New York Times: Sentiment Analysis and Selling You Stuff

Something related to textual analysis:

The New York Times is researching how to contextualize which ads they show with the feelings an article is likely to inspire. I’m not a fan. They claim having learned that ads perform better on emotional articles won’t influence the newsroom, but we’ll see. At least they’re being transparent about doing this work. They’ve published an article with information on how they developed their sentiment analysis algorithm (link below).

There’s an explanation of the types of models they used and why. The initial steps were linear and tree-based textual analysis models, followed by a deep learning phase intended to “focus on language patterns that signaled emotions, not topics.” This outperformed the linear models some of the time, but not all of the time.

From what I can tell, the training set used a survey showing articles with images to establish a baseline, but the linear predictive models focus purely on text. I may be misunderstanding this or information may be missing. I expect that image selection can enhance or diminish the emotionality of an article. Perhaps sensational or graphic images would prove to drive more (or fewer) ad clicks. Despite the buffer the NYT cites between their newsroom and marketing arms, this feels like morally hazardous territory. So to answer the question in the title of the NYT piece, this article makes me feel disturbed. But I still didn’t click an ad.

It’s a quick read. Check it out.

2 thoughts on “New York Times: Sentiment Analysis and Selling You Stuff

  1. Dax Oliver

    Thanks for pointing out this article, Hannah. I agree that it seems hard to imagine these results not impacting the newsroom. Newspapers are businesses. Then again, it’s not exactly a secret that emotional articles pull in more readers, so it’s been something that the news media has been wrestling with for awhile. Part of me is disturbed as well, but part of me is also happy about anything that helps newspapers survive in the internet era.

    Also, why is the Times focusing on readers that are “web-experienced, younger, educated and speak English.”? Are they considered more likely to buy from online ads?

  2. Hannah House Post author

    Hi Dax, good points and I’m also glad they’re finding ways to stay viable. The NYT has stayed cutting edge with digital technologies and I love how much they do to communicate their work.

    Brands covet and try to build relationships with the web-experienced, younger, educated demographic at least partly because they are seen as more influential. While not all particular individuals in that group have much disposable income, they are likely to be closely networked with people who do.

    I was surprised to see English-speaking thrown in there since it’s not a typical aspect of marketing segmentation, but maybe that was included just as a function of the research seeking to evaluate reactions to articles written in English.

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