Advertising as Punishment
Advertising as Punishment

Internet ads are everywhere. Not just an ad here or there, but rather, complete trash, bloating sites and crashing browsers. Mobile users pay to wait for streaming video ads to load. It is a nightmare and it must be defeated.

Swirl paw

Meowpolis, Purristan – Friday 18 December 2015

You might notice there are not many ads on blog. You may find it refreshing. Of the few ads we do have, one for swag and one for Patreon, and both, as expected, are widely ignored when compared to unique hits to this blog. Other minor ones, that are technically advertisements, are promoting our social media channels. Additionally, the Ministry website, which receives several times more unique hits as this blog, is similar in its dearth regarding advertisements. The lack of ads is an intentional design decision.

The Classic Web Model

Early in the days of the web, a minor decision was made, that has had a colossally negative impact on user experience. The October 27th, 1994 issue of HotWired, the web version of Wired, was the first to run the internet ad. Like our Patreon spot, which we see as more of a public service announcement of ourselves than simply a naked ad, their ad was promoting a broadband service in the early days of the web. This first ad and others with it helped HotWired raise money, hire staff, and grow. Yet the success of such advertising, essentially, was dead by 1998, as none dares click on such things anymore.

1994 AT&T Banner Ad

The New Web Model

In spite of none daring to click on such things, the classic web model is still alive, though marketers try to re-brand all efforts as somehow new. Everywhere you go, you are facing ads. However, they have become far worse, and seem more intending punishment. Are you looking for a video on YouTube? Your results appear, but as you attempt to click on the video you want, two video ads suddenly appear. They are hoping you accidentally click on the video ad. Rather nefarious. Most websites look like a snapshot of a psycho's dwelling, with dozens of incoherent brands, essentially as trash, neatly polluting the margins of the page. Some ads take over the entire page. Others reveal themselves as videos. Collectively, they eat up so much bandwidth that you, especially if a mobile user, pay real money to load ads that you are actively avoiding making direct eye contact with.

Click Bait

There is no money to be made with a few web ads. The click-rate runs around 0.1 per cent, and I am nearly certain those outside the 99.9 per cent who avoid them, only accidentally viewed the ads. Every human loathes these things polluting almost every website. Some enterprising firms have bought dozens of web domains, with each cluttered in ads, running lists and cheap "stories" - you know - you won't believe what happens next! Each list presents one item before you have to click "next", loading ever more ads. Because of volume, these firms make someone enough money to justify trashing the web and social media feeds with cheap bile. In light of this, it is ironic that the first web ad (above) is itself click bait.

Videos

It gets worse, as many ads now come in the form of streaming videos. They load before the videos you intend to see, or appear before the article you intend to read. Some just slide out as you were trying to read something. As noted, if a mobile user, you are paying real money to see this crap. Or, really, paying real money for it to load so you can, if given the option, close the stupid thing.

The video ads are a real killer. The polluted webpages already hang, or run into script problems, trying to load so many ads, that adding a video and worse, multiple videos, makes the entire user experience a complete nightmare. What is the point of designing a website if you plan to immediately ruin if not break it with bloated crap everyone universally hates?

Ajax the Breaker

Though these ads ceased any effectiveness in 1998, the move now is to load ads via Ajax - an effective way to load new content without a user actually having to load a new page. Clicking the "next" button loads a new page and a round of ads. Ajax simply loads an ad, and then endlessly replaces that ad space with new ads while you remain on the same page. Yahoo! Mail has gone this route. A dozen spaces for ads, all reloading new ads every few seconds. These are working together to hang up your browser to the point of constant interruption while writing an email. This is user punishment, and they know it. How do you get rid of this? Pay Yahoo! directly to stop showing ads. No doubt, click bait websites will soon, if they have not already, move to the Ajax approach of breaking browsers and ruining experiences.

Revenue

The original justification was to find a way to generate some revenue for a website, and simply looking at a traditional model. This once, very briefly, worked. Now these ads are hated, and many humans add browser extensions to block them. The revenue is so modest; the only way to make any real money is over-saturation and trickery. All of it is repugnant. Social media facilitates the disgust in the worst ways, led by Facebook. They have continuously changed their platform seeking to collect money from two sides. If you have a brand, such as a band, you have seen this. Once, fans could like your page, and you could then keep them informed of what you are doing. Changes ensued. Now, when you post something, your own fans will not see it... unless you pay Facebook to show it to them. I will give Facebook some credit for trying to come up with a revenue model that is not a traditional ad model. Because of their system, to ensure more fans see a post, you need to get a lot of user engagement. This motivates brands to pollute feeds with endless click bait. The more engagement click bait receives, the more page fans Facebook will show later posts to, and thus the polluter no longer needs to pay to promote their stuff.

Then there is Twitter, in its quest to find ways to make money. They have also turned toward ads. They sneak "promoted" Tweets into your feed - presumably just to ruin your user experience. How many humans click on anything branded as "Promoted"? Likely very few, and probably explains why the phrase "Promoted Tweet" is placed in a way that is harder to notice - they seek click accidents! Good show!

Targeting

Claims are made that, because so much user information is collected and shared in the social media and advertising world, they can now show you the ads you want to see. However, I wager two things: 1] there are no ads you want to see and 2] they are not that good at targeting. Allow me to give you just one anecdotal example of our own case study. We have used Facebook for over a year, and every single Walmart ad seen, we have gone the extra step of hiding the ad and reporting it as, either "It's not relevant to me", "It's annoying or not interesting", or "It's offensive or inappropriate" - depending on mood at that moment. For over a year! Hundreds of ads, all reported like this. What am I seeing right this moment on Facebook? A Walmart ad.

Note: Nothing against Walmart, we just randomly selected them owing to their ubiquity.

Ads Work

I would be remiss if I did not concede the concept of "advertising" as an effective way to promote something. It really is the only proven way to achieve awareness. Effective campaigns have occurred. Television and radio ads, magazine ads, even billboards, all promote and develop name-recognition. Seeing a logo often will help create familiarity with the brand. All of this works for that purpose, but on the internet, especially on the margins and cluttered, it is just trash. As noted, the click rate for such things looks more like a statistical error, if not the result of accidentally clicking on them.

A site with a tremendous amount of unique visitors can charge more for displaying ads, and much more from allowing a brand to skin the whole page. However, most sites are not in this group, and even the Big Ones are not generating a great deal of their revenue from internet advertising. For the most part, ads do nothing, financially speaking, unless in massive volume. This is Lex Luthor territory - a fraction of cent is nothing, unless you are getting a fraction of a cent hundreds of millions of times.

Given we hope to spread awareness of ourselves; we would do well to have a multi-million dollar marketing budget, and thus the ability to blanket the world with ads. Because we do not have such resources, we rely mostly on word-of-mouth, which is far slower than a giant ad blitz. The ad blitz can be, therefore, effective. Regardless, it is hard for any campaign not to get lost in the clutter, especially if lacking the wallet needed to dominate the marketing field for a period.

That so many are web ads designed more to trick you, such as promoted Tweets or the ones that pop up right when you are about to click on something else, this can only be seen as punishment, not promotions. With many brands out there, Skype being a good example, now imbedding banner ads into their products, it is clear the defunct classic model is not going away any time soon. Worse, they clearly know this is willful punishment upon users.

The Free Market

It is interesting that every human on planet earth hates web ads, yet they persist and continue expanding. Given how the free market is supposed to correct and give consumers what they want, one would think when web ads ceased effectiveness in 1998, it would have been the end of it. Instead, it grows ever more prevalent and considerably more in your face, albeit "targeted". It is odd that the market refuses to correct for this. Perhaps it is from two things: monopoly and apathy.

Apathy: Most humans just accept that every website pollutes the screen with crap. Buried in that crap is whatever you intended to read or view. Tolerate the crap, hope to avoid trickery, and see the content. Simple enough for most.

Monopoly: There is only one YouTube, and they dominate their market. They chose ads, and so you are stuck with it. Likewise for Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Having no large-scale competition that eschews clutter, trash, and tricks on their websites leaves apathy as the default strategy.

An Alternative

One way to tamp down the clutter may be for the collective hoards of the internet simply to never, ever, click on obvious click bait. Kill off all websites built entirely around tricking humans into inundation with ads. What would this really do? Probably little beyond thrill me. However, with fewer places to pollute, perhaps the costs of advertising will become greater.

Follow that with complaining to your favourite websites! Everyone complains about web ads. However, those are general complaints, directed at clouds in the sky. If humans complain directly to their favourite sites, those sites may find themselves spending more on maintaining a staff to read and respond to complaints than what they make from the ads. Perhaps then, they will nix the ads and seek alternative ways to raise revenue? Complaints must be en mass and endless. We cannot let them ride it out and move back toward apathy.

Peet's Coffee & Tea
This is not a paid promotion

To be fair, marketing does need a venue. The complaints should not be about having ads - it should be about having so many ads. Especially deceptive ads designed to trick users. And, especially, auto-loading video ads on mobile devices! You pay for that crap. Basically, complaints should be about ad schemes that bloat a website into becoming ineffective, hangs up while loading, or otherwise ruins the user experience (AKA most ad schemes). Indeed, if every site reduced the ad content to only one or two ads, they can charge more for that real estate. There is a coordination problem ensuring this will never happen, but a cat can dream.

Lastly, especially on content-driven websites, why not build the ad model around organically working ads into the content? For example, I love Peet's Coffee & Tea. They are not paying me to say this. However, let us pretend for a moment they asked if they could run an ad on this website. If I do like the product, I can look for a way to work it into my article, rather than sticking it off to the side, or as a video overlay. While you are here, why not check out this awesome video? O what the heck? If you like us, help us. Introduce Purristan to friends. Better yet, help support this blog so we can hire more guest writers! One way to kill off ad pollution is to help the brands you like, and thus negate reasons for them to clutter their sites with ads.

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