Zen and the art of promoting prostitution


Albert Einstein once said that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. A couple of millennia earlier, Lao Zi taught us that those who know do not speak and those who speak do not know. We’ll get back to these two in a minute.

As a regular user of most of Google’s services – Search, Gmail, Analytics, Finance, Reader, etc. – I am often amused by the targeted ads I am served. The ads are a testament to how well Google knows me, and provide a general idea of the assumptions Google makes regarding people my “my kind”.

Being a young western man in China, I normally receive ads promoting massage and escort services while reading my mail online or while searching for legitimate restaurants or government offices (as much as these are legitimate…). Such ads normally carry a standard format, stating the name of the vendor, their rates or hours of operation, and offering a link for further information.

China is full of massage parlors, KTVs, “hair” salons, and various other platforms for offering sexual services. In a such competitive market, service providers that do not differentiate themselves get lost in the clutter. While checking my Gmail this morning, I came across one of the simplest and most elegant ads I have ever seen. It had three words – girl, beijing, shanghai. A click on the ad leads to a landing page with photos of beautiful Chinese girls and links to the web sites of massage and escort service providers in Beijing and Shanghai.

It seems that 21st Century China, eastern simplicity and western technology come together to create surprising results. And indeed, despite the ad’s spare prose, it does not take an Albert Einstein to understand what services are being offered.

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