so the thought of a bath was a definite plus.

Imagine my dismay when I arrived at the B&B to find the “heart of the bushveld” meant a patch of grass perhaps one-metre square around each cheek-by-jowl chalet. The only view I had was of the wall of the laundry next door. And I was not so much woken by the gentle chirrups of rare birds, but rather by the squawking of the alarm which went off in my room from 1 am until 7 am when the power cuts had reached a more regular rhythm. The only birds I heard were those screeching as they were decimated by the juggernaut trucks on the highway a tyre’s screech away. The ball-and-claw bath was a myth too. The large and airy “bathroom” was tiled floor to wall for added coolness, and the draughty shower cubicle didn’t even have the luxury of a curtain. So you had the whole bathroom’s iciness to contend with when you stripped off.

Oh, and the bathroom windows didn’t have curtains either. So either you showered at night to provide onsite entertainment for your next-door neighbour, or you waited until morning so only those with exceptional twenty-twenty vision could enjoy the bathroom floor show.

The joys of Internet advertising. It’s still a miracle to me that Internet dating has taken off in such a big way. After all, if you had a choice, would you really admit to being only one-metre tall and weighing 99 kilograms? No. You’d leave that as a special surprise for the first date.

So I think we need to remember this phrase more than ever in our age of cyber-manipulation: buyer beware.

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