By Far, The Worst Gmail Ad I've Ever Seen

Post by Giovanna Wall

I really like Google's Gmail program. It's truly my favorite email service. They also do a great job scanning through my emails for relevant keywords and phrases that they match with their advertisers. However, recently they have fouled and have gone out of bounds. In my recent emails to friends and family, I've used the terms "wife", "husband" and "happily married" a lot referring to my recent marriage.

This was Google's response:

google promtes infidelity

Perhaps I'm a little sensitive or maybe it's because I was raised as a conservative Catholic. But regardless of anyone's background, why would Google, with their "Do No Evil" policy promote cheating and infidelity? It's also ironic that the Google founders recently got married (I think one will wed next month).

It is an issue of money vs. morality when exposing disturbing ads to married people for ad revenue.

Published: November 27, 2007 by Giovanna in google


November 27, 2007 - 1:25pm

Congrats again on the wedding,

but could you please leave the moral platitudes at the door?

If this post were about creating an effective AdWords headline then maybe it might be relevant.

November 27, 2007 - 2:39pm

Give me a break... it is his blog. Don't read the post if you don't like it... yesssh

November 27, 2007 - 2:38pm

I agree... I wide range of semi-offensive ads come up in my gmail for various keywords. I was trying to give a client of mine an example of a url, and I out "just replace the "xxx" with the domain name."

That was the wrong example to use of course, and I now know to use "abc" or something, but come on. Scott

November 27, 2007 - 2:51pm

Scott, is the ad tasteless? Of course.

But cheating has and will be around forever - its not really Google's place to get in the middle of someone's clever ad campaign - especially with issues concerning morality - an inherently ambiguous subject.

November 27, 2007 - 2:58pm

But Google's marketing has assumed a role of moral superiority. Couple that marketing message with this one and it looks a bit mixed, no?

November 27, 2007 - 3:01pm


just like it's not your place to tell someone else what to write and not to write on their website?

November 27, 2007 - 3:54pm

Of course Corey - but comments exist to voice the opinions of readers - including what they would like to see - and not see - covered on a blog.

And who knows, maybe I like to date lonely married women ;)

If its an issue of morality - I'd like to see Google err on the side of freedom of speech.

November 27, 2007 - 4:09pm

The lack of debate caused the ridiculous complacency we are in today.

Rock the boat.

November 27, 2007 - 4:17pm

There are powerful negative lies in the world, that are maintained my spreading propaganda to create obscene profit margins while delivering limited value to consumers.

  • Insurance programs that you pay for year in and year out, that cancel you as a customer the day you start costing them money. Google's take.
  • Political liars who joke about lying to society about the causes they made up to justify a bogus war. There is a Youtube war channel while the US is preventing active soldiers from uploading videos.
  • Drugs you don't need marketed to you in ways that are overtly deceptive.

To error on the side of free speech for the company with the largest wallet does not support free speech. In many cases it errors on the side of exploitation and fraud.

November 27, 2007 - 4:41pm

@ aaron -

This is the kind of moral certitude that you've rebelled against in the past.

Would like to see Google prohibit the ad in question?

November 27, 2007 - 4:48pm

If it is a service Google recommends then they should recommend it on their homepage for a day. They shouldn't advertise anything they don't feel comfortable being associated with. Simple as that.

And it is not the ad that I am so concerned is the "smart" technology that showed it to my wife. Yahoo is no better BTW. In the Philippines I searched for wedding vows and saw an ad on Yahoo for online dating.

November 27, 2007 - 6:10pm

...sigh... Morality is a very difficult thing, but I think that here the Google guys are a little hypocritical.. they ask to Adsense publishers don't show ads on pages with "questionable" content including porn (of course) and even "provocative poses" because the advertisers could not be comfortable by showing their ads on those pages (

Maybe Google could tell us: "if you don't like our 'free' Gmail with ads then you should pay for another premium email service because we only care morality if you pay us (as advertisers)".

November 27, 2007 - 6:23pm

Eh, what can you do... At the top they probably don't like ads like this, but when you're that big it gets hard to dial every little detail in and I'm sure this one slipped through.

I'm also not entirely sure how their email ad program works, but couldn't it have been approved and then later changed by the advertiser too? I don't think they are purposely trying to pull these kinds of ads on people. There must have been some misconception somewhere and until we know the full story I wouldn't think much of it.

November 27, 2007 - 6:43pm

"They shouldn't advertise anything they don't feel comfortable being associated with. Simple as that."

While I agree that the ad is in poor taste I don't think it'd be great for Google to start employing this kind of moral judgment in filtering their ad content. There's nothing illegal about adultery, even while honest people, including myself, might find it pretty awful.

Is Google also going to block credit card ads? Credit cards can ruin people's lives as well.

Bottom line: I don't think Google is going to block any ads unless they can be found liable for some illegal activity or damages resulting from or related to those ads.

That said, I wouldn't want to see an ad like that in my gmail either. It's distasteful, and users should be able to turn those off or report them somehow. We can't expect Google to make the judgment call themselves, but if enough users complain about an ad it should be removed.

November 27, 2007 - 6:48pm

Hi Mike
In many cultures and countries adultery is illegal:

Twenty-six states continue to have anti-adultery laws on the books.

November 27, 2007 - 6:52pm

Well said Mike. If anything this post has served as good fodder for a discussion of the issue.

Maybe Google needs to move beyond the "smart technology" that served the ad and implement a tagging feature similar to their SPAM filtering technology?

Although again, I'd err on the side of 'advertiser freedom' for any action that isn't illegal.

While distasteful, there is certainly a market for 'Lonely Cheating Wives', and who knows, maybe the service in question is great at fulfilling such needs.

If you're not interested in the ad, its easy to ignore. I can't recall a time I've clicked on an ad in GMAIL.

November 27, 2007 - 6:55pm

Aaron - I'm not debating the laws in question - but you might want to appeal to a more reliable source. One that doesn't claim, "JEWS KNEW ABOUT 911 NINE YEARS BEFORE IT HAPPENED"

November 27, 2007 - 7:06pm

I picked a more reliable source, and it is still illegal.

November 27, 2007 - 7:49pm

"In practice, adultery laws matter little: Only one case--against an Alabama man--has been prosecuted in the last five years. Most states have not enforced their adultery laws since World War II."

November 27, 2007 - 8:28pm

i don't think the legal standpoint of this one ad matters. google is certainly allowing ads and disallowing ads for reasons other than legality and trademark infringement, and not siding with "advertiser freedom"

google calls christian anti-gay ads hate
google bans essay writing ads
google denies cheney impeachment ad

don't forget firearms dealers aren't allowed, and in general you can't criticize anything with an ad without it becoming subject to removal.

[if an ad] "advocates against any individual, groups, or organizations." [we'll ban it]

November 27, 2007 - 10:00pm

I don't think Google can control with enough precision where an ad like that will show up. Their algorithm just picks a few words and serves the ad that seems more relevant.

I remember once I ran some Adwords in Spanish for a search related product and included the word "positioning" (meaning search engine positioning) in the ad copy. I started noticing that many clicks were coming from xxx pages, so I decided to check it out: it just happened that the ad was running on pages that talked about [sexual] "positions".

I had to discontinue the campaign since it was sending me too many unqualified clicks. Google's algorithm is pretty good at matching ads to page copy, but it's far from being perfect, or at least as perfect as Google would want us to think.

November 27, 2007 - 11:03pm

Man made entities will always suffer man made problems like infidelity no matter how much we enhance AI. Though I totally agree with you and this is sick, just understand that Google is still a man made entity, and selling links is not illegal, though they want you to think that. Sometimes I have to remember that though my online productivity circles around Google heavily, my life doesn't, neither do my morals. Good post Giovanna!

November 28, 2007 - 6:11am

On a somewhat related note, a few months ago I wrote an article about a scammer hawking "cures" for various diseases and exposed some of the scam sites he was running.

Google Adsense then started displaying ads to those very same sites within that article. That was it for me. I haven't used Adsense since.

Any ad network that demonstrates such a callous disregard for integrity and which gives me little to no control over what content shows up on my pages isn't worth my spit or used toilet paper. :-P

November 28, 2007 - 7:38pm

"why would Google, with their "Do No Evil" policy promote cheating and infidelity?"

I think Google's "Do No Evil" policy and promoting cheating/infidelity have 2 different scopes of meaning, and as a result are not related. I've always thought of "do no evil" as do nothing evil like a big corporation would.

Promoting cheating and infidelity are unfortunately just another ad that shows up through their system, I'm not sure if Google is able to filter out or control who is and who isn't married that view their ads.


November 28, 2007 - 7:56pm

Issues that cost a business money to fix get dealt with AFTER the issues that make the business money. Apathy is one of the biggest forms of evil.

November 28, 2007 - 11:48pm

Funny how a post can get a life of its own :)

I can't control Google or how it operates or "thinks", if an entity can think, on a certain subject. I certainly don't agree with some of their moral issues and it is hard to define a moral issue when it comes to a corporation?

A business, especially one as large as Google, is operating for one specific reason, to make a profit.

I can control what I do...most of the time :)

Google Adsense then started displaying ads to those very same sites within that article. That was it for me. I haven't used Adsense since....... many times we have no choice, as is the case with the original text in this post.

Aaron didn't have a choice as to see the ad or not, didn't have anything to do with if he participates in Adsense. I guess you could make the argument that he doesn't have to use Gmail, but I could probably, personally, find a problem with every company I deal with.

Thanks again for a great post. Scott

November 30, 2007 - 2:36pm

That's awful... but this one is still my favorite:

July 20, 2008 - 11:13am
July 30, 2008 - 3:03pm

I'm all for free speech, but in fairness, Google is a provider and any reasonable person thinks infidelity is wrong. It is a pretty deplorable site to advertise.

December 6, 2008 - 4:36am

I have noticed this more then a month ago. It seams that you can use Google adwords as a "pimp tool". Just take a look.
Don't do evil, more like squeeze every cent.

December 6, 2008 - 5:49am

hehehe....funny services there Seo Rabbit :)

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