There's a political war in progress here in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. And it's been so strange, so bizarre, that what would normally be a fairly local matter has been getting piles of national press attention.
And now, it has spilled en masse onto the Web at large, like a volcano pouring out searing lava in all directions.
The battling parties are two long-time Congressmen, who traditionally have each represented a portion of L.A. (including parts of the Valley). But when California redrew its Congressional districts recently, there was only a single district left between them, and they've been fighting it out ever since. To make matters worse, California also (unwisely on balance, in my opinion) changed its laws so that the top two primary "vote getters" would face each other in the general election, even if they are of the same party. In this state, that will usually mean Democrat vs. Democrat, and that's what's happened with Brad Sherman vs. Howard Berman.
It gets worse. Berman is the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has the backing of virtually the entire Democratic establishment, and is constantly flying around the world in this role. Sherman is also on the same committee, may well move up to Berman's slot if Berman loses, and is very much the local guy -- hardly ever traveling, holding local "town hall" meetings seemingly hourly, and being well known for helping constituents with local problems.
Both of them have taken policy positions with which I agree ... and other positions with which I disagree. So I really hadn't decided which of them I was going to vote for in the upcoming election.
That is, perhaps until Berman's insane saturation ad campaign hit the Web.
It seemed to start a few days ago. Various forms of what appear to be basically the same Berman ad, featuring a particularly unflattering photo of Brad Sherman and accusing of him of improprieties, started flooding my Web viewing. They appeared over videos, they appeared as big banner ads, box ads, sidebar ads. In some cases, the same ad appeared in two or even three locations (in different sizes and aspect ratios) on single Web pages -- on a very wide variety of sites.
And when I came back to those pages, or reloaded, they'd come up again ... and again ... and yet again. And the nightmare continues today.
It's the Howard Berman zombie ad apocalypse!
Now, before anyone jumps in with helpful "just run an ad blocker" advice -- I've been very clear about this in the past.
I don't run ad blockers. I consider at least viewing reasonable ads a completely fair proposition in exchange for getting the range of useful services available on the Web without charge. As someone who has watched the Net grow from its infancy, I am frankly amazed at what value we get in terms of search, email, information, and so much more without paying fees to those services. (My position on this is made pretty explicit in my past blog posting Blocking Web Ads -- And Paying the Piper.)
Sure, there are some Web ads that go beyond the pale for me -- mainly ads that start blaring audio without explicit permission. This includes those inane "harmonic hum bar" ads that start buzzing if you so much as mouse over them accidentally.
But up until now, I've never been so inundated with one obnoxious "conventional" ad that it really drew my attention and associated wrath. Howard Berman has now accomplished this milestone.
Exactly how he's done this is not currently clear.
The big ad serving networks are usually very careful to try not deploy inventory in manners likely to trigger irritating "ad fatigue" -- a perfect description of what Howard Berman is doing to me. Even when certain ads are aimed at particular ISP ip address zip codes or congressional districts -- likely in the case of these ads -- they're not supposed to flood you with the same ad like a tsunami.
Some ad networks actually give Web users remarkably fine-grained control over ad presentations, like Google's Ad Preferences settings.
But Berman and his "Sherman's head" ad deluge have been like Godzilla on a rampage. Nothing seems capable of stopping it as it sweeps across the Web, smashing other advertisements to dust in its wake. Clearly the plan is to show that uncomplimentary photo of Sherman so often that voters will associate it with stomach distress and vote against Sherman on that basis if nothing else.
Again, I don't know how Berman managed to game the ad display systems to this degree. Did he so vastly outbid other ads that algorithmic controls gave up in disgust? Is there a "Bermanworm" infecting servers? Is he cleverly leveraging the phase of the moon?
I don't know. I'm trying to find out.
But I'll tell you one thing for sure. Deciding my vote in that contest this November has become one hell of a lot easier, and almost certainly not in the manner that Howard Berman had in mind.