Why I’m alright with online advertising getting a wake up call

Posted on October 26, 2015

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I run ads on my site. If you’re on mobile, you’ll see one ad on the homepage. If you’re reading a post, you’ll see one ad at the end of each post.

I never realized ad blocking wasn’t allowed until Apple’s newest iOS update. Because it’s suddenly allowed, understandably, a lot of people who write online are worried. Ads are how many support their site. For me, ads make up a very tiny portion of what I make, but I still do them, and it’s still adds up to something decent each year. Something I wouldn’t want to not have.

I’ve been on the internet as long as I’ve had a memory. A hatred of advertising has been around since I first remember getting online. The unfortunate thing is there is no need for advertising, nor marketing, to be so loathed. Great advertising / marketing can be awesome, fun, creative, humorous. This is one of my favorite examples:

Or this, from BrilliantAds, which has a ton of great stuff,

Teflon non stick ad

This one made me laugh pretty good while walking through an airport,

this maniac no sunscreen ad

And probably my favorite of recent memory,

The internet though has not, and has never, gone for good advertising. It’s gone for “how much can we shove down your throat?” I had to have downloaded my first ad blocker before age 10. This is not new.

The thing is on mobile, where so much reading has gone, you can’t get away from the ads. Back in the PC days, you could at least close the inevitable pop up ad(s), and get on with your reading. Where once you closed the pop up; scrolled below the banner ad, you could get into your reading. Nowadays, the ad is popped up before you get to the page, you sometimes go to an entirely separate page before the actual page you want, then another ad is popped up while you’re reading the page, then a god damn video starts playing, then you swipe your hand down and an ad magically appears the moment you want to swipe, so you accidentally click the ad, which then loads another page, with more ads, then you go back to the thing you were reading, after a couple minutes, another pop-up asking you to subscribe to the newsletter appears, you have to zoom in to hit the X button because only a person with pencil tip like fingers could hit that X the first try. Finally, we’re back to reading, not that we’ve had any consistent train of thought the last five minutes. “I wonder about that ad with the hot girl, claiming ‘new weight loss’ secret. Maybe they really do have a secret.”

One thing I’ve always tried to do with any advertising I have is make sure it happens at the bottom of a page, or below any text. Not in between text, or pop up above the text, or be a moving diagram to the side of the text.

The written word is not television. It’s not made for commercials like TV is. When you watch television, your brain often gets turned down. An interruption is then made, but purposely. The show is cut specifically knowing a commercial is coming. The show has that expectation, as does the viewer.

When you read, the brain gets turned up. You’re more focused, you have to think, your imagination gets working. When the suspense is heightened, you keep turning the page or scrolling down. You don’t then get an ad where Dove soap is telling you how beautiful you are.

“Cut to today. According to Nielsen, in Q1 2015, DVR viewing represented about 10% of tv usage, and the incidence if ad skipping among DVR users is about 50%. So about 5% of tv ads are being skipped.

Meanwhile, in the magical land of “interactive” advertising, ad blocker usage is already approaching 20% in the U.S. and is up around 40% in the U.K.”

From Ad Contrarian.

We don’t mind ads when we watch TV as much because commercials are part of the brain turning down process. Part of the “vegging out” process. One of the most watched television programs every year, the Super Bowl, is probably watched by half the people strictly FOR the commercials.

With live TV, when you couldn’t pause things, the commercial gave you a chance to go to the bathroom or get some food, see what new movies are coming out, see a hot girl pimping hamburgers, whatever. I think people often still like this. Look how little we’re DVRing things. Plus, when using the DVR and skipping commercials, you have to be fast forwarding, stopping, pausing, rewinding because you fast forwarded too much. It’s work. When watching TV, many of us want to lay there and do nothing. How much do we complain about channel surfing? “There’s nothing on!” We don’t want to be working, or thinking, while we’re watching TV.

While reading, you can take a break anytime. If you’re going to the bathroom you can actually still be reading. The expectation is you get to dictate the pace of things, not the content. “Let me think about that for a second.” “Wait, let me reread that.”

Reading is a more intimate setting. If you’re in the middle of trying to learn about anatomy, you don’t want some ad trying to sell you a dissection kit popping up. It disrupts the flow. Our social setting for reading, the library, is kept to at most a whisper. Our social scene for watching television, a living room, or a bar, is where people have conversations. When you’re reading, you are reading. When you’re watching television, you might be on your phone, playing Candy Crush, cooking, talking to someone.

For some reason or another, certain mediums necessitate certain advertising. Certain mediums necessitate certain expectations for the advertising. TV? Couple ads a show? No problem. Listening to music? Have an ad during the song? No, definitely not. Before or after? Sure. But not during. Reading is the same way.

We know how advertising with reading can work. Newspapers figured it out hundreds of years ago. The ad is off to the side, below the text, all in all in some way not IN the text.

The online world has ruined advertising with reading. Facebook started it that day when I was scrolling down my newsfeed and suddenly realized half the stuff I was looking at was an ad for some game, an ad for something I searched in Google (“uhh, why is this showing up?”), and then the video with blaring sound started automatically.

“Duuuude. Zuck is such a genius. We gotsta connect everybody by doing that shiznit too.”

At least with Facebook, it’s entertainment. It’s “let me kill five minutes (and avoid interacting with the person in front of me (wait, I thought Facebook was connecting everyone?))” It’s again a vegging out maneuver. It’s television. Mindless entertainment.

With reading, it was never meant to work this way. It doesn’t work this way. If you’re trying to learn something, then it’s not entertainment. It’s studying. Even if you are trying to be entertained, most reading is mindFUL entertainment. It’s the difference between reading a book and a movie. When I’m reading The Martian, my mind has to conjure up images of how big is the rover, what does a Hab look like, how desolate would Mars be, hmm, I wonder how a futuristic spacesuit would look? When I’m watching the movie, that’s all done for me.

The online world is getting what it deserves for ruining the reading experience. If everyone did what was best for the reader to begin with -unobtrusive ads so you can still make a living and give the reader a good experience- rather than what was best for the author -LOOK AT THIS AD RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW OK NOW LOOK AT THIS ONE DON’T YOU EVER LOOK AWAY- Apple wouldn’t be taking this into their own hands. I’m sure all there 115,000 employees are as tired of it as everybody else is.

I don’t know if online advertising will die like some are implying. I think it can work. Some potential tenets,

  • Separate the ad from the content. Movie previews? Many of us like those. Preview for another movie during the movie? Heresy!
    • When you put a DVD in, click an article, stream a show, you want to go right into the content. Not be diverted for 5-10 minutes. After the content? An ad which may take me to other content? Sure, that can work.
  • One, maybe two, ads per page, is likely the max.
  • How would you want to enjoy your content? That’s probably how you should do your own advertising then.

Google owns Android, which owns a hell of lot more of the phone market than Apple, and Google has a small thing for advertising (just maybe), so “the death of online advertising” is unlikely anytime soon, but it has to change. Until this happened it never occurred to me how all the extra ads make people use up their data quicker. Less ads actually saves the readers money (and battery life). That’s a tough battle to fight with the consumer.

Television, and the enormous amount we watch it, has proven we’re not against advertising. We understand people need to make a living, and giving all your work away for free doesn’t work as a longterm strategy. But even with TV, nobody wants to watch a show where right before the joke’s punchline Peyton Manning starts asking me to buy more mediocre pizza. There needs to be a more nuanced method to this, because so far online advertising has seemed to only be annoying, frustrating, constantly in your face, madness.

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Posted in: Business