Death by Advertisement

I used an ad blocker for awhile, and the fundamental truth is it made the internet better for me. Videos loaded faster. Concentrating on content was vastly simpler. I never had to hunt for an obtusely placed X when some unwanted slab of advertising scooted across my screen obscuring my view. To be honest, I really want to go back to using an ad blocker.

Ad-blocking isn’t really about money for readers. It’s about barriers. It’s about hassle and distraction and annoyance. Ads are designed to try and get your attention for at least part of the time you spend on a site. Ads are intentionally disruptive to the experience you are having, and because the technology exists to eliminate disruption, it’s no surprise that people chose to use that technology. It’s no different from any other medium: When a commercial comes on when I’m listening to a radio, what do I do? I check if another station is playing a song I like instead. If an ad comes on the TV, I get up and go to the bathroom. Is the fact that I choose not to consume those ads some breach of my responsibility as a viewer or listener? I think not.

Of course, ad-blocking is to websites and content makers what used games are to game publishers. It’s not really arguable that people are stealing the content — though I am willing to bet more than a few people might give it the old college try — but neither are they directing dollars to the content makers. Whatever benefit the reader/viewer gains, the content creator loses.

The rules around how companies can make money from online content are in a consistent state of flux driven by changing technology and changing attitudes. And grudgingly, furiously and with great pain, it will likely fall to the website makers to find another solution beside — or at least in tandem with — advertising. In the process, we will lose a lot of voices. Heck, we already have, with the recent closures of GameSpy and 1UP.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how many people visited forums or news sites, and shook their head sadly at the closure of these long veterans of gaming content with their ad blockers on. I’m not going to be the one to say that those who did are implicated in the end of those establishments. There are, after all, a lot of moving parts to those kinds of decisions. But, I’m willing to bet declining ad revenue for any reason, regardless of traffic, probably didn’t help.

I’m not asking for sympathy here. Like every area of media and content production, the past two decades have insisted on incredible agility from makers of content. And frankly, people have been good at rewarding those outlets, services or providers who do prove able to roll with the changing of the times.

Not surprisingly, stealing — or being perceived as having stolen content — is not the go-to response for most people. And before I venture too perilously close to using labels like “piracy” and “stealing” content, that’s not what we’re really talking about here. We are talking more about finding a common ground on the generally accepted social agreement that makers of content deserve to be rewarded for what they create. The tough part is that now the consumers are also loudly stating that, while they are willing to reward, they aren’t going to just reward everyone regardless of quality or value, and they want to do the rewarding on their own terms.

The difference for online versus traditional media is not just that an individual can opt out of consuming the advertisement. The online reader can opt out of being served the advertisement altogether. The user doesn’t make a reactive choice (I don’t want this ad, I’m going to pause my DVR). The user is ahead of the game entirely.

Interestingly, this doesn’t hurt advertisers all that much, because they can monitor who sees what and basically say to a content creator that they are only going to pay for the people who actually saw their ad, so there’s no skin off their back. They only pay out for who actually receives their advertisement, which in some ways is actually better than other media, like television.

So, the content creator pays for it in the end. Which is a bit funny, because the person who has the most control over what draws a potential customer has the least control over what that person does once they are on the site, at least from an advertising point of view. Which, regardless of whether you think ads are great or not, is an unfortunate deal for the person doing all the work.

It may, however, come as a surprise — given that I have put this all in that context — that I don’t necessarily think this is all a bad thing either. Odds are that any innovative solutions that websites begin to put together to resolve this displeasure will actually result in a direct transaction between creator and receiver of content. Ads, after all, are acting only as a middleman that adds nothing of value to the transaction, and as much as you dislike being served ads, content creators don’t like having to distribute advertising for products that can be seen as endorsement of those products.

On top of that, there is a real opportunity here for innovative voices and outlets, if they’re based more on a firm connection and collaboration with their readers, to step into the void. Inevitably on a broader scale, the source of funding influences the funded, and you see this trend in the way that, as a collective, content creators seem to shift toward creating content that supports the advertising model. That’s not to say that every or any particular creator of content is explicitly trying to write words that deliver a marketing message, but that, as an aggregate, attracting and keeping advertisers happy with the content they are advertising on is a consideration.

If the direct customer is the source of funds and support, well then the only goal is making those readers feel like they are getting value. I speak with some authority on this.

As a site that doesn’t run a lot of ads, we don’t really have a dog in this fight. We’ve figured out an alternative model that we’re pretty happy with, and I think it keeps us honest to our roots. I also recognize that it’s an extraordinarily limited model that only works under a few conditions, and building a long-term answer is no simple task.

What you think about ad-blocking probably has a lot to do with where you are on the chain. Established outlets with high traffic probably hate it. Smaller outlets, or places that generate success as much through good-will and community as through fat checks from advertisers, probably take a more tempered view. Readers obviously love it, and advertisers — as long as they get enough ads in front of enough eyes across the spectrum of sites they work with — may not like it but aren’t openly in revolt the way they are around DVR.

That tells me this isn’t a moral issue; it’s a business one. And though I choose not to use ad-blocking, I really don’t find myself faulting those who do. What I hope is that its use becomes a force for innovation, not over-reaction.

Comments

I stopped using adblockers a while ago for basically all of the reasons spelled out here. The only time I regret that is when there's an ad before a video. Website ads are so easy to tune out, I don't care at all. From what I gathered from my time spent in the online advertising industry, cost-per-click advertising is on the way out anyway, so simply having the image served to me is doing my part.

I have seen the light. Praise the jesus. I will no longer use ad blockers. Amend. Amend.

Ok I'm back to using ad blockers. See you in hell.

Thanks for the reminder to add GWJ to my AdBlock exceptions list.

I actually installed it because one of our sites (eHow) had a sh*tload of ads, and my hackathon project was to replace them with relevant ads for our other customers, but the existing ones slowed my browser to a crawl.

I agree in principle, and I do feel a little bad for having adblocker sometimes... but everytime I go on a computer without ad-blocker I'm reminded as to why I use it. Honestly, I'm not terribly offended by most advertising, I'm fine with banner ads, I'm fine with skippable videos at the beginning of youtube clips.

But when I go to a site and accidentally mouse over the wrong thing and get hit with a fullscreen video with audio for something I'm not even vaguely interested in, or when I want to watch a video and have to sit through a 90 second advertisement for a car I'll never be able to afford, or hilariously, a store in the US I'll probably never visit... these things are really annoying.

Having said that, the first thing I'll do on a site I like is disable to adblocker to let the banners and such through. But if they decide to use the sort of ridiculous ads I've mentioned above, they go right back on the blocked list.

The day the promise of monolithic add networks serving me appropriate adds based on that giant ball of collected data becomes a reality is the day I turn it off. I don't feel bad sidestepping a companies attempt to profit from wasting my time. The reason we see those adds is not because the hosting site necessarily thinks they are a benefit to us, its because they serving my eyes to the highest bidder.

The day advertisers respect my time and don't treat me like an animal to be herded is the day I will gladly watch adds. Adds as a discovery service is what we are promised and what I'm waiting for.

PS: I do consider GWJ to be different from GameSpy. The adds we get on the conference call are never a waste of time

Digi

Ad networks have been a security risk in the past and evidently continue to be a vehicle to spread malware and other nefarious bits that may negatively impact my PC at home or at work. It makes sense, ad networks are ubiquitous and reach pretty much every PC online. I cant imagine a future where online ads aren't a potential vector for various high and low level intrusions on my PC, which means as long as I can run an ad blocker I will.

http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/02/01/1529821/malware-online-ads-porn/
https://threatpost.com/en_us/blogs/major-ad-networks-found-serving-malicious-ads-121210

I'll stop blocking ads when advertisers stop serving obnoxious ads. Anything animated makes it harder for me to read the content - the reason I'm on the page in the first place. If I'm interested in what the ad has to say, I'll notice it. It doesn't have to be so in my face.

Videos with audio that take over the page and automatically start playing are right out. I'm looking at you, Escapist.

On this very site, animated avatars are verboten, yet in the few times that GWJ has run advertising, animated banners and blocks showed up in regular rotation. When I complained about that, Certis told me to just block the ads. I realize you don't always have control over what goes in ad slots, but it just struck me as odd that the answer was to block ads. Is it really so bad that you can't tell advertisers not to put anything animated or noisy in your ad mix?

I guess I'm just stuck in a print mindset. Most print advertising (at least for stuff that I read) doesn't get in the way of the content. If online advertising did the same, less people would be blocking it.

The sad thing is that online advertisers have been the way they are for so long, I doubt there's any way to get ad blocker afficionados to give up their ad blockers. Although, I must say, I do enable ads for certain sites that have proven to me that their advertisers don't run distracting ad content.

One time, I enabled everything on escapistmagazine.com. I had 6 GB of memory, Firefox, an Intel Core i7 920 (quad-core). The site was almost unusable. f*ck'em

They may have closed, but I still had to enable javascript for www.gamespy.com

Here's an idea, anytime something doesn't work even though it could be done without javascript, write the website and tell them they have a bug.

Tyops wrote:
Ad networks have been a security risk in the past and evidently continue to be a vehicle to spread malware and other nefarious bits that may negatively impact my PC at home or at work. It makes sense, ad networks are ubiquitous and reach pretty much every PC online. I cant imagine a future where online ads aren't a potential vector for various high and low level intrusions on my PC, which means as long as I can run an ad blocker I will.

This is why I continue to use ABP. However, sites that I frequent and I feel I can trust to keep their ad networks in check are added to the whitelist. Any site I enjoy reading on a regular basis usually gets a small donation if they provide a link. Good work should be rewarded.

shoptroll wrote:
This is why I continue to use ABP. However, sites that I frequent and I feel I can trust to keep their ad networks in check are added to the whitelist. Any site I enjoy reading on a regular basis usually gets a small donation if they provide a link. Good work should be rewarded.

Yeah that's a noble sentiment, but in the end it's not about trusting the site but about trusting their ad network. Over the years more than a few sites that I frequent regularly have posted apologies because the ad networks they employ had at one time or another delivered infected ads.

Tyops wrote:
Yeah that's a noble sentiment, but in the end it's not about trusting the site but about trusting their ad network. Over the years more than a few sites that I frequent regularly have posted apologies because the ad networks they employ had at one time or another delivered infected ads.

I've seen that happen too, which is why I'm unwilling to drop ABP completely. On the off-chance something does happen it's nice to have a defense mechanism on standby.

Is it really so bad that you can't tell advertisers not to put anything animated or noisy in your ad mix?

In a word: yes. You can try, and we did, but it never quite works out. Like I said in the article, I found that every bit as frustrating as you guys.

The model of advertising and sponsorships is broken as I think that the prices of doing anything has been pushed up so high, because of the advertising and sponsorships. Everything has to come down, and it's not the end user that should give in, because otherwise the broken model can't go forward.

I like the approach twitch.tv has taken. They recently started offering a premium account where you don't get the ad, but the content provider still gets the revenue. I'm happy to spend some money every month to have a better experience while still rewarding the content provider.

I'm a marketer, and it's not enough to just subject yourself to the ad.

If I'm paying for an ad, I just don't want impressions (the ad was served), I want clicks (clickthroughs on ad) so that I have a chance to sell you something.

It's a numbers game. If you tell me I can get 1 million impressions, great, but I need 1% to click through, and a percentage of them to BUY something so I can justify the Ad expenditure.

And all of the big sites, magazines, made big promises to game marketers, and kept their ad rates the same as it was clear that their monthly uniques were slipping in favor of UGC (blogs), and the data showed that the ROI was slipping.

Why was advertising not working? Users got smart. They stopped clicking on banner/site ads. They got numb to advertising. They started blocking them. They used social media and blogs to find content on games they were interested in.

Marketers aren't dumb. Our whole job is predicated on getting my product in front of people when they are most interested in it, in a context where they are ready to buy, and with a message that will make you part with your money.

Even if you have ABP off, if you aren't going to click and buy, no amount of impressions will keep my ad dollars on a site.

In the end, game sites and magazines died because the ad based business model is fundamentally flawed. It requires mass numbers and mass purchasing...and those things don't exist anymore.

Elysium wrote:
Is it really so bad that you can't tell advertisers not to put anything animated or noisy in your ad mix?

In a word: yes. You can try, and we did, but it never quite works out. Like I said in the article, I found that every bit as frustrating as you guys.


Yeah, I would literally comb though the ad list every day and still never catch every single animated, obnoxious ad. Good riddance. I'll pay for hosting out of my day job before I'd ever run ads we can't fully control again.

Certis wrote:
Elysium wrote:
Is it really so bad that you can't tell advertisers not to put anything animated or noisy in your ad mix?

In a word: yes. You can try, and we did, but it never quite works out. Like I said in the article, I found that every bit as frustrating as you guys.


Yeah, I would literally comb though the ad list every day and still never catch every single animated, obnoxious ad. Good riddance. I'll pay for hosting out of my day job before I'd ever run ads we can't fully control again.
That sucks. If the content networks delivering these ads want to get ahead they should (or require the advertisers to) tag every ad as static or animated so website owners can simply click a check box on what kind of ads they want to allow. The advertisers could also have access to this info to see what kind of ads are accepted and what aren't, so they can adjust their strategy accordingly.

Tyops wrote:
Ad networks have been a security risk in the past

This is mainly why I started blocking ads years ago. The main reason I continue to use it to this day is due to how obnoxious and intrusive ads have become. Plus I just hate 99% of all advertising that exists, in any medium. The only time I willingly consume ads is during the Super Bowl, for obvious reasons. The one exception is the online media company I work for, which I have whitelisted, because the company (1) gets a lot of revenue via advertising these days and (2) pays my salary.

shoptroll wrote:
Any site I enjoy reading on a regular basis usually gets a small donation if they provide a link. Good work should be rewarded.

Agreed. This is why I've contributed to the GWJ fundraiser for the last 4 years. It's also why I have a recurring donation to rockpapershotgun.com for $2/month, with ABP enabled of course.

kaostheory wrote:
I like the approach twitch.tv has taken. They recently started offering a premium account where you don't get the ad, but the content provider still gets the revenue.

I also signed up to be a Turbo user when that option was made available last month, because I watch a significant amount of content via Twitch and want to support this type of business.

To anyone who is or will be a Twitch Turbo user: I'm not 100% sure about it, but I've heard more than one partnered broadcaster say that in order for them to receive credit for ad views by a Turbo user, he/she must have the adblocker disabled. So I've whitelisted twitch.tv and encourage any current or future Turbo users to do the same.

Redwing wrote:
I agree in principle, and I do feel a little bad for having adblocker sometimes... but everytime I go on a computer without ad-blocker I'm reminded as to why I use it. Honestly, I'm not terribly offended by most advertising, I'm fine with banner ads, I'm fine with skippable videos at the beginning of youtube clips.

But when I go to a site and accidentally mouse over the wrong thing and get hit with a fullscreen video with audio for something I'm not even vaguely interested in, or when I want to watch a video and have to sit through a 90 second advertisement for a car I'll never be able to afford, or hilariously, a store in the US I'll probably never visit... these things are really annoying.

Having said that, the first thing I'll do on a site I like is disable to adblocker to let the banners and such through. But if they decide to use the sort of ridiculous ads I've mentioned above, they go right back on the blocked list.

This is me almost exactly. I'll add one other thing though. If a content creator asks for me to disable AdBlocker I'll do it. I've done it for a few comics I read occasionally. Some sites have text that shows in the banner block asking, or a note elsewhere on the site. Then I give them a chance, unless the ads are brutally obnoxious, like pop up video or red flashing 'you're the millionth visitor' type banners.

My answer to obnoxious ads is that I take that site out of my RSS reader and avoid visiting it in the future.

I've never really used ad blocker myself. Though, I'd feel better about that choice if more sites would band together and make networks where I could pay to get rid of all the ads on their sites. Or if individual sites had reasonable prices for getting rid of ads, but neither scenerio is likely. (25 cents to get rid of the ads on one site for a month? I'm in. $3 to get rid of ads? Absurd.)

kazriko wrote:
My answer to obnoxious ads is that I take that site out of my RSS reader and avoid visiting it in the future.

I've never really used ad blocker myself. Though, I'd feel better about that choice if more sites would band together and make networks where I could pay to get rid of all the ads on their sites. Or if individual sites had reasonable prices for getting rid of ads, but neither scenerio is likely. (25 cents to get rid of the ads on one site for a month? I'm in. $3 to get rid of ads? Absurd.)

Indeed, that's how I've always seen it. Either read the site and contribute via ad impressions, or don't. No dodgy moral justifications needed. Obnoxious adverts seem to correlate pretty strongly with crappy content anyway.

I'm hoping the kind of mini-subscription model takes off as well. My worry is that the alternative is the print equivalent of the TV/film model of ever more intricate product placement.

MeatMan wrote:

To anyone who is or will be a Twitch Turbo user: I'm not 100% sure about it, but I've heard more than one partnered broadcaster say that in order for them to receive credit for ad views by a Turbo user, he/she must have the adblocker disabled. So I've whitelisted twitch.tv and encourage any current or future Turbo users to do the same.

You do need to have adblocker disabled in order for the viewer to "count".

I'm going to have to add another vote to "F*** 'em", for all the reasons already mentioned.

Ads are a nice idea at a basic level, but too many advertisers have poisoned the well. There are a really small number of sites I unblock, and more often than not it's from a polite/obnoxious request in the background image that I can make go away, and then their ads are still likely to be blocked by my humongous blocking hosts file.

I see articles like this and laugh. Good. Advertisers screwed themselves by over-reaching in every way possible, and now their toys are getting taken away (at least for a while, until the next cycle of the arms race).

There will be collateral damage, some of it unfortunate, but hopefully anyone worth a damn can pursue other avenues of funding, and that's the key to me. I hope in a reasonably fair and honest world, people do find a way to realise what's valuable to them and exchange currency for it. Advertising has been portrayed as something for nothing when it wasn't, and perhaps that has created the perception that the web was without cost, that needs to be corrected.

Zelos wrote:

I'm hoping the kind of mini-subscription model takes off as well. My worry is that the alternative is the print equivalent of the TV/film model of ever more intricate product placement.

I view my annual donation as a subscription to GWJ and as far as intricate product placement, have you seen some of the threads on this site

In all seriousness though I think GWJ is the only site I have whitelisted and I make sure to use any GWJ affiliate links so the site gets the kickback if I have that option.

Saw a comment on Metafilter about what it's like when one turns of the ad-blocker to surf the web: it's like slipping on the ring of Sauron. Yep.

This came up in my Twitter feed a week or so ago. I know all the arguments for not using an ad-blocker. I sympathize with them, I really do. But I will not stop using mine. I will own it and I will hang my head in shame. You may call me what you like. You may question my integrity; my willingness to self-blindness; whatever. I won't stop using it. I will not put on the ring.

Something that amuses me about advertisers attitude is that it comes across that they believe they own the page, and how it should appear. The problem is that's not how web browsers work. A browser can request a page and get a load of content/style/media in return, but past that point there's the default standards way it should be rendered, but no guarantee that's how it will be rendered, that's all down to the browser and the options chosen.

Once it's on my system I can and often do display a page any way I please. There's a small village industry of tweaking web pages to make them better: https://userscripts.org/

Unless they're going to move to making websites as PDFs or one solid image, it's not going to change, and even then I can see a few methods to fix what they break.

So this has me thinking about negative externalities. If there's heavy traffic and one driver sneaks up the maintenance lane to save time he imposes a cost, additional time on the road, on other drivers when he merges back into heavy traffic. Yet there's no penalty for the driver that's cheating the system. It's not a big cost for everyone else if one driver does this, but when 4-5 drivers start doing this every minute the cost for all the drivers following the rules of the road climbs higher and higher.

Users with ad-block programs impose negative externalities on other users by reducing the number of impressions and click-throughs for the advertisers which results in less revenue for the content provider. Less revenue for content providers means reduced content for the user-base, but it's not something that the ad-blockers will notice.

I feel like I just answered a short-essay question from Econ 101.

S0LIDARITY wrote:
So this has me thinking about negative externalities.

No, all the drivers are using the same road/lanes, also there's no 'road charge' that the adblockers are dodging.

Scratched wrote:
S0LIDARITY wrote:
So this has me thinking about negative externalities.

No, all the drivers are using the same road/lanes, also there's no 'road charge' that the adblockers are dodging.

The ad-blockers don't ring up any advertising revenue for the content providers. It's like using a road without paying a toll.

Prozac wrote:
Zelos wrote:

I'm hoping the kind of mini-subscription model takes off as well. My worry is that the alternative is the print equivalent of the TV/film model of ever more intricate product placement.

I view my annual donation as a subscription to GWJ and as far as intricate product placement, have you seen some of the threads on this site

I knew it! How much did the Backflip Madnesss developers pay?