November 28, 2009

The Hard-Core Web Ad Haters Strike Back!

Greetings. Yesterday, when I blogged How to Sink a Major Web Site with a Single Ad -- where I expressed my disdain for Web ads that start playing audio as soon as a Web page is loaded -- I frankly expected to get a number of agreeing comments. (Examples of these offending ads are still running right now over on ABC News, on several of the top story links.)

I was not disappointed. The "auto-play audio" ads appear to be among the most universally despised of Web ad formats. Several people noted that they consider a single appearance of such an ad on a site as grounds for blacklisting the site entirely. Others mentioned how such ads cause additional difficulty in multiply-tabbed browsing environments, and how they're an utter disaster for persons using screen reading text-to-speech systems.

What I had not expected, however, were messages I received expressing violent vitriol against Web advertisements of all kinds, triggered by my comment that I am generally not a fan of ad-blocking software (e.g. Blocking Web Ads -- And Paying the Piper).

An example of the intensity of such feelings among what I might term the "hard-core Web ad haters" is this (used with permission of the sender):

"Well here you and I fundamentally disagree. I don't give a damn if the site goes broke. I go out of my way to block ads, every one I can, I pay for the Internet, my computer, and my time costs money as well. I do NOT give permission to spam me with ads, spyware or advertising in any way. Ads are a scourge of the Internet, I don't want them, not a single one. What appears on MY screen is MY decision and I will or will not give privilege to appear here."

Whew! Next time maybe he won't hold back and will tell me what he really thinks!

I received quite a pile of messages along similar lines.

Now, perhaps some of these folks -- who presumably represent a significant number of Web users overall -- are ready to sign up for Rupert Murdoch's proposed (and likely doomed) "insert coins here" pay-wall plan. They might even be willing to pay a nickel per Google search.

But the sense I get is that most of them don't want ads and they don't want to pay for Web content. I consider Web ads -- so long as they don't cross the line into obnoxiousness -- to be a fair trade for receiving Web content without content-associated charges.

I like free Web content. I like it a lot. I much prefer the mostly ad-based Web to the "pay through the nose for all content" model that originally seemed a far more likely outcome to many of us involved in the early Internet and ARPANET.

So when I see Web users loudly condemning both pay and ad-supported Web paradigms, I must admit to feeling a bit taken aback.

For after all, the Internet is not merely a philosophical concept. It's a vast mass of people, disks, fans, cables, and power, plus a wide spectrum of other assorted flotsam and jetsam of both technology and society.

Most of this instrumentality and human energy have to be payed for somehow! Vast server farms don't come cheap to build, run, or manage. Software has to be designed, written, and tested. Even human volunteers must eat!

As Web advertisers have tried ever harder to attract as many viewers as possible and the highest product sales "conversion rates" attainable, they have been gradually pushing outward the bounds of Web ad types in common use.

My gut feeling is that the reaction of Web users to this gradual escalation is not necessarily linear. That is, at some point the increasingly "in your face" (or "in your ear") ad models may reach an inflection point, where significant numbers of users will rather suddenly tend to rebel by refusing to visit sites displaying particular sorts of ads.

How any given individual will react to any specific Web ad is definitely not a trivial analysis.

"Auto-play audio" ads seem to be pretty much hated everywhere. Pre-roll ads on selected video playbacks don't bother me much if they're under around 15 seconds in length -- but longer than that and I tend to frequently click away.

I have a significantly higher tolerance for creative ads than mundane ones. Ads that relate to topics that I'm interested in will hold my attention better than most generic Web ads -- but if ads seem to know too much about me the creepiness "push-back" factor takes over. This suggests that "targeted" Web advertising is a double-edged sword that must be very carefully modulated if maximum usefulness (to sellers and potential buyers alike) is to be attained without alienating viewers and triggering privacy-related concerns.

Ultimately, the Internet is a very big tent indeed, and every Web user will have their own opinions of what is or is not an acceptable Web ad to them -- and users will make this known every day through the sites that they visit and the links that they choose to click.

But I do feel it important to keep emphasizing that the Internet is not a free lunch. One way or another, it has to be paid for -- the infrastructure, content, people -- the whole enchilada.

Forgetting or ignoring this fact is potentially to imperil those very aspects of the Internet that have become such important parts of our daily lives.


Posted by Lauren at November 28, 2009 08:18 PM | Permalink
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