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"Those obnoxious intrusive ads that pay $42 a day are the only way a site like ours stays afloat."
April 22, 2012 10:24 PM   Subscribe

A Transparent Attempt to Explain the Economics Behind Running a Pop-Culture Website and the Need to Run Intrusive Advertising The thing about display ads is that you are paid for about what they are worth, which is to say: $.30 per 1,000 impressions. Most people barely even notice them, so advertisers are not willing to pay you very much to run them...Instead, we have to use intrusive ads which are paid on a much larger scale, approximately $7.00 per 1,000 impressions. So, if a site like ours generates 100,000 impressions, that should be $700 a day. Awesome. We should be rich, right? Not so much. Pajiba previously. [via Slashfilm]
posted by mediareport (181 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
If the only way that you can keep your site afloat is by forcing me to wade through advertisements so thick and so intrusive that it nearly breaks my browser (or does break my browser if I'm on my phone) then as far as I'm concerned you don't need to exist. I'd much rather not use your website than deal with your shitty ads, and if that doesn't work for you then I fail to see how that's meant to be my problem. I have no sympathy at all for advertising companies and very, very little for those who think they need to whore themselves out to said companies in order to survive.
posted by Scientist at 10:32 PM on April 22, 2012 [34 favorites]


I actually did click an ad on that page for this, because...I mean...come on, how could I not?
posted by adamdschneider at 10:34 PM on April 22, 2012 [18 favorites]


So since I refuse to develop my website into a sustainable concern, you, the reader, should have to put up with my bullshit until I decide to change my ways.

Sincerely, the management.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:45 PM on April 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think their big problem is that up to now, if you'd said "Pajiba" to me I would think it was the brand name for spicy Indian snack food.

True quality does not need intrusive advertising.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:50 PM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've never heard of the site so perhaps I'm so far out of the target market that it doesn't matter, but jeez... if you run enough obnoxiously intrusive advertising, at some point it doesn't matter how badly you need the money -- you're just cannibalizing your readership by driving them away (or encouraging them to enable AdBlock, which I have to say works quite well on Pajiba). Clobbering your readers with ads is basically eating your seed corn -- it might get you a little extra cash in the short run, but in the long run your readers have an almost unlimited number of alternative places to spend their time and pageviews. You don't want to compete with that from a position of weakness.

If you honestly can't run "an entity that posts close to 250 entries a month with more than 15 writers who contribute frequently" (and I don't know if that's possible or not, but let's say on premise that it's not) without intrusive ads, I'd probably fire a bunch of those contributors and cut down the update rate. 250 entries a month is 9 or so a day, including weekends -- unless you have a really involved readership, that's probably more content than they're actually reading. So dial down the content-hose, and with the savings stick to advertising that isn't offensively intrusive. Better for just about everyone.

Also, the claims in the article regarding ad networks, specifically that "We have no control over what ads appear. In fact, we have almost no communication with the people who run these ad networks" does not ring true to me. In my experience, unless you are a really small-beans blog, you can control the types of ads that show up on your site. We certainly have had enough discussions about specific ads here on MeFi, and that's pretty consistent with my understanding of how ad-network ads work on other sites (if you generate enough traffic, you get some control over which ads show up, and can pull ones that are offensive to your readership). I think someone is either willfully remaining hands-off, or is being sold a bill of goods by their ad networks.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:59 PM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


Politely ask me to browse the site with AdBlock up because you're hard up on cash? Sure. I'll do it.

The second your tab starts autoplaying audio? AdBlock is turned straight back on and I start looking for a better way to find what you're offering.

On the plus side we know how much a small site is willing to piss away its brand/reputation for.

Bring on micro-payments already, IMHO. You want my penny a day that you get from ad impressions? If your content is worthwhile I'll give you a nickel instead.
posted by Talez at 11:00 PM on April 22, 2012 [24 favorites]


FYI for folks who think they don't know Pajiba: the site includes the folks (or perhaps just knows the folks and gets the stuff first) who are responsible for some pretty internet-famous videos.
posted by mediareport at 11:07 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


My story, for what it's worth: I've been publically struggling with how to pay the bills and possibly even make a buck or two over at MefightClub for a couple of years now, as things started to scale up and the costs got bigger. (MFC has about 2100 registered users and about 6000 pageviews a day from people not blocking Google Analytics, for an idea of scale -- fairly middling-small potatoes.)

There's a link for donations, and the last time the amazingly generous users there decided that it was time to run a donation drive, folks kicked in enough money to fund server resources at that level for upwards of two years (although I've had to bump up resource allocation on our VPS servers a few times since as we've grown). The willingness of MFC members to drop a few bucks in the tip jar is always incredibly heartwarming to me.

But I've always felt uncomfortable with donations, with sort of being hat in hand on the corner, and having some kind of ongoing revenue stream for the site without having to ask for donations, or have other folks feel like they had to read between the lines with things I said and organize donation drives on my behalf... well, that seemed a less emotionally stressful.

So I tried Adsense for a while, and got incredibly excited when it brought in like $20 a day or more for the first week. Then got kind of discouraged when that dropped off to less than a dollar a day and stayed there, until I killed it a few months later.

Then I remembered that Matt has done Amazon affiliate URL rewriting here for a long time, and quickly whipped up a little bit of code to do the same thing there. People encouraged me to pursue the Amazon thing, because a) lots of folks shopped at Amazon already and b) it wouldn't cost them any more to do so using the MefightClub affiliate links.

I was kind of hesitant, because I'm no fan of the way Amazon treats its employees, but I swallowed what little integrity I felt I had left after running Adsense, and threw some affiliate links in the sidebar and activated the Amazon URL rewriter.

It's actually gone pretty well, all things considered. It probably won't make it to $100 for this month, but it's better than nothing, and it's unobtrusive, not-annoying (I believe) and doesn't interrupt or distract users who just don't care about it.

In my experience, unless you are a really small-beans blog, you can control the types of ads that show up on your site.

Oddly, one of the problems with Adsense (not that things would have been much better otherwise) was that because my account address was outside of America (or maybe because it's in Korea), I was not allowed in the backend to target the ads delivered to the kinds of products that MFC users might be interested it. It was weird, but I actually eventually did find a knowledgebase article that confirmed that was the case.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:32 PM on April 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


Plus, there’s another 10 percent of our visitors who use ad-blocking software.

I've shown every one of my coworkers what the internet looks like without ads, and not one of them thought it was an improvement. Most people genuinely don't mind ads, as far as I can tell. They are colorful, flash interesting colors and patterns, and sometimes I think they even click on them.

So while I'm sure that the author gets an occasional irate email about the ads, I really doubt that they are actually an issue for 99.9% of the users.
posted by Forktine at 11:36 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never understood the Web advertising business. Maybe I'm just from a previous generation. But then again, maybe this gives a good perspective.

"Back in my day" there was no Internet. Ads had no 'click-throughs' because there was no clicking, no interaction. Major commercial products (like Ford, Coca-Cola) would spend enormous amounts of money on ads in magazines and newspapers, radio and television, that people would just notice passively. Nevertheless they were very capable of insinuating the corporate image into people's brains, and the products did well.

In the internet, it is all about click through. I know people (some of them very highly paid), who go to some common site (like Yahoo, believe it or not), from which to launch their morning web contact--email, news, etc. They never click on any ads. If there was an unobtrusive Coca-Cola or BMW ad, they wouldn't click on it, but they'd notice it. Maybe not consciously.

If I was one of these big companies, I'd shake up the Internet ad business. I'd go to some company like Google, or Yahoo and say, "I want you to reach these people" (and have a list of demographics). "I want so many eyes for so much money. Nothing for blocked ads. I promise my content will be unobtrusive. My ads may have links, but I won't pay a penny for click throughs. I want eyes. The click-through and interaction is not the goal and we won't pay for it."

I have a feeling the Googles and Yahoos of the world would have collective heart attacks. They just wouldn't know what to do with such a request.
posted by eye of newt at 12:10 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Moreover, page impressions generated outside of the United States pay closer $.03 per 1,000 impressions instead of $.30 per 1,000 impressions.

does that mean I don't have to feel bad about using adblock, because advertisers consider me worthless?

Who knew people outside of America didn't use the internet/have money/were less gullible?

based on 10 ads/100 pages per day, I'll ante up the £2.28 per annum not to have to have any ads ... agreed?
posted by fistynuts at 12:31 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You generate 6000 pageviews a day and you have servers? As in more than one server? You can run that off of any number of free or <$30/month services.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:39 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought the article sincere and well-written.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:00 AM on April 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


You generate 6000 pageviews a day and you have servers? As in more than one server? You can run that off of any number of free or <$30/month services.

That's what GA tells me. I haven't looked at the actual server stats in a long while. But no, we long ago outgrew the shared hosting I was using years back and now run a VPS web server and a VPS database server, and there are several other sites are running on the same servers.

For what it's worth, almost nothing is static HTML in the forum itself, it's all PHP pulling database stuff. We moved up to virtual private servers out of necessity -- several MFC members who know a lot more about server-wrangling tried to help with optimizing back in the day, but the site was failing nonetheless until we got more capacity.

Vanilla (the forum software I chose back when we started the site) doesn't scale terribly well, it seems.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:42 AM on April 23, 2012


Advertisements would not present such a problem id browser options like "block cookies from third parties and advertisers" actually worked. AdBlock and Ghostery are essential to keeping your cookies database sane.

I recommend the additional privacy protecting lists on both easylist.adblockplus.org and fanboy.co.nz as well as disabling facebook content on non-facebook sites :

||facebook.*$domain=~facebook.com|~127.0.0.1
||fbcdn.*$domain=~fbcdn.com|~facebook.com|~127.0.0.1
posted by jeffburdges at 1:46 AM on April 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


FYI for folks who think they don't know Pajiba: the site includes the folks (or perhaps just knows the folks and gets the stuff first) who are responsible for some pretty internet-famous videos.

So... I don't recognize any of those videos on sight, but from the stills it looks like they're primarily composed of movie clips from footage actually made by other people. Hosted on Youtube, for free.

The one MeFi post in "previously" that I remember is this one, in which Pajiba presents a guide to a montage of movie clips that someone else has made and is hosting on Youtube for free.

That seems like kinda slim offerings if it's representative of what they do. I'm rather surprised that there's anyone writing "letter to the editor" type emails to him, and if they are I think he ought to figure out how to hang on to the readership of however many people like that there are and be thankful that it evidently buys him movie tickets.

(And "statistics companies" is one of his other expenses? Like, web statistics? He's paying for something beyond Google Analytics? So... he's telling people that he really needs to insert intrusive ads, so that he can afford to track their browsing behavior on his site in a more sophisticated fashion... so that he can sell advertising space?)
posted by XMLicious at 1:49 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hmm, so I suddenly got curious, and it looks like the on-server stats package is telling me that last week (for example) MefightClub itself (not counting any of the other sites) served 118,421 pages, so it looks like it's more like 15,000 a day-ish. Quite a discrepancy... (I know very little about website stats, I admit.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:00 AM on April 23, 2012


It was a long time before I bothered with adblock. I didn't tend to mind ads, my brain kinda filtering them out for the most part and just occasionally - like with film sites, seeing what films/dvds were coming out - I found then useful. Also, weirdly, I thought it was sort of cheating. However once they started to become continuously animated then it was game over. I don't know if it's because I'm mildly dyslexic but having something jigging around in the corner of my vision makes it literally impossible for me to read stuff.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:33 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually did click an ad on that page for this, because...I mean...come on, how could I not?

Oh man:
Chapter One

Brutal, undeniable pain. The kind of pain that could kill a man. Maybe it had. Maybe the pain throbbing in his head right at this moment had killed him and he'd have to spend eternity feeling like this. Like warmed-over shit melting in the hot desert sun.

The worst part about all this? It was his fault. He had no one to blame for this but himself—and those damn Jell-O shots. He should have stayed away from them. He knew better. All that alcohol in those delectable little jiggly squares . . . what was he thinking?
posted by delmoi at 3:47 AM on April 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't understand why people flip out over ads so much. I rarely notice what they are for, often miss they exist. I will allow, ones with loud sound can cause me to avoid a site forever. If that was a constant problem, I'd probably use adblockers myself.
posted by Goofyy at 3:49 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I run adblock, so I don't really know. The site could have the most annoying adverts in the world and, well, I just wouldn't know about it since I run adblock. Its' fucking awesome.

And don't give me the "these sites needs the ads to survive" 90% of these "pop culture" sites are completely disposable, filled with annoying SEO and linkbait crap that I wouldn't click on if it wasn't right in my face and forget 10 seconds after I close the window. Why would I care if they disappeared?
posted by delmoi at 3:49 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why people flip out over ads so much. I rarely notice what they are for, often miss they exist. I will allow, ones with loud sound can cause me to avoid a site forever. If that was a constant problem, I'd probably use adblockers myself.
Well, the article is about ads that *are* obtrusive and layer on top of the page content for a while. Those do annoy me, when I'm using a browser i haven't installed adblock in or a new computer or something. But like I said, I don't see ads 99% of the time.
posted by delmoi at 3:51 AM on April 23, 2012


If I was one of these big companies, I'd shake up the Internet ad business. I'd go to some company like Google, or Yahoo and say, "I want you to reach these people" (and have a list of demographics). "I want so many eyes for so much money. Nothing for blocked ads. I promise my content will be unobtrusive. My ads may have links, but I won't pay a penny for click throughs. I want eyes. The click-through and interaction is not the goal and we won't pay for it."
Well, when you click an ad for Coke or BMW you're essentially taken to what's essentially just another ad. They don't expect you to buy coke or a BMW right on the internet that second, they expect to change your mind about what soft drinks to buy the next time you're at the store, or what cars you think are cool. But they still buy ads the same way they did back in the day. They are perfectly happy if you see an "In depth" ad on someone else's website as they are if you see it on theirs.

The problem though is that you don't get to say much in a banner ad compared to a full page magazine ad, or compared to a TV ad. The "Click to skip" ads are a great idea. They have the possibility of being in depth, but also you can skip them like in a magazine.

On YouTube (Which I'll frequently look at in Chrome, where I don't have adblock) In some cases ads will try to grab your attention in the first five seconds, and you'll sit and watch the rest of the 30s or whatever because it's interesting. I don't mind them as much because I can usually skip them (If I can't I am annoyed) and because I know a chunk of the money from these long play ads goes to the channel I'm watching. On the other hand, I still usually do watch in firefox, and the adblock for firefox does work on YT.
posted by delmoi at 4:14 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I use Adblock Plus.
One irritating development I've run across lately is with content such as embedded videos or Flash games that play an ad prior to the video/game loading. Often, if the ad doesn't load, neither will the video/game. I don't know if this is intentional coding, but it's a behavior that seems to be on the rise.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:32 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thorzdad, it is intentional.
posted by andreaazure at 5:45 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why can't they make an ad blocker that simulates click-throughs? Why does anyone need to know I use an ad blocker? Doesn't the technology to do this exist?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:45 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


And don't give me the "these sites needs the ads to survive" 90% of these "pop culture" sites are completely disposable... Why would I care if they disappeared?

Whether or not you'd care if it died is entirely irrelevant to what it needs to survive.

This thread in general us rather dispiriting. Jesus Christ, the guy loves movies and is trying to make a living running a site that talks about them --- for which he's managed to scrape together the princely sum of of $19,000 a year. Being mildly irritated for 30 seconds by an ad is not, in fact, a war crime.

I mean, for Crissakes, I certainly can't claim to be a lover of ads -- in fifteen years of using the Internet every day, I can't recall clicking on one. But I am extremely skeptical that micropayments or concentrating on a targeted niche will solve such problems --- those avenues have their own troubles. The hybrid pay wall that the times has is having some success, but as many critics in this thread have been at pains to point out, this type of pop culture stuff is probably too fluffy to get many people to pay. It's display ads or nothing.

More to the point, however ---- it's been a decade and a half, you really think nobody out there has attempted to do targeted display? It's everywhere --- on sites with a shit ton of traffic and upper class demographics. But it'll never be the solution for the bulk of the web. And even there it's still nowhere near what you could get for print. I was talking to a guy once --- he was telling me that back in the early 2000s when his company was buying them, it cost $100,000 to run a full page ad in the special section of our local metro daily. This for a newspaper that employed probably 300 reporters? Those are the kinds of margins you need to sustain a real news organisation. What this article shows --- even though it's about a fluff site --- is that there may never be enough in web advertising to sustain that kind of reporting again. Because most people are like y'all.
posted by Diablevert at 6:06 AM on April 23, 2012 [20 favorites]


It's really difficult to make money from putting ads on your sites unless you get huge levels of traffic. It always amazes me that sites are willing to put the terrible teeth whitening and stomach tightening ads on for the few pence a day they must generate.
posted by DanCall at 6:09 AM on April 23, 2012


In the internet, it is all about click through.

That's no longer true and hasn't been for a while:

So, how does it work? First of all, contrary to popular opinion, clicking on ads arbitrarily does not benefit the site financially. That may work on some sites, niche ones in particular (like our old site, Quizlaw.com), but most entertainment sites run on a per impression basis, which means: We are paid based on the number of page views.

stavros: threw some affiliate links in the sidebar and activated the Amazon URL rewriter...It's actually gone pretty well

Yeah, unless he has a moral objection to dealing with the slavedrivers at Amazon, Dustin should be in the associate program if he's running a pop cult review site. I enjoyed the look behind the scenes at a moderate-size site's finances and thought others might too but he seems a bit naive about his options. The part about a tip jar feeling like panhandling seems almost absurd given that he's running Break Media ads one commenter describes as "giving me random outbursts of blood-curdling screams" that occur multiple times a day. But he seems open to ideas, as demonstrated in this comment:

DEAR INTERNATIONAL READERS: I'm really sorry. I have absolutely NO idea what kind of ads run in your countries. I can only imagine they are the worst, flash-y, low-quality crap. Given how little we make on them, I may try something new next week. Maybe someone from a country outside of the US can send me a screenshot so I can see how bad it is?

delmoi: 90% of these "pop culture" sites are completely disposable, filled with annoying SEO and linkbait crap

Well, that's nice, but I don't think it describes Pajiba. I mean, before now I never visited except for the links to those great film clip comps, but nosing around last night and this morning it seems obvious there's a community there and the writers care about what they do. That Dustin pays them is wonderful; I want to see sites like this succeed. Don't you?
posted by mediareport at 6:18 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is also my experience with mobile ads. It is difficult to sustain a company of more than a few employees, even if you have a popular app, with banner ads alone. More so if you don't do targeting and turn off the jiggling boobies.

And yeah, you don't always have a lot of control over what ads are shown on the self-serve networks. There is sort of an arms race between the ad network moderators and scam artists, and sometimes scammy ads slip through. It's so bad that you have to enter keywords like "single" and "women" (!) to filter out the porny ads.

I have noticed the quality of ads has decreased in the last couple of years. Even the mighty Apple is holding fire sales on their network, where I used to see ads from the likes of BMW and McDonald's all the time.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:46 AM on April 23, 2012


If I was one of these big companies, I'd shake up the Internet ad business. I'd go to some company like Google, or Yahoo and say, "I want you to reach these people" (and have a list of demographics). "I want so many eyes for so much money. Nothing for blocked ads. I promise my content will be unobtrusive. My ads may have links, but I won't pay a penny for click throughs. I want eyes. The click-through and interaction is not the goal and we won't pay for it."

Some advertisers do that. How much they pay for ads depends on a lot of factors. The actual type of activity you're buying is one factor: per-impression means that you're just paying to have your ad loaded and displayed on the page. Per-click means that you're paying for people actually clicking on the ad and following it to your site. Clicks are more expensive than (potential) glances. The more focused the demographic group you target, the more you'll pay. So the kind of "Do it this way and I'll make it worth your while!" pitch you describe isn't going to shake things up, because it's how things already work.

The interesting thing is that "target a demographic and buy static ads that talk to them" is pretty much how advertising worked until the internet shook things up. It's how television ads are purchased, for example: sponsors generally buy ad blocks for particular numbers of viewers in particular demos, and the network places them into shows based on those preferences. In print publishing, advertisers traditionally purchase space based on the publication's reach and demographics alone. This is why many industry-specific news magazines have high cover prices but will give a free subscription to anyone in the relevant industry who fills out a survey about their job: ensuring that their reader demographics are focused and well-profiled is worth more in ad revenues than the actual subscription price. Television had the Nielsens, which wasn't as precise but delivered some approximated demo information for assorted shows by tracking the television watching habits of a large sample of families nationwide.

The downside of this model, of course, is that measuring whether people saw your ads or paid attention to them or acted on them is nigh impossible. One of the reason that high-profile headliner events like the Superbowl have ridiculous ad rates is that we know lots of people will watch, and probably keep watching through the whole broadcast. Everyone trusted that it was worth it, though, and high-profile publications could command decent ad rates.

Enter the internet, and suddenly those "take it for granted" things become trackable. Precisely how many people visited the page that displayed your ad? What IP address were they visiting from? How long did they stay on the page? Did they 'click through' and follow the ad to the destination page? Unfortunately, what was missing was a lot of the demographic information that those targeted print publications and Nielsen-profiled television shows did provide advertisers. Things like age, gender, physical location, occupation, income level, and so on suddenly became opaque in internet advertising, and that's what drove a lot of the work to track users and weasel more personal information out of them. For better or worse, demographic targeting on the internet requires gathering lots of information that is not available by default.

Over time, that has improved -- but after an initial bubble in advertising rates things collapsed and never really changed. The Internet got advertisers addicted to measurable metrics, and what everyone learned is that the metrics on the vast majority of ads are terrible. People tune them out, mostly. What gets them to pay attention is annoying them, or putting your ad in front of content they want to read, or dancing and playing music, or somehow breaking through the 'Ad-banner-looking shape: ignore!' process that people unconsciously train themselves to engage in.

So, the status quo in internet advertising today. The rates that sites get for net ads are an order of magnitude lower than the rates industries got used to for print. That means that the economics of running a newspaper on the internet are dramatically altered, unless there's a LOT more ad space. The steady move to mobile has exacerbated that, because people are even less willing to put up with interruption or bad use of screen real estate. A good friend of mine who works in the industry put it simply: Print dollars, web dimes, mobile pennies.

At this point, the only players making real money are the content-farms that generate trillions of cheap pageviews with huge quantities of content, the sites that really, really have good demographic information and are willing to feed it to their advertisers for targeting purposes, or the midlevel sites willing to whore themselves out with monstrously annoying ads that ensure viewer/reader attention.
posted by verb at 6:53 AM on April 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


There have been a few comments to the effect of 'good riddance to good rubbish'. And while I get that, I don't think the author is pleading for people to come and visit the website despite the ads. He's not trying to convince you that Pajiba is some noble enterprise that deserves your support and that you should put up with anything. He's simply saying that the website faces trade-offs and that this is a steep one.

If that motivates you to take your business elsewhere, well, fine. But that's the thing - your business wasn't making them any (significant) money anyway. Where the gap is $7 versus $0.30 per thousand impressions, Pajiba can lose 95% of their audience and still come out ahead.

So the message I take from the post is, "We're sorry we have to do this. If you decide to leave, we understand that. If you decide to stay, sorry about the annoyance. But we don't regret it. We can't afford to."
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 6:54 AM on April 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think it's really awesome that he wants to pay his writers, too, and I think that's an important point to examine. How much does he pay per word? Are there first-time contributors who submit for free? Interns? This is pretty important data to consider when striking a balance between ads and revenue.

About ten years ago, I started an online literary magazine. Had a solid host, paid for an ad seeking writers, and got plenty of submissions. The mistake I made was to have an established amount I was going to pay each writer for their work first, then aimed to generate this revenue somehow. In the end, it wasn't sustainable, and I had to shutter the doors after a little over a year of monthly issues.

Perhaps that was the problem here. An editor wants their writers to be happy and sufficiently compensated, but if you start with "I want to pay my writers X amount, so we need Y amount of revenues from ads" rather than "We can generate Y amount of revenues from ads, so I can pay my writers X amount," you'll end up running into problems such as this.

I feel for him, because I understand the motivation entirely, and I also don't think "intrusive" ads are horribly offensive. It just sucks to set yourself up this way, and is bound to run into problems.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:56 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


You could keep a unused browser configuration to never retain any information but otherwise act fairly permissively, Thorzdad, no save games but everything works without any tracking.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:59 AM on April 23, 2012


Kadin, I don't disagree exactly, but you're thinking like old media, or if new media then only really big new media.

"250 entries a month is 9 or so a day, including weekends -- unless you have a really involved readership, that's probably more content than they're actually reading. "

What this assumes, it seems to me, is that the site has readers who go "say, I wonder what's up over at Pajiba" and goes to Pajiba.com to see what new articles are up. I'd submit that the vast number of sites get little to none of their readership that way. I mean look at the post we just read. How many of us had ever heard of Pajiba before this? How many of us bothered to read anything else on the site apart from that one post?

We got a deep link to one post on the site from Metafilter. That one post is now bringing in a fair sized chunk of traffic. But that traffic isn't generally bleeding over to other posts. It's one pageview and then it's gone. That's how media works now. Your brand is actually kind of useless in a world where each individual article rises or falls on its own for utterly unpredictable reasons that have at best very little to do with its actual quality. So in that world you have to shotgun out as many posts as you can, just so each one will bring in whatever traffic it can. And you hope you get lucky by having something picked up by Metafilter or another big aggregator and you get a nice, short-lived traffic spike. You can't just put out a few good posts and trust people to find them.

There are exceptions, obviously. But they tend to be the 1% of the Internet, those sites that have gotten enough accumulated rep that people actually will go there deliberately to see what they've got. It's awesome if you can do that, and you're probably one of those sites the writer mentions, who get a hell of a lot more per ad view. But it's very hard to get there from a standing start.
posted by Naberius at 7:14 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just to add, my own take on this is that, sadly, numbers like the ones cited strike me as nature's way of telling you that nobody really needs another goddamn movie blog.
posted by Naberius at 7:15 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's really awesome that he wants to pay his writers, too, and I think that's an important point to examine. How much does he pay per word?

You can come up with a back of the envelope estimate from the article --- he says the site publishes roughly 250 articles per month (8 per day or 12.5 per week day). He writes about half, and his 15 regular contributors write about half, and they split $3200 per month in revenue. $1,600/125 or $1600/15 --- $12.80 per article or $106.67 per contributor per month. Hopefully there's some variation based on how much effort you have to put into a piece, but even so as far as his contributors go it seems to be about the level of "unprofitable hobby" or a gig a freelance keeps as an indulgence to themselves because they enjoy the topic so much.
posted by Diablevert at 7:17 AM on April 23, 2012


The Panjiba guy talks about a $0.30 CPM for non-intrusive display ads. That's very low. I'm not up on the CPM ad market but Federated Media posts ad rates: roughly $5 to $20 CPM, or 20-100x what Panjiba is charging. BoingBoing for example is $16 CPM. Federated Media's sites are high end expensive places to advertise, and I'm sure no one pays the full retail rate that FM's sheet shows. But still; part of Panjiba's problem is they're apparently not desirable enough to advertisers.

There's a lot of hate here, but it's really a pretty good article. The Pajiba owner does a great job explaining his economics. I think it's particularly interesting that he says he's no good at selling ads but then he feels like he has to figure out how to sell ads on his site himself, "on a strictly trial and error basis".

Honestly, CPM display ads are the worst, crappiest kind of Internet advertiser. They absolutely have a pressure to be more intrusive and obnoxious because forcing people to look at your ad is the entire plan. That's why CPC ads like Google AdSense often are better for everyone: they're less intrusive, they pay per click (not impression), and everyone has an incentive to make the ads relevant to the user viewing them. AdSense isn't for everyone, as Stavros' post above notes, but it sure is better than punching a fucking monkey.
posted by Nelson at 7:20 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Honestly, CPM display ads are the worst, crappiest kind of Internet advertiser. They absolutely have a pressure to be more intrusive and obnoxious because forcing people to look at your ad is the entire plan. That's why CPC ads like Google AdSense often are better for everyone: they're less intrusive, they pay per click (not impression), and everyone has an incentive to make the ads relevant to the user viewing them. AdSense isn't for everyone, as Stavros' post above notes, but it sure is better than punching a fucking monkey.

Indeed. One of the reasons is that Google -- because they cast their net far and wide and gather a LOT of cross-site information about user behavior and have a ginormous amount of useful data about site relevance -- can provide some of the demographic targeting juice that individual sites can't, thus making the ads more valuable.

Unfortunately, the shift to mobile is hurting even Google because of the afore-mentioned collapse in ad rates and the general confusion over how the hell to wedge (even the simplest) ads onto a smartphone without annoying everyone involved.

This is a hot topic at the moment, because everyone involved with web work who's thinking more than six months into the future recognizes that it's a serious concern.
posted by verb at 7:28 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately, the shift to mobile is hurting even Google because of the afore-mentioned collapse in ad rates and the general confusion over how the hell to wedge (even the simplest) ads onto a smartphone without annoying everyone involved.

The cynical person in me would like to point out that they've been making a herculean effort to put Google Wallet on as many phones as possible. Maybe this could finally be the turning point that sees micropayments go mainstream?
posted by Talez at 7:34 AM on April 23, 2012


That's a good article---a nice look behind the curtain. And major, major props to Pajiba for wanting to make enough to pay writers. A whole lot of sites, especially pop culture sites, know they can get people to write for free, so it's nice to see someone who thinks there is some ethical obligation to pay people for their work.

But I have to agree with Diablevert: The depressing entitlement on display from some commenters here is a potent reminder of why most sites don't bother paying. I mean, if sitting through 30 seconds of animated ad is such torment that it makes the article not worth reading, then the article is functionally worthless to you. And if writing is worthless to supposed readers, why should anyone pay for it? It's worthless! Micropayments were an interesting suggestion ten years ago, but at this point, the only way to make micropayments not another word for "free content plus tip jar" is to demand micropayment for reading, and then the same commenters bitching about ads will sneer about paywalls and you'll still have no readers and no writers.

This is, hands down, the worst thing about the internet. In writing, in music, in film, it's encouraged people to believe that everything is "content", and content is replaceable, and therefore all writing, music, and film is basically worthless. What a terrible world.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:37 AM on April 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


In the internet, it is all about click through.

That's no longer true and hasn't been for a while


Yeah, I overstated the death of click-through there, sorry. Mefi relies on Adsense, e.g.; it's alive and well, but not everywhere.
posted by mediareport at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2012


One of the reasons I use adblock is that compromised third-party advertising servers are a major attack vector. I've had at least two separate instances where a site I viewed had its ad servers hacked, and I was protected from malware because I had the third-party flash ads blocked. These attacks are particularly insidious because they come from sites you would reasonably assume you can trust.

So yeah, while I do feel a little bit bad about it sometimes, I stop every time I see a third-party flash ad and think about how many people have had their computers owned by that kind of thing.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:06 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Like warmed-over shit melting in the hot desert sun.

Poetry.
posted by LordSludge at 8:18 AM on April 23, 2012


Pajiba is a quality site. It does long-form movie and TV reviews and essays along with shorter condensed snark-pieces, at least one sex advice column, and regular reader-participation discussions. It has a dense and gregarious community. It is a good website, and the web needs more of those, and that means it needs some money.

Speaking just for myself, I don't have advertising on my website. I do a pledge drive once per year to try and cover most of my hosting expenses. I usually get about 75% of my expenses paid that way - and my expenses are relatively modest. I don't mind, but if I was trying to make even a profit with my site... well.
posted by mightygodking at 8:37 AM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


You know why I have no sympathy for advertisements and don't care whether a given site feels that they need them to survive (sorry Matt & co, I know this is Metafilter's model too) is that advertisements are fundamentally lies.

We don't quite realize it most of the time because they're so pervasive that we normally just blank them out, but the entire advertising industry is predicated on misinforming consumers and getting them to buy things that they wouldn't otherwise buy. It strives to influence purchasing decisions, not on the basis of whether the product or service is superior to its competitors, or on the basis of whether the consumer needs the product or service, or on the basis of whether or not the product or service is actively harmful to the consumer, but rather on the basis of how much money is spent on advertising.

Advertisements distort the truth and provide an avenue for the invasion of social and mental space by corporate interests that has become so pervasive and so everpresent that though few of us notice it, we all must develop considerable savvy and expend considerable mental effort on a continuous basis if we are to remain even partially resistant to the thousands upon thousands of lies that assault us every day from every direction in everything that we do. And don't think that you're totally resistant -- nobody is. Do you know what a Coke is? When you go to the store and you want a cola, do you try every brand of soda to see which one you like best, or do you think of Coke (or maybe Pepsi) as being the best, and all the others as second rate? If the latter, think about why exactly that is the case. The answer is advertisements.

Everywhere I go, people are shouting lies in my ears and eyes. Even in this classroom, the blackboard is flanked by adds for Kaplan, Chimes (a bookstore), NoteSwap, and Disney, not to mention numerous flyers and notices for university-specific events and programs. When I walk outside tere are even more on the bulletin boards all around campus. And my school is pretty much the least ad-contaminated place that I go during my day, except for maybe my home. When I drive I am confronted with advertisements on billboards, lying to me about credit cards and tax preparation services and McDonald's. When I go for a walk I am confronted with lies on telephone poles and shops. When I go to the grocery store to buy food, the food screams lies in my ears and eyes in a thousand neon colors.

I am sick of it. It's poison. It's poison and it's killing us as a society, manipulating us and driving us to form allegiances to corporations, to act against our own interests, to tie our identities to corporate brands, to spend money we don't have on things we don't need, to measure our self-worth by our adherence to standards imposed on us from outside that constantly scream, "YOU'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH! BUY OUR PRODUCT AND GET LOVE/SUCCESS/SELF-ESTEEM/SEX/AFFIRMATION!" The lies are everywhere, in everything we do, poisoning our thoughts and turning ourselves away from each other, from our self interests and the interests of the people around us, twisting us toward alienation, insecurity, disempowerment, thoughtless consumption.

I realize that there are levels. Not all ads are equally evil. If I'm on a niche hobby site, an ad from another hobbiest who has a side-business making really nice widgets to help me do my hobby better is not as bad as waiting for the bus and having an ad for a paycheck advance store sitting three feet in front of my face in the bus shelter. Nevertheless, they all exist on the same continuum. It's a continuum of misinformation, lies, deceit, and the worship of money and artificial status symbols over healthier values like love, self-actualization, creativity, self-expression, and compassion.

Maybe this seems a little strong when what we're talking about here is a pretty innocuous pop-culture commentary site. That's what I see, though, when a site pops an ad up in my face. I see lies. I see poison. I see a tiny part of a vast cancerous plague that lives in the heart of our society and is slowly parasitising it, sucking the life and the love and the truth out of it, making it worse and less true and less fulfilling, less humane. It makes me sick and it makes me tired and I want it to go away and if it takes a few innocuous pop-culture sites with it (or if it forces a radical reorganization of how we support the people who help us have real conversations, forge real connections, have authentic interactions with our world and the people in it -- among which I would count Metafilter) then so be it. The world would be better off, and so would the people who live in it.
posted by Scientist at 8:44 AM on April 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


@Goofyy I block ads for one very simple primary reason: I am incredibly easily visually distracted. Static ads that simply display one non-moving image and sit there, I'd have no problem with. The instant it moves, or changes, or does **ANYTHING** but sit there passively my eyes instantly twitch from whatever I'm reading to that ad. It's pretty close to literally impossible for me to read a page if there's a moving ad on the page.

There's also a slew of secondary reasons. A t work I'm the IT guy so I often have to plunge into sludgeware sites, etc and blocking ads also blocks potential vectors for malware attacks.

Pop up ads also bug me from a philosophic and ideological standpoint. My computer is mine and it feels like a violation when I visit a site and it pops up a window, or resizes my browser, or whatever without my permission. I'll freely acknowledge that's an irrational position.

I donate to sites I like and use, and if there were a micropayments option so I could pay $0.25 or whatever a month, or even $0.05 per day (which, I note is well over his $7/1000 ad revenue), I'd take it in a heartbeat.

I suppose there's also a philosophic position there. It's been said many times that if you aren't paying for something then you aren't the customer, you're the product. The "content" of the website is basically just bait to lure you (the product) there so the real customers (the ad companies) can consume your attention. I'd rather be the customer and simply pay for the content of the site. Which, currently, isn't really practical more's the pity.
posted by sotonohito at 8:51 AM on April 23, 2012


forces a radical reorganization of how we support the people who help us have real conversations, forge real connections, have authentic interactions with our world and the people in it -- among which I would count Metafilter) then so be it

Okay. Of tithing, feudalism, the patronage of the Medici, or taxes, which do you prefer?
posted by Diablevert at 8:57 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Scientist, with respect, human society is pretty decent now compared to how it used to be. I can't take seriously these kinds of arguments when they completely ignore the human condition for most people for most of known history and claim that we're on a downward slope...from when?

Just looking at the US, when was society better? 50 years ago, 100?
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:58 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hear hear, Scientist. Prepare for ridicule but you're dead right. Advertising is manufactured demand. And who really needs that? Right.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:00 AM on April 23, 2012


Running an ad-blocker because you object to the spiritually deadening effect of manufactured demand is one of those "I live at the tippy-top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs" signifiers. It's like only eating artisanal scones.
posted by verb at 9:10 AM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


> I thought the article sincere and well-written.

Guards! Guards!
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2012


I accept his argument that the site couldn't exist without ads to pay the bills, but he's flat out wrong that he has no control over whether audio ads play or not. There's many different ad networks out there and the one he is using doesn't have that control, others definitely have control over what type of ads you show. Throwing his hands in the air saying he doesn't know what he's doing isn't a very convincing argument - if he put some legwork into it he could probably find a consortium of similar sites that have direct ad sales (most topical sites can do this one way or another) and get paid more for less intrusive ads. Hell, he could probably outsource someone to do that work for him and still make more money.

But I have to grant him that his site is free and he can do whatever the hell he wants. He doesn't owe his audience anything, even if everyone else knows it's not the best way to maximize his $ and viewership.
posted by lubujackson at 9:15 AM on April 23, 2012


We are better off in some ways, worse in other ways. The fact that we blind ourselves to the ways in which we have impoverished our society and instead look to the improvements as if they had come without any cost is part of the reason why we have such great difficulty in finding solutions to the many serious problems that beset us on all sides. It's an understandable position to take given the fact that we are immersed in our society and have been taught to believe that we exist at the pinnacle of human achievement and are only going upward, but I think that a critical and openminded examination of our culture shows this to be not entirely true. We have made improvements in some areas. We have harmed ourselves in others. It is foolish to think that because we got the improvements we must also suffer the harm gladly and without questioning, or that because we got the improvements we are necessarily doing everything right. We would be better off without advertising. It is disempowering, destructive, and serves to concentrate power in the hands of a few at the expense of the many. That doesn't mean there is nothing good about our society or our social system, but it does mean that this is an area where I personally think we would do well to see serious root-and-branch reform.
posted by Scientist at 9:15 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The young rope-rider: quality of life in the US was pretty damn good 50 years ago, actually, and in those days we had much stricter regulatory systems for dealing with advertising and commercial speech. By most quality of life metrics, most of us aren't really any better off than in the 80's (unless you're one of those 'but OMG I pads are so cool they make life perfect for everyone all by themselves!' types) and before Reagan deregulated the crap out of media in those days, followed by the wave of deregulation and further media consolidation under Clinton and Bush, our society had much clearer limits on the boundaries between what kinds of representations advertisers could make.

And besides that, what on earth makes you think advertising has anything to do with those improved conditions? Did Einstein use advertising to formulate his theories of relativity? Did Darpa use advertising to fund the development of the core technologies that formed the backbone of the internet? Just because some aspects of life have improved (and I'd point out the last couple of decades since we embraced this new wild west approach to media regulation, many of those improvement indicators--even life span--have either stagnated or seen declines) and the also happened to be advertising being done at the same time doesn't imply any sort of causal connection. Ad men have apparently pulled off the greatest PR coup in history if there's some widespread perception advertising is responsible for the improvements we've seen in the human condition over the last hundred and 50 or so years. That's crazy talk from where I sit.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:17 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I am aware that objecting to advertisement on ideological grounds is a mark of privilege. I fail to see how that undermines my ideology, however. I also think that if you speak to people less privileged than your average MeFite, you would find that many of them do understand that they are being constantly lied to. You don't have to be a latte-sipping liberal elitist to realize that the Powers that Be would (quite literally) sell their grandmothers (or better yet, your grandmother) if they thought they could make a profit. Poisoning other people's souls is no big deal, after all everybody's doing it and we need it to keep things going. A little psychological pollution is just the cost of doing business, and we all must submit if we are to keep the Grand Machine running on course, right?
posted by Scientist at 9:18 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


We would be better off without advertising.

Who decides what "advertising" is and what it isn't? A billboard, sure, that's pretty clear. What about a band t-shirt? A movie poster (Poland, for instance, has elevated the movie poster into an artform)? Blogs that review products (but don't post bad reviews)? Excerpts of novels printed in magazines? Free MP3s? Mentions of real-life products in fiction?

You can't -- well, you can -- just say ADVERTISING BAD because one of the primary modes of dissemination of information could easily be put in the "advertising" pile if you're vehement enough.
posted by griphus at 9:19 AM on April 23, 2012


"...any one of the primary..."
posted by griphus at 9:20 AM on April 23, 2012


If advertising did not exist, products and services would have to compete on the basis of things like genuine necessity, quality and organic reputation. WHAT KIND OF HELL ARE YOU CONTEMPLATING HERE????
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:20 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


We are better off in some ways, worse in other ways. The fact that we blind ourselves to the ways in which we have impoverished our society and instead look to the improvements as if they had come without any cost is part of the reason why we have such great difficulty in finding solutions to the many serious problems that beset us on all sides.

There's no question that the evolution of advertising is a contributor to the modern obsession with acquisition. Advertising is not per se the problem, rather the lessons that successful advertisers have learned about the human creature and successfully leveraged. There's a difference between the corner grocery store taking out an ad that says, 'Starwberries! Half off this week!' and a company spending money to tell young women that they are not good enough to be loved without the addition of a new product.

Which is to say, I'm not quite clear why you bring that up in this thread in particular. Sans advertising, the vast majority of communities like this one will cease to exist. The alternative is finding better funding models, or fundamentally altering the economic assumptions that underly modern civilization. Or, ads. The first two are promising, but running adblock ain't gonna make 'em happen.
posted by verb at 9:22 AM on April 23, 2012


@saulgoodman: I think you need to qualify your statement.

For elite white males, quality of life was pretty good 50 years ago.

For non-elite white males, quality of life was so-so.

For women, quality of life was pretty lousy.

For non-whites, quality of life was often terrible (and shorter when you take lynching into account).

For non-white women life was often really terrible.

One of the most significant ways we've improved our quality of life in the last 50 years was by improving quality of life for marginalized people. It is still not a picnic to be black, or a woman, or both, in the USA, but it's much better today than it was 50 years ago.

Similarly let's ask a gay person if quality of life was better 50 years ago or today?

If we limit ourselves to only considering straight, cis, white men, then yeah. You can argue that quality of life was pretty good 50 years ago. If you broaden your definition of "people" to include people who aren't straight, cis, white, men, then your argument that quality of life today has trade offs and maybe 50 years ago things were better loses a lot of steam.
posted by sotonohito at 9:24 AM on April 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't know exactly where and how the line should be drawn, griphus. But just because I don't have the whole solution doesn't mean that there isn't a big problem.
posted by Scientist at 9:24 AM on April 23, 2012


I have an affiliate program thingy going on a small niche site I run. For me to make money, people have to click through from my site and then buy something in the next x days; this assumes that people don't visit another site running the same program in the meantime, as the last-affiliate-before-purchase gets the credit.

To try and get the clicks, I present a very small ad in a corner, straight HTML. I don't do any linking within an article or anything like that.

Income is incredibly variable, but amounts to roughly $300 a month. To date this year, I've served just over 500,000 ads, 20,000 were clicked, and I've made just over $1,000.

This does pay my hosting, so that is nice, but I also have to make a living; if I tried to pay myself a professional rate for work on the site, I'd be able to dedicate about two hours a month with the amount that comes in now, after hosting.

Obviously, I do it for love, not money, but life would be awesome and the site would be much cooler if I could actually pull in a living wage from it.

I have always hoped micropayments would make something like this possible, but I don't know. I get roughly 15,000 unique visitors a month. If I wanted to make a (1st world) middle-class $5,000 a month, each visitor would have to pony up 35 cents a month, or assuming 90% wouldn't pay, 1,500 people would have to pony up $3.35 a month. Maybe it's a $5 premium fee? Then I need 1,000 people a month to pay it.

Considering I have a (small) "donate" button which has been clicked maybe 20 times in ten years (I don't do pledge drives or much begging), I'm not seeing this happening. I do think if there was a way for people to effortlessly drop a tip of $1, I'd probably see another $1,000 a month, which would be cool, obviously.

Dunno. I'm not owed a living from the site, but it would be glorious to make one from it.
posted by maxwelton at 9:25 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah sontohito, thanks to all those marketers we're well on our way to solving racism, sexism, and homophobia! It's a good think that they don't have a long history of consistently and cynically exploiting negative stereotypes and using classism, racism, and sexism to push whatever products they are are being paid to hype at any given moment.
posted by Scientist at 9:27 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


For elite white males, quality of life was pretty good 50 years ago.

Ding ding ding. And here the unexamined biases that lead to this kind of "life was better then" thinking become obvious.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I'm sorry if I am making anyone feel bad for running ads on their site. I don't mean to. You do what you have to do to survive, and many sites are a net positive even after advertising is taken into account. It's OK, though I personally would appreciate it if you would do your best to keep it to a minimum and be as humane about it as possible. I think that advertising is a huge problem, but that doesn't mean that everyone has to totally renounce all forms of advertising or else they are Bad People. It's a sick system, but sometimes you do have to participate in sick systems if you are going to do your thing in the world. You are not a bad person, you just don't have a lot of great alternatives to supporting yourself in a job or hobby that you find personally fulfilling and which other people find valuable/entertaining/informative. I get that. Do what you have to do. I still think advertising is a plague.
posted by Scientist at 9:30 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anybody who starts a sentence with "who decides what '(insert some well understood term here)'..." is knowingly or not using a trick they were taught by the advertising industry when it was full-on lobbying to keep the public and the law from acknowledging the health dangers of smoking; we've incorporated those tactics into our culture down to the very level of how we think about issues of public interest now. If I'm the privileged one in this discussion, what the hell does that make the advertisers who feel entitled to put their craft in front of my nose and waste my time with their spam every day of my life? Why isn't being pro advertising a privileged position too? This is all just nonsense poison pill populism meant to get people viewing each other as social oppressors/elites in order to shut down the discussion.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:31 AM on April 23, 2012


the young rope-rider, you are an excellent human being but I am unsure how you are connecting advertising to the improvements in social equality that have been made over the last fifty years. I would argue that advertisement has been more hindrance than help in this area, that we have made these improvements despite advertising rather than because of it.
posted by Scientist at 9:31 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sotonhito: are you seriously arguing that advertising is making life better for gay people? Because if not, you're just muddying the waters.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:32 AM on April 23, 2012


I don't know exactly where and how the line should be drawn, griphus. But just because I don't have the whole solution doesn't mean that there isn't a big problem.

You don't have any of a solution. You have a lot complaints and some emotional baggage behind them. There's no advertising-free economic model that can work on the scales of the modern economy. If you're living in Mayberry in 1945 and don't need anything the town can't provide, sure, you know where all the stores are and when a new one pops up and who has a better what. If you're living in 2012, it's a different story. Advertising is what took mass media off the ground. If it wasn't for paid ads, there'd be no radio. Advertising is what keeps public media like NPR and PBS working. Talking about how All Advertising Should Be Eliminated is pissing in the wind.
posted by griphus at 9:36 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am neutral to okay with advertising because the world would be a sadder place without the Old Spice Guy

there, I said it
posted by nicebookrack at 9:36 AM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ding ding ding. And here the unexamined biases that lead to this kind of "life was better then" thinking become obvious.

You have no idea how my 'unexamined biases' or life experiences shape my opinions in these areas, I also never said anything about the good old days. There are some stunningly dishonest or misguided arguments being made here on this topic.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:39 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Er, rather, if there were no paid ads, there'd be no commercial radio. And if you don't think that rock and roll being played over commercial radio wasn't really fucking important in the civil rights movement and plenty of other social change, well...
posted by griphus at 9:40 AM on April 23, 2012


Griphus--nobody said advertising free, but you know, it occurs to me you're just making unsupported grandiose claims now anyway, unless you care to offer a cite to your novel claim about the indespensibility of advertising so I guess you can just make up your opponents' positions too now, why not?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:42 AM on April 23, 2012


Griphus--nobody said advertising free...

Well, Scientist said the following (edited for conciseness):

"I realize that there are levels. Not all ads are equally evil. ... Nevertheless, they all exist on the same continuum. It makes me sick and it makes me tired and I want it to go away"

I'm not sure how else to parse that. As far as cites, here's a paper on the effects of advertising on the civil rights movement:
In contrast, activists realized that, for whites to view blacks as equals, blacks had to become part of the visual consumer landscape that advertisements depicted. Therefore, not only did they demand more blacks in advertisements in general, civil rights groups pressed agencies and advertisers to place them in integrated scenes with whites in mainstream media sources rather than just black-oriented ones. Civil rights activists wanted nothing less than for advertisements to become tools in the larger fight against racism and discrimination.
If you'd like, I can find papers on the positive effects of advertising on just about any social movement you'd like. You can certainly find ones on the negative end, as well, but wholesale condemnation of an entire communications concept that has, quite literally, created what we recognize and enjoy as pop culture is willful ignorance.
posted by griphus at 9:53 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


And if you don't think that rock and roll being played over commercial radio wasn't really fucking important in the civil rights movement and plenty of other social change, well...

Commercial radio was important to getting messages out because it's what existed and what people listened to. It's fallacious to suggest that the messages would not have gotten out if some other model than commercial radio existed: the message was not associated with the commerciality of radio. (It was anything but: you could lose advertisers by being political.)

Furthermore, nowadays commercial radio is overwhelmingly Clear Channel or an essentially similar model; almost always remotely programmed with essentially no local content. Is this model in any way useful for social purposes?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:53 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


And if you don't think that rock and roll being played over commercial radio wasn't really fucking important in the civil rights movement

What? Are you really making the argument that rock and roll played over commercial radio was really fucking important in the 1960s black civil rights struggle? I'll stay out of the argument about advertising and the advancement of human civilization, but that? That's just outlandish.
posted by mediareport at 9:54 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the fact that griphus appears to be the only person who bothered to dig up anything resembling research on the subject, while the responses seem to boil down to, 'That's ridiculous, because I KNOW IT'S ALL BAD.' No one, as best as I can tell, is trying to argue that advertising is some great bringer of positive change and the motive force behind the civil rights movement.

The people who've brought up its role in things like civil rights are not offering those observations up because they want to give Don Draper the nobel peace prize. They're responding to a strangely lopsided argument asserting that advertising is one of the prime ills underlying societal decline and many other cultural problems. Scientist's post was thought-provoking, maybe, but in a thread about a particular site's struggle to make ends meet, it was basically a derail.
posted by verb at 10:02 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


In contrast, activists realized that, for whites to view blacks as equals, blacks had to become part of the visual consumer landscape that advertisements depicted.

This doesn't say that advertising had a positive role to play, it says that advertising was consistent with the rest of the media's depiction of the social landscape and therefore part of the problem to be solved.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:02 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have no idea how my 'unexamined biases' or life experiences shape my opinions in these areas, I also never said anything about the good old days. There are some stunningly dishonest or misguided arguments being made here on this topic.

Look, 50 years ago my parents could have been jailed for marrying. My sister could have been jailed for marrying the father of my nieces, who would not have been able to stay in the same hotels as their whiter cousins. If that time, to you, was a better time because there were fewer advertisements, then we obviously have different ideas about what makes a society sick versus healthy, and should probably leave it at that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:03 AM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Come and see the violence inherent in the system! And win a free iPad!"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:04 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like the fact that griphus appears to be the only person who bothered to dig up anything resembling research on the subject, while the responses seem to boil down to, 'That's ridiculous, because I KNOW IT'S ALL BAD.

Actually, I know the claim that "rock and roll being played over commercial radio was really fucking important" is a gross and mostly inaccurate oversimplification because I've read Brian Ward's excellent book Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness, and Race Relations and had a chance to interview him years ago. Anyone who wants a more nuanced conception of the various complex relationships between popular music and civil rights activism in the 1960s USA should check it out, but the description captures one of his main points:

This richly textured study of some of the most important music and complex political events in America since World War II challenges the belief that white consumption of black music necessarily helped eradicate racial prejudice. Indeed, Ward argues that the popularity of Rhythm and Blues among white listeners sometimes only reinforced racial stereotypes, while noting how black artists actually manipulated those stereotypes to increase their white audiences.

The book is a fantastic read, and it's why griphus' claim strikes me as ridiculously overblown.
posted by mediareport at 10:07 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


@saulgoodman I don't claim advertising is particularly linked to social progress.

I simply disagree very strongly with your incorrect assertion that life was "pretty good 50 years ago". It was for a small segment of the population. For most of the population life 50 years ago was often pretty awful.

Since you started your argument from a false premise I think that rather invalidates the rest, don't you?

If you want to define "better society" as "fewer ads" then I've got a big problem with how you're defining "better society".

@Scientist See what I wrote to saulgoodman. Again, I'm not claiming that ads are innately good, nor that ads are leading to a better society. I'm simply claiming that for the majority of the US population life is vastly better today than it was 50 years ago.

If you disagree, if you think having fewer ads was better for black folks than living in a desegregated society I'll ask you to provide evidence that your position is correct.
posted by sotonohito at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm no expert in the field (and how did we end up in the middle of this field to begin with) but rock and roll was hardly the first time a largely black-inspired musical genre became wildly popular with white listeners.

In the previous generation, black Jazz bandleaders like Armstrong, Ellington, and many others, had massive white crossover appeal. Whites went to Harlem to hear black bands, and Armstrong in particular became what I think would you could safely say a "beloved" figure of the time.

I'm sure a lot of those white listeners got a more nuanced view of race from finding themselves admiring the talent and artistry of black musicians - though I'd guess a lot more didn't manage to generalize beyond admiring Duke Ellington to respecting black people in general - but it still didn't get rid of rampant prejudice and segregation and Jim Crow culture. If that happened a generation later, I'm very unconvinced that a different musical genre would have done it absent all the other things that were different than they had been before the war.
posted by Naberius at 10:16 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The book is a fantastic read, and it's why griphus' claim strikes me as ridiculously overblown.

I'll cop to "overblown" and it looks like I have some reading to do. Are there any relevant-to-this-discussion conclusions the book draws outside of "things were complex"? (I don't mean that flippantly, I just don't expect you to type up a synopsis.)
posted by griphus at 10:19 AM on April 23, 2012


I'm not denying that progress has been made, the young rope-rider. I'm just saying that I don't see how that progress was assisted by advertising. I think that progress would have happened even without advertising, and maybe would have happened faster. That griphus's study cites that civil rights activists wanted more integrated and less stereotypical imagery of blacks in advertising merely shows that advertising was a bastion of segregation and stereotyping and that it was another battleground in the civil rights struggle. I don't really see how it supports the researcher's conclusion that advertising was a force for racial equality during the civil rights era.

Basically I feel like the arguments for advertising here are boiling down to these four, which I paraphrase below:
  1. "Things have gotten better for many people, even as advertising has become more prevalent." This is confusing correlation with causation.
  2. "You don't have a solution, so why do you think there's a problem?" This is irrelevant.
  3. "Cite, please." This is an appeal to authority.
  4. "Your position marks you as a member of a privileged elite." This is an ad-hominem.
The best argument I've heard so far is that this is a derail, which is totally right. For me, the social value of advertising in general is central to the question of whether or not it's OK to run intrusive ads on a website. If advertising, on balance, has no or negative social value (my position, of course) then the argument for running intrusive pop-over flash ads on your site becomes much more dubious. However I didn't mean to get the thread off on a huge tangent about civil rights and whether or not I am providing sufficient outside sources for my argument. I apologize for the derail.

To speak closer to the original topic, I think that the objection that many people have to the kind of advertising that this site is using (people who have less radical views about advertising than I do, I mean) is that those kind of ads basically pollute the site. They make the site harder to use, more annoying, and more unpredictable. By using those ads, one is essentially destroying a significant portion of the actual value of one's site as a resource for whatever it is supposed to be (e.g. pop-culture discussion) in exchange for increasing the commercial viability of the site. Someone above mentioned the meme of "eating their seed corn," which I've always found to be one of Carl Sagan's most powerful images. He didn't originally use it in this context (he was talking about the defunding of basic scientific research) but I think it is nonetheless applicable. One may bring in more money for a little while, but as the devaluing of the site causes members to leave, the quality of the site overall will decrease. You will have less interesting discussion, and even more people will drift away. Your numbers will drop, and you will see less and less revenue from those intrusive ads. Your reputation will be destroyed.

I'm not saying this is the only way that it will play out, but I do find that the worst and most intrusive ads are usually found on the kinds of sites whose content I turn out to be least interested in to begin with, so there's a correlation at least for me. Whether there's a causative relationship I don't know -- I think it would be an interesting socioeconomic study, but that's not really my area of expertise. I think it's plausible though, and something that webmasters should be cautious of when evaluating how much of their site's basic functionality (in terms of readability, predictability, loading times, convenience, etc) they are willing to give over to advertisers in exchange for income. Many sites might find the really intrusive ads to be unsustainable in the long run.

That I see this as an analogy for the relationship between society and marketing in general is I guess not really relevant to the discussion at hand. I think it's interesting, but maybe too controversial. I do apologise for starting a fire in the thread like that, but I thought it was worth saying that some people do object to intrusive advertisements on a level that is both ideological and visceral, and that this should be borne in mind by those who are contemplating employing them.
posted by Scientist at 10:23 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, read the book. It's great - filled with poignant and hilarious stories about Black Panthers trying to turn r&b stars, quiet courage and secret donations, etc. For what it's worth, you've got me thinking I should read it again myself.
posted by mediareport at 10:23 AM on April 23, 2012


sotonohito, I don't think we have any real disagreement here. I agree that there has been progress made in civil rights and other areas of social equality over the last fifty years. (We might have some disagreements when it comes down to it about how much progress has been made, especially globally, but that's irrelevant.) I just don't think that that progress is really in any way thanks to advertising, whereas I do think that there are some aspects of society that have become worse in part due to advertising. (If you look at it from the view of a conservation biologist or some schools of sociologist, the constant pressure to consume more and more and live ever more resource- and energy-intensive lifestyles has definitely had a net negative effect on the world.)

I don't think that you are denying this. I'm just saying that the good stuff that has happened is not because of advertising and that some of the bad stuff that has happened is because of advertising, and I don't think your position contradicts that. I also think we all can agree that some progress has been made in some areas of society over the last 50 years, even if we disagree in the details. We're better in some areas, we're worse in others.
posted by Scientist at 10:29 AM on April 23, 2012


Scientist, the arguments for advertising are the same as the arguments for democracy: it's the least worst system out there. The alternatives to advertising are voluntary or compulsory patronage, in the classic sense. Serving the whims of advertisers corrupts content, but I would argue that it does so less than serving the whims of patrons.

In re what good it's ever done the world and or the civil rights movement, there is of course NY Times Co. v Sullivan.

Either way, even supposing one could somehow decouple advertising from media, this would do nothing to solve the problem that advertising exists to solve: people who have stuff they want to sell need other people to know what it is and that they wish to sell it. One can imagine a site with no ads on which buyers and sellers voluntarily congregate, exchanging information about items for sale strictly through simple text and a few jpegs of the items. In fact, we don't have to imagine it, for it exists: it's called Craigslist. And if you think that site is free if lies and deception, well...ads lie because people lie when they want something from you, because it profits them to do so.
posted by Diablevert at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Scientist, I'd encourage you to perhaps consider the possibility that you're ignoring a much broader set of causative factors for complex societal problems. In addition, you're either missing the point of or mischaracterizing a number of good-faith responses to your position..

Asking you to provide some backup for your assertions is not an appeal to authority: it's saying, 'Show your work' after you announce a conclusion. Pointing out that you discuss no alternatives is certainly relevant, because the very subject of this post is a site owner's struggle to find alternatives. Pointing out that life has improved for many people groups during the rise of advertising is not confusing correlation with causation, it is pointing out that you may be muddling those things by claiming that advertising is the cause of the societal ills.

The critiques you're leveling at "advertising" are not really about advertising at all, unless I'm missing something. They're about the prevailing economic system that underlies modern civilization. As Diablevert notes, advertising (and deceptive advertising) exists because human beings are willing to deceive other people for personal gain. Given the fact that the Old Testament took time out to discuss the issue, we can safely say that this is not a new problem.
posted by verb at 11:00 AM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sorry for the lack of effort. This is just not an argument worth having on a mobile device. It's definitely not an argument worth having based on silly straw men versions of my position (no matter how cute these straw men might look in their floppy hats and long scarves)...
posted by saulgoodman at 11:23 AM on April 23, 2012


Yeah, I think I sort of overextended the reach of my argument given the short space in which I was trying to make it. I don't want to keep getting deeper and deeper into it though as that'll just push the thread more and more off the rails. You are right though, verb -- if I were to really get into it and start backing up the argument from first principles, my position is one that strikes at the heart of the entire economic system that underlies our society. Advertising is just one of the hydra's heads. It's a radical position but one which I feel is inevitable if one is reaching for a truly humane society. It's also way beyond the scope of this discussion.
posted by Scientist at 11:33 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought it was worth saying that some people do object to intrusive advertisements on a level that is both ideological and visceral, and that this should be borne in mind by those who are contemplating employing them.

You don't object just to intrusive advertisements, you object to advertisements at all, on a level that is wildly hyperbolic ("all advertising is lies"? Well, no it isn't.) and it sounds like you'd be equally provoked by google's text ads, which are about as unintrusive as they can get. So why should a site take your opinions into account when there is no way they can actually make you happy without opting out of the modern economy altogether? You are a fanatic/outlier who can safely be written off while they think about what more normal people will care about.
posted by jacalata at 11:35 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or to be clearer, my beef is not with all advertising per se, but with the kinds of manipulative, neuro-marketing based techniques and other more insidious, anti-social and fundamentally fraudulent advertising/PR practices that have come to dominate modern ad markets, techniques that have really flourished in the last couple of decades in the US, but that have always ebbed and flowed over history depending on the current status and effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms that encourage fair and honest marketing practices.

It's the unrestrained, reality-bending, public trust and social cohesion eroding modern PR blitz, make-your-own-reality, fully vertically-integrated forms of PR, marketing and advertising that are the target of my ire. It might not be completely rational, but I think it's pretty understandable to want to vent frustration over the petty nuisances even the less pernicious forms of advertising cause sometimes, even if pop up ads aren't exactly the best channel for using neuro-marketing techniques to beguile unsuspecting patsies.

I think it's incredibly insulting to be accused (in a throwback to the pro-commercial arguments of the colonial era, in fact) of being some half-witted savage unfit for life in the brave new world because I happen to think the way we currently do advertising in the public sphere is not necessarily the only or even the optimal way it can be done without devolving all of Western society back to the stone ages. Seriously, what a ridiculous direction these arguments have taken! (Not on a mobile anymore, but still can't put much more into this right now.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:39 AM on April 23, 2012


I work in advertising, with plenty of ethical reservations about what I do, and with an active interest in exploring the philosophical and moral boundaries of the profession. With a keen interest in making it, well, better.

I've participated in community forums on advertising; in parallel, I've talked to marketing VPs at multinational companies about the problem. I keep a close eye on marketing forums, and try to stay abreast of people in the field like Seth Godin (who has his faults -- *many* faults -- but at least expresses an interest in finding ways to make advertising participatory and relevant, rather than messy, insulting and intrusive).

The biggest problem so far isn't the marketing guys. They are, at worst, sociopaths -- but a sociopath is open to an argument like "if you reduce your overall ad weight, stop generating stupid noise, and find a way to talk to people that might have a genuine interest in your product/service, you'll increase efficiency and results."

The problem is the people with the shrieking childish attitude that all advertising is evil, and who show up in every public forum that even mentions the word, citing Bill Hicks and droning on and on and on and on about the erosion of society and just how horrible it all is, and how it is bent on ruining our self-image and DESTROYING OUR VERY SOULLLLLLLLS.

There are lots of people in my field who are interested in doing better, more ethical work. At every turn, we're confronted with people who jam their fingers in their ears and throw tantrums like a 17th-century priest confronting RuPaul. An absolute refusal to even consider that -- at its root -- an ad is an attempt to reach people with an interest in something, and convince them that your product or service is the one best suited to their needs. Like to exercise? Hey, our gym has better machines than that other gym. Enjoy chocolate cake? We make a pretty good one. Want to support a charity? This hospital could use some help.

Is it a problematic profession? Oh yeah. Does it encourage unhealthy attitudes and behaviour? At its worst, fuck yeah.

I started writing this hours ago, then got distracted by my (evil) work, but I'm glad to see things have slid towards a nuanced view in the interim. I wholeheartedly agree with people like saulgoodman in some respects, but dialogue needs to happen about what are good boundaries and acceptable methods, with good actors rewarded and bad actors punished.

There are lots of people in the industry who aren't thrilled about it. There's genuine desire for change out there, both among ad flacks per se and marketing people in general.

But it takes acceptance from both sides of the equation that (a) it's here and (b) it's gonna stay before any change can be made.

posted by TheFlak at 11:55 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are ads on websites???
posted by mmrtnt at 11:57 AM on April 23, 2012


...with people who jam their fingers in their ears and throw tantrums like a 17th-century priest confronting RuPaul.

Please tell whatever Marketing Guys you know that if this gets made into a television program, I will buy two of whatever product is advertised during the commercials.
posted by griphus at 11:58 AM on April 23, 2012


I liked these parts

"shrieking childish attitude."
"droning on and on and on and on"
"jam their fingers in their ears and throw tantrums"

These make me want to engage with the messaging because they have obviously captured my key demographic; it flatters my self-image and I identify aspirationally with the depicted societal element. Awesome advertising technique.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:12 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the topic of advertising, and noting that we've got at least one expert in advertising around, I've been wondering something for quite some time.

I've broken advertising into two broad categories. The first is informational advertising, ads that actually present new information (a new product announcement, a sale, etc). The second is non-informational advertising, ads that don't present any new information but merely say "remember us? We still exist!"

The first works, the ethics of how that sort of ad works is a separate question, but there is no question that they do work. Heck, in some cases I'll even welcome the presence of that sort of ad (the only ads I can recall clicking through on web pages are ads for webcomics I didn't know existed on webcomics I read). In others I regret them, I tried a McGriddle shortly after they were introduced based entirely on ads telling me that they existed (and ugh it was nasty).

But what of the other category? Coke spends a lot of money basically to remind us that Coke exists. Is there any evidence whatsoever to indicate that spending money on Coke Is It ads actually change anything?

Among people who drink soft drinks some either don't care one way or another about Coke v Pepsi and will drink whatever comes to hand or is on sale. Most have a marked preference for their drink of choice and will typically not buy a drink of the other brand.

Do the generic Coke ads actually affect sales at all? Couldn't they just eliminate the ads and pocket the money? People who drink Coke will do so whether or not they see ads, and no ads will convince a Pepsi drinker to switch to Coke, so why bother?

Is it just institutional inertia, or am I missing something obvious? Do Coke drinkers really drink less Coke if they don't see ads all the time?
posted by sotonohito at 12:12 PM on April 23, 2012


We don't quite realize it most of the time because they're so pervasive that we normally just blank them out, but the entire advertising industry is predicated on misinforming consumers and getting them to buy things that they wouldn't otherwise buy.
Oh my god, turn on adblock for a while, stop watching TV and when you go back to television the advertisements they do have are just shocking they are just so stupid, and crass and downright Insulting to your intelligence it's unbelievable.

Like, I walked by a TV that CNN on, they had an add for hemroid cream that had a cactus growing out of an airplane seat, followed buy a dude, who we I guess can imagine just stuck a hemorrhoid cream covered finger up his own asshole in the airplane lavatory. They are literally figuratively using the metaphor/image of a cactus shoved up people's assholes to sell stuff.

Oh, I found the ad on youtube if you want to see it.

---
Why can't they make an ad blocker that simulates click-throughs? Why does anyone need to know I use an ad blocker? Doesn't the technology to do this exist?
I love what happens when you go to Hulu - you get a big message that says "We're unable to load an ad from our sponsors". You still have to wait 30 seconds. I'd much rather stare at some text for 30 seconds then listen toa n annoying ad.
This thread in general us rather dispiriting. Jesus Christ, the guy loves movies and is trying to make a living running a site that talks about them --- for which he's managed to scrape together the princely sum of of $19,000 a year. Being mildly irritated for 30 seconds by an ad is not, in fact, a war crime.
No, but it certainly isn't worth it for me hear some guy talking about the movies. Without adblock, if I ran into an ad like that, I'd simply close the site and never return.
I mean, if sitting through 30 seconds of animated ad is such torment that it makes the article not worth reading, then the article is functionally worthless to you. And if writing is worthless to supposed readers, why should anyone pay for it? It's worthless!
Well right, they are worthless to me personally. In fact you could even argue they have negative value. The linkbait stuff does get you to click on it. Let me look at the Huffpo for a second so there's an article "'Appalling' Rick Scott Move Condemned" - now Rick Scott (florida's governer) has done some awful things, but in this case the article is about opening a new university, which some democrats think it a waste of money. Do I care? And had I been trying to read huffpo it would simply have wasted my time.

Not to say that pajiba does that, but there are a lot of sites that do and if they all just up and disappeared the internet would be a better place, and sites that actually have quality content could get better ad rates.

---
Who decides what "advertising" is and what it isn't? A billboard, sure, that's pretty clear. What about a band t-shirt? A movie poster (Poland, for instance, has elevated the movie poster into an artform)? Blogs that review products (but don't post bad reviews)? Excerpts of novels printed in magazines? Free MP3s? Mentions of real-life products in fiction?
Fortunately "Stuff that gets blocked by adblock" seems to cover a great deal! I mean, honestly there are some things that still annoy me. Like that Hugo Boss stunt that was all over the tubes for a while. It was all about advertising, but because it was a stunt it got 'news' coverage, which of course wasn't blocked. But beyond stuff like that, adblock really does excise an enormous amount of crap from the tubes.
For elite white males, quality of life was pretty good 50 years ago. ... For non-white women life was often really terrible.
Add to the list: anyone with a serious medical condition. If you got cancer in 1962, they often wouldn't even tell you, since there was nothing they could even do about it. Even if people had health insurance, what could they even use it to pay for?

That said... what does any of this have to do with advertising? There was plenty of advertising in the 1960s This whole derail is pretty bizarre. One can say that of course many things were worse about the 1960s, but one thing in particular was better and that was the lack of ads. However, one can easily counter that today one can escape advertising entirely by installing adblock.

Again, I rarely see advertisements. If we are going to go by "the fewer ads you see, the better society is" then I am living in utopia and so can you!

posted by delmoi at 12:16 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is it just institutional inertia, or am I missing something obvious?

This doesn't dovetail exactly but check out this article:
...when the Depression hit, no one knew what would happen to consumer demand. Post did the predictable thing: it reined in expenses and cut back on advertising. But Kellogg doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio advertising, and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies. (Snap, Crackle, and Pop first appeared in the thirties.) By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost thirty per cent and it had become what it remains today: the industry’s dominant player.
There's a few more examples in the article, but it's basically an arms race. If what the article maintains is true, then if Coke stops advertising, Pepsi will get the upper hand and vice-versa. If they both do? Who knows.
posted by griphus at 12:22 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is the people with the shrieking childish attitude that all advertising is evil, and who show up in every public forum that even mentions the word, citing Bill Hicks and droning on and on and on and on about the erosion of society and just how horrible it all is, and how it is bent on ruining our self-image and DESTROYING OUR VERY SOULLLLLLLLS.

Ugh, yes agreed. Seriously people. Accept the fact that the majority of the internet is subsidized by ads. That's how it works. If you have a better model, please share.
posted by windbox at 12:24 PM on April 23, 2012


...having something jigging around in the corner of my vision makes it literally impossible for me to read stuff.

This.

You do this to me once and I wildcard block your URL and never see anything from you again.

http://*.doubleclick.net/*
posted by mmrtnt at 12:25 PM on April 23, 2012


Ugh, yes agreed. Seriously people. Accept the fact that the majority of the internet is subsidized by ads. That's how it works. If you have a better model, please share.
Maybe you should accept the fact that the majority of the "the internet" is total garbage that the world wouldn't miss.

What's amazing about some people is that they seem to think anyone would care if ehow or the huffington post disappeared.
posted by delmoi at 12:30 PM on April 23, 2012


(and of course it's not really "the internet", which is paid for with subscriber fees, and not even "the web" but rather the largest non-user generated content sites like gawker/huffpo/the daily mail/whatever

In fact looking at the top sites in the US, the vast majority are search engines (google/yahoo), shopping sites (amazon/Apple/ebay) or user generated content sites (youtube, blogger, twitter, reddit, etc). There is also Wikipedia, which is ad free and takes donations.

The search engines don't pay for the creation of content, and their ads are typically non-intrusive. The Shopping sites are paid for by sales, rather then ads, and of course user generated content sites are actually making money off other people's work.

The top original content sites are HuffPo (#25), the NYT #34, FoxNews (#41) eHow (#53) CNET (#56), the Washington Post (#73). I suppose you could say the NYT has some value. They also recently started a "payfence" to get some revenue from readers, rather then just advertisers.

People are already doing micropayments for movies and e-books on their mobile phones, maybe micropayments for news might start to catch on. It's likely the quality will be far higher, since they'll depend on building relationships with users rather then just making ad revenue from people who surf through.
posted by delmoi at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know the user-generated content sites are making money by showing ads on that content, right?
posted by nicebookrack at 1:14 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


@ windbox I'd rather make micropayments to directly support the sites I use.
posted by sotonohito at 1:18 PM on April 23, 2012


So I suppose this might make me a nasty bad shrieking child, but I reject the idea that advertisement is primarily about pairing consumers with needs and the products that will best satisfy those needs. Instead, I think it is much more about advertisers actually aiming to produce new needs that can be satisfied by particular products. This strikes me as a much more ethically fraught thing than the process TheFlak describes, and without a doubt one that we-the-people (in whatever form) have an interest in tightly regulating and controlling.

Admittedly, my knowledge of the field of advertising theory is more or less perfectly antique - almost nothing more recent than Edward Bernays - so I would be glad to learn from people with more sophisticated understandings of what advertising is and does.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:27 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd rather make micropayments to directly support the sites I use.

The problem isn't that there are not enough people who actively want to make micropayments. It's that there's considerably more people who actively don't and nowhere is taking one's business (read: ad revenue) elsewhere than the web. I honestly can't think of a single content-based website that is wholly supported by micropayments. The general concept of support-by-micropayments is slowly opening up thanks to smartphone apps, mainly in the freemium game market, but that's a different ecosystem entirely.
posted by griphus at 1:34 PM on April 23, 2012


The problem isn't that there are not enough people who actively want to make micropayments.

It's true. Salon could never support itself on what they get from just the Premium subscribers. The crowdfunded SF series L5 (go give them some money) has had 1.7 million downloads of episode one but only collected $13,000 in voluntary contributions: that is 7/10ths of a cent per viewer, assuming I've got the decimal in the right place. It's not looking real viable. People will not pay as long as there are other models that provide them with an alternative, and that includes viewing ads or using an ad-supported model and blocking the ads. It'll be interesting to see how this situation develops. I'm among those who is fully persuaded, with plenty of evidence to back it up, that advertising basically doesn't work on me. But it's not at all obvious what we can replace it with.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:53 PM on April 23, 2012


I love advertising. Has anyone mentioned that yet? I love it. It's great. Sometimes it's smarter than me, sometimes it's dumber than me, but I love it either way, even when it pisses me off and pops up or under or devils out over my phone and I can't close it. So I'm even more cheerful than you delmoi!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2012


You know the user-generated content sites are making money by showing ads on that content, right?
Yes, but the ads don't pay for the content. They get the content for free. Presumably, the content would still exist if not for the aggregator, it would just be un-aggregated.
The problem isn't that there are not enough people who actively want to make micropayments.
If you look at the various cellphone "app stores" that's obviously not the case. People buy "apps" that do nothing but show content, it's essentially a micropayment.

Part of the problem with micropayments is that it's not cost effective to make them really small. People need to be able to pay 10 cents, 20 cents, etc. Even 1 or 0.1 cents. If people paying 1/10¢ to read an article, that would be $10 CPM.
posted by delmoi at 2:00 PM on April 23, 2012


Micropayments only work in monopoly systems. Amazon is one; zynga's games are another. If the only way to get a piece of content onto a desired device is through a single gatekeeper, micropayments become viable.

I think you might be able to set up a system of small payments for biggish chunks of content --- a buck for a 5,000 word magazine piece. But I don't think that system is extendable to the vast majority of content --- imagine a newspaper with every article blacked out and only the headline visible, and you had to decide on that basis whether reading the any one of dozens of pieces on offer was worth a nickel. It would turn what should be a pleasant catch up on the world over OJ into an exhausting strategy game, 24 different opportunities to decide if you've been cheated or satisfied. As Clay Shirky has put it, there's a reason we have the phrase "nickelled and dimed" and there's a reason that phrase is pejorative. A competitor with a flat rate product will beat out such an offering --- and on the Internet the flat rate is $0. There are plenty of studies to show that for every extra click to get to the content you lose audience in hunks --- even when all you're asking them to do is sign in. No mass media has ever survived on subscriptions alone, going back to when they were printing out the first papers for Ben Johnson to read over this newfangled "coffee" drink.
posted by Diablevert at 2:05 PM on April 23, 2012


Micropayments only work in monopoly systems. Amazon is one; zynga's games are another. If the only way to get a piece of content onto a desired device is through a single gatekeeper, micropayments become viable.

There are lots of small companies that allow you to transfer small amounts of money online. Part of the problem are the fees that credit card processors charge. If there were a standard protocol to transfer credits between them, it would be a lot more practical.

Bitcoin was one attempt to solve the problem, but at the moment they are kind of a pain in the ass to purchase, and it actually takes about an hour or so for the transaction to validate, so it's not too practical. They're still around, though, and could potentially be used eventually.
posted by delmoi at 2:14 PM on April 23, 2012


Micropayments only work in monopoly systems. Amazon is one; zynga's games are another. If the only way to get a piece of content onto a desired device is through a single gatekeeper, micropayments become viable.

That's because, right now, outside of a monopoly system the transaction costs (both in terms of time and actual money) are too high to support micropayments. I might be willing to give metafilter a penny per visit, but I'm not willing to spend even ten seconds per visit to make that happen (e.g., by entering a password or worse, a credit card number). I'm also not willing to set up a separate account for every website I visit.

Google is well placed to roll out a micropayment system: just introduce 'google premium' or whatever, where you pay google a fee, and you don't see any google-served advertisements on websites. Instead of advertisers paying google who then pays websites, you pay google a fee which google redistributes to websites. Google could transparently roll this out, and website owners wouldn't have to do anything different.
posted by Pyry at 2:18 PM on April 23, 2012


Google could transparently roll this out, and website owners wouldn't have to do anything different.

That's an interesting argument. You may have something there. (besides a terrifying dystopian vision of the future in which filters in the lenses of my google glasses correctly monetize every flicker of my eyeballs to the nearest .0000001 of a degree).

But I'm still not sure that would work for pure content, really. You still have that 10 seconds where you have to assess whether the proffered piece of entertainment is worth its cost --- it's just that those 10 seconds are now located at clicking the link on the search page rather than reading the site itself. There's still stakes --- I'd probably need two hands to count the number of times today that I've followed a headline or link and been disappointed in the quality of the content it lead me to. If I knew that every time I did that it was going to siphon away a portion of a finite amount of money, I'd be a lot more cautious about what I did and didn't click. I dunno, maybe, though --- if the overall amount were low enough then it's possible I wouldn't mind.

But it seems to me the amount of identity tracking required to enable this system would be terrifying....
posted by Diablevert at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2012


Google's already doing that identity tracking to serve you personalized ads. With this system, you wouldn't decide on a per-website basis; instead, you would pay some aggregate fee (monthly or yearly) to Google, and it would automatically get allocated to website micropayments as you visit them. The fee would only be as large as advertisers are paying now: if it costs an advertiser $0.30 / 1000 impressions = 0.03 cents per impression, then that's how much you would pay out of your fee to get rid of the ads on a website.
posted by Pyry at 2:44 PM on April 23, 2012


Google's already doing that identity tracking to serve you personalized ads.

Yeah, and it creeps me out and I'm actively exploring ways to have less google in my life. But I'm a bit of a nut on the subject and would be among the last people to adopt such a system, kicking and screaming all the way. So what I think about it probably doesn't matter.

What I do wonder though, is this --- to return, after all this time, in a suprise twist ending, to the subject of this whole post --- the 1000 impressions are worth 30 cents to an advertiser because there is a narrow chance that they will lead to me buying something from them down the line. The more intrusive the ad, the greater the likelihood that I will notice and purchase, the more money the advertiser will pay. In a way, an add is a lotto ticket for the advertiser --- lay out a small amount now for the a chance at the jackpot later.

But that's not what I'd be paying for on your scenario. I'd be paying to not be bothered by ads ever again --- or in other words, i'd be eliminating the chance that I would see and buy something else down the line. There may be thousands of advertisers willing to lay that small bet --- the lotto funds itself just fine. There's only one me, though. How much would a website have to charge to make my blinkers worth its while? Would it really be $.00003? Or would it be $.007? Or would it be more?

And of course, the advertisers would still want my eyeballs and be willing to pay to get them....in fact, inasmuch as google makes its money from the advertisers it's not clear to me it would be in their interest to perform such a service for consumers....
posted by Diablevert at 3:10 PM on April 23, 2012


A whole lot of sites, especially pop culture sites, know they can get people to write for free, so it's nice to see someone who thinks there is some ethical obligation to pay people for their work.

Look, this is simple supply and demand. What's the real value of the written word? It's virtually zero. There's absolutely no reason to pay people to produce something which is already in such abundance.

Print dollars, web dimes, mobile pennies

Even this is far, far too much. In a perfectly competitive market like the web nobody should be making any money. Once we see these costs go to zero then things will get interesting because all but the most dedicated suppliers will exit the market.

Accept the fact that the majority of the internet is subsidized by ads. That's how it works. If you have a better model, please share

Not really. I'd say that the true value of the vast majority of content is zero. (If it weren't, people would actually, you know, pay for it.) The advertising that accompanies content is an attempt to artificially inflate the price of a good that should be zero. So, really, it's a tax. And, like most such artificial distortions, it will be eliminated (absent government intervention). There'll be more competition, there'll be technological solutions -- not only adblockers but also aggregators, better search, better filtering, etc. At some point machines themselves will get in the "content production" game and then it's game over. So the web will continue to grind away at these "businesses", reducing their profits year after year until there's absolutely nothing left.

And we'll all be better for it. Wasting millions of man-hours producing content-free content doesn't help anybody.
posted by nixerman at 4:23 PM on April 23, 2012


So I suppose this might make me a nasty bad shrieking child, but I reject the idea that advertisement is primarily about pairing consumers with needs and the products that will best satisfy those needs. Instead, I think it is much more about advertisers actually aiming to produce new needs that can be satisfied by particular products. This strikes me as a much more ethically fraught thing than the process TheFlak describes, and without a doubt one that we-the-people (in whatever form) have an interest in tightly regulating and controlling.

Gentle mockery accepted, and I actually think this is a good starting point for an excellent conversation about boundaries, good actors, and bad actors.

I can't honestly say that I've heard anybody -- ever -- say that they want to produce a new need, except when negatively describing what advertising does.

I also can't honestly say that it's never happened, or that nobody has ever done it. I imagine any truly New Thing either has to have a built-in audience for it, or build that audience. Nobody "needed" the automobile when it was invented, and it was (I say in some ignorance) partially driven by advertising that informed people of it, and tried to generate desire for this crazy horseless carriage.

Was this "generating a new need"? Sure. Was it a bad need? That's definitely open for debate.

In our world, where almost every category of every thing we can make is filled multiple times over, I see a lot more advertising where Item A is being sold vs. Incredibly Similar Item B, with the only differentiator being something like Item A is slightly more red, or contains more sarsaparilla.

The manufacturer, not confident that sarsaparilla alone is going to be the over-the-top sales edge he needs, also decides to show incredibly attractive people drinking Item A in convivial surroundings. This, to him, is just aspirational: people would like to be attractive, and people would like to be surrounded by friends in convivial surroundings, so this is a nice context for Item A and might help him move a few more units.

It also, however, if the agency is a bit lazy or if Item A, Inc. is a bit unimaginative, reinforces traditional stereotypes of beauty and what qualifies as convivial.

And – I'm looping back around here, I swear – it arguably creates slightly more of a need for Item A, where people seeing this ad, and not feeling they live up to the standards of attractiveness and conviviality presented, get the impression Item A could help them with that.

Again, I've never personally witnessed anybody planning to create a new need for anything. I have seen a lot of people who think that putting their product in the most attractive (usually conventionally) context possible will help them sell more of it, which arguably has that side effect of creating the need, but it's really not the goal.

Were it as easy as people rubbing their hands together and saying "Let's create evil advertising to convince people to drink toxic waste, bwah-ha-ha", that would be kind of awesome, because it would be super easy to identify the bad actors and reward the good actors.

As it is, it's just the makers of Not-So-Healthy Soda A trying to make a buck by stealing sales from Not-So-Healthy Soda B, and the fallout is dire. Very very very very few people are trying to convince people to drink nothing but soda. Their arms race to make Soda A look better than Soda B is having terrible consequences, though.

Figuring out who is responsible for those consequences, and who is responsible for adapting their messaging to counteract them, is where it starts getting really hard.
posted by TheFlak at 4:40 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


How much would a website have to charge to make my blinkers worth its while? Would it really be $.00003? Or would it be $.007? Or would it be more? [...] And of course, the advertisers would still want my eyeballs and be willing to pay to get them....in fact, inasmuch as google makes its money from the advertisers it's not clear to me it would be in their interest to perform such a service for consumers....

It's not really a service to consumers, in the sense that it wouldn't be an act of charity on Google's part. Currently, advertisers bid in Google-mediated auctions for the opportunity to show ads on pages, and in my proposal you are becoming just another bidder in that auction, except that you're only bidding for your own page views, and if you win you'll show blank ads. Google and the websites win because more participants in the auctions drive up prices, and consumers win by being able to pay 'market rates' for their own page views to avoid seeing ads.

Take the total sum of money (for one impression) paid by advertisers on a webpage you view, and that is approximately what it would cost you to get rid of ads on that page (for one view). Targeted ads which are sold conditioned on demographic information are trickier because different people might have to pay different amounts for the same webpage.
posted by Pyry at 4:55 PM on April 23, 2012


Often, if the ad doesn't load, neither will the video/game. I don't know if this is intentional coding, but it's a behavior that seems to be on the rise.

It's probably both, in different cases. It's not hard to imagine code that breaks if the ad doesn't load, but on the other hand it's not hard to fix --- and its bad code, because what if there is a legitimate network issue preventing the ad from loading?

On YouTube we do _not_ break when the ad fails, whether that is due to AdBlock, ad network failure, or whatever. (At least, it's not supposed to break -- occasionally we find bugs, of course)

have a feeling the Googles and Yahoos of the world would have collective heart attacks. They just wouldn't know what to do with such a request.

This is CPM (cost per impression) ad billing and Google definitely has this for some display ad types. It's how most video ads used to work before skippable ads took over on YouTube for most channels, those are a hybrid that is billed only if you don't skip (so it's kind of like --- billed if you don't click).
posted by wildcrdj at 4:59 PM on April 23, 2012


Why can't they make an ad blocker that simulates click-throughs?

Well, it's certainly possible. However, unless it gets clever, it will probably be very easy for ad networks to detect these (like, your click-through rate is too high) and mark them as spam (which they obviously are). And then you end up back where you would be with just normal AdBlock.

Neither ad networks nor advertisers want to pay for "false" or spammy clicks (which is why you shouldn't click on things just to "support" a site, as that can actually hurt the site in the long run).
posted by wildcrdj at 5:07 PM on April 23, 2012


OK, I'll try to tone down the screaming and take my fingers out of my ears for a minute here.

Why exactly should I be OK with Producers of Soda A trying to get me to associate my aspirations with their product at all? Even if they are super careful to not manipulate the nature of my aspirations (so that they aren't messing with my idea of what attractiveness is, or what fun is, or what "cool" is, or whatever) why should I want to allow them to try and manipulate the target of my aspirations?

How is it not a bad thing for me to be walking down the street and be confronted, nonconsentually, (on a billboard, say) with the message that drinking Soda A will make me cool? I see that as psychological manipulation and a sort of subtle mental poison, an attempt to take my natural desires for self-affirmation and the affirmation of my peers and artificially redirect them so that they center around the purchase of a product that may even be bad for my health.

You see it as what, exactly? I am listening as openly as I can.
posted by Scientist at 5:13 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the real problem is that online advertising is too damn cheap. A full page ad in a small city's newspaper can cost 5k or 10k, and it'll reach 50,000 or 100,000 people. That same amount of money using a digital ad network or a google could reach millions .

What needs to be eliminated is this race to the bottom uber-capitalistic mentality of CPM's getting cheaper and cheaper. I've seen networks/publishers sell $3, sometimes $2 or even $1.50 per thousand impressions or less. If there was some sort of cap for ad networks like, $10 minimum CPM, or 2 or 3 dollars per click - something similar to a digital minimum wage - then content providers would make the amount of money they truly deserve. Advertisers would throw a shit fit, but they would totally pay for it if they had no other choice.

Not sure how to comment on ads being "annoying" or "intrusive" though. The internet starting out had an opportunity to use a subscription based model or a "micro-financing" model but they missed that train and now it's all free. Maybe your good-natured soul would donate or subscribe to your favorite sites, but the rest of the 99% of the population? Yeah fucking right.
posted by windbox at 5:16 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


A micropayment system would necessarially be different from the current payment systems we have in place. Transparency, lack of passwords, etc.

A browser addin, fer example, that autobilled a micropayment service based on activity.

The real problem is credit card fees. Micropayment systems try to get around that by making you buy a block of credits, and then expending those credits. And since there's more than one micropayment system then either every single website needs to tie into all of them, or some content is locked way. Miserable in any event.

Worse, you can wind up buying $10 worth of credits on a micropayment service that not much you're interested in uses.

The credit card companies see no real incentive in doing micropayments themselves, they get their money by being middlemen in an industry that, frankly, doesn't really need middlemen as expensive as they are. The absolute minimum fee a merchant will pay for the privilege of accepting a Visa card is $0.10. Which is more than a typical micropayment would be. And it's inconvenient. Enter the credit card number, the CV2 number, the address info, etc. The time required to authorize a micropayment, even accepting Visa's fees, is simply too much. Even if you were willing to pay a minimum of $0.30, which is higher than most micropayment schemes have in mind, the time investment in doing so is annoying.

Many people think the net has been crying out for a micropayment system that works for going on a decade now. Nothing workable has been put out there yet. I maintain hope it'll work out eventually.

If I could have a widget in my browser that'd let me single click through a payment of up to $0.10, to get to some content, I'd take it in a heartbeat. I suspect a lot of people would.
posted by sotonohito at 5:45 PM on April 23, 2012


How is it not a bad thing for me to be walking down the street and be confronted, nonconsentually, (on a billboard, say) with the message that drinking Soda A will make me cool? I see that as psychological manipulation and a sort of subtle mental poison, an attempt to take my natural desires for self-affirmation and the affirmation of my peers and artificially redirect them so that they center around the purchase of a product that may even be bad for my health.

There are a few things going on here, and the first is the idea of "nonconsensually" -- somebody, at some point, consented to having that thing put there, and if you don't like it there, you need to take it up with the billboard owner, or lobby to eliminate all billboards. Without the total and utter eradication of all advertising everywhere, which I think we can agree is not probable, something at some point is going to cross your line of sight. If not a billboard, something on the side of a bus. If not that, something in a magazine that somebody happens to open in your presence. And I have to approach this from the pragmatic standpoint of we-can't-legislate-all-messages-about-everything-everywhere-out-of-existence, because while it's a fun thought experiment, it's just not gonna happen.

And I agree -- honestly -- with your objections to a large extent, but I have to see it from the other side of the equation as well. If the manufacturer of Soda A, who is manufacturing his soda legally and not telling lies about its contents or benefits (he can't say it will allow you to fly, or bend steel with your bare hands*, etc.), wants to take a picture of Lady Gaga drinking it and put that picture on a billboard, why can't he? If rival Soda B manufacturers decide to take a picture of Brad Pitt swigging Soda B and saying "This satisfies my Pitt of thirst," why can't they?

"It attempts to take my natural desires for self-affirmation and redirect them so that they center around the purchase of a product that may be bad for my health" is a statement that I get, but ask yourself what, in a perfect world, that statement would allow. And ground that statement in some sort of legislation that people would understand, and that would provide crystal clear regulatory guidelines for the advertising industry to follow.

It's pretty simple to come up with health-and-safety regs for advertising, but how in God's name could you draft sensible legislation that lays out how a product or service – every product or service, from HVAC installers to socket wrenches to candy bars – can never, ever be displayed in a way that anyone ever interprets as "cool"?

I'm not trying to argue with you in the abstract. On the macro level, I totally acknowledge and embrace the idea that a problem exists. But if I were going to draft a sensible set of rules, or even just suggestions, to help advertisers avoid "any attempt to take a natural desire for self-affirmation (...) and redirect them," what would those guidelines look like? How could I draw up a checklist of factors that qualify that? Who would enforce this code, and what would the penalties be?

What if they wanted to affirm a segment of society that normally doesn't get much media representation, and present gay couples, or transgendered people, or anybody else that traditionally gets the shit end of the media stick, in the context of people that are aspirational ideals? Is that helping a persecuted and discriminated-against segment of society achieve a higher degree of normalcy and less persecution, or am I attempting to take those people's natural desire for self-affirmation and redirect it?**

I think about this stuff all the time. I apologize for being more than a bit dickish above, but sometimes the assumption that everyone that has my kind of job is an absolute sociopathic ghoul just flips my switch.

*you actually can, in the context of something called "puffery," and don't get me started.

**For a real-world example, see the Dove "Real Beauty" campaign. Is it good that they turned away from traditional models and celebrated more naturally shaped and coloured women in their ads? I'd say yes, but there's a compelling argument that this is just another layer of manipulation, and you can keep flipping that argument over and over forever.
posted by TheFlak at 5:53 PM on April 23, 2012


the assumption that everyone that has my kind of job is an absolute sociopathic ghoul

Just the acknowledgment that advertisers create needs as much as fulfill them is enough for me, honest.
posted by mediareport at 5:57 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just the acknowledgment that advertisers create needs as much as fulfill them is enough for me, honest.

Maybe I'm thick, or just tired, or both, but I can't tell sincerity from snark at this point.

Taking this in good faith, I acknowledge the "create" part, totally disagree with the "as much as" part, and probably disagree about the intent of people out there to overtly "create needs". Most of 'em just want to sell a few more air conditioners.
posted by TheFlak at 6:29 PM on April 23, 2012


Here's my compromise position: if we accept (and I do, honestly) the premise that eliminating advertising completely is impractical, we could still regulate this stuff a lot more tightly than we currently do. I think we should.

Truth in advertising laws should in my opinion use a much higher standard than they do. Advertisements should be subject to regulation about their volume, size, content, and color in much the same way that architects are constrained by city planners regarding what kind of buildings they can build and nightclubs are constrained by noise ordinances regarding how much noise can be outside their venue. City planners and local legislators should create ordinances to reduce the amount of signage, and there should be laws at the federal level restricting what venues advertisements can appear in, what percentage of content in those venues can be commercial speech, and how much money (both as a percentage of income and as a total amount) can be spent on the advertisement of any particular product. That would be a good start, I think.

Corporate speech should be strictly curtailed in general, and should never be allowed to be louder or more insistent than the speech of the people around it.

I recognize that if one accepts the basic premise of capitalism that corporations should compete with each other for business, there needs to be a way to get people to hear about new products and how they differ from old products. However, it shouldn't be an arms race and it shouldn't be built on yoking people's natural desires to artificial goals. There should be strict and narrow limits; advertising should not be a multi-billion-dollar industry.

I accept the argument that bringing non-traditional models, be they women, LGBT people, minorities, or whatever into advertising contexts is simply another layer of manipulation. I see it as a co-opting of the struggles of oppressed people to make them identify with corporate messages and see themselves as legitimate targets of corporate persuasion.

Here is why I originally said that I consider all advertising to be fundamentally lies: the truth or falsehood of an advertising message is immaterial. What matters in an advertisement is whether it is effective in persuading the people consuming its message to buy the product being promoted. It does not matter whether the product is better than the competition. It does not matter whether the message about the product is true. It only matters if the message is persuasive.

It is essentially corporate sophistry. You can argue that the truth of the message matters because lies are less effective, or because lies can make an ad get pulled for legal reasons. These only matter in the context of effectiveness, however. From the perspective of the person making the advertisement, all that matters is that I buy the product. Only laws, strategy, and personal scruples stand in the way of the lies, and that is thin protection indeed. That is why I see advertisement as poisonous.
posted by Scientist at 6:37 PM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


(I recognize that some of the regulations that I mention above do exist in theory, but in practice I argue that they are far, far too loose and that society would be better served by much stricter and tighter regulation, and much more active enforcement.)
posted by Scientist at 6:47 PM on April 23, 2012


>>>Why can't they make an ad blocker that simulates click-throughs?

Well, it's certainly possible. However, unless it gets clever, it will probably be very easy for ad networks to detect these (like, your click-through rate is too high) and mark them as spam (which they obviously are).


Only if you overdo it. It's not like you have to totally pass the turing test.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:54 PM on April 23, 2012


A whole lot of sites, especially pop culture sites, know they can get people to write for free, so it's nice to see someone who thinks there is some ethical obligation to pay people for their work.

Look, this is simple supply and demand. What's the real value of the written word? It's virtually zero. There's absolutely no reason to pay people to produce something which is already in such abundance.


This is one of the saddest things I've ever read on Metafilter. And I say that as someone who writes for fun prose I actively try NOT to make money on, i.e. trashy fanfic about comic book characters kissing each other.

Because I'm also a writer who hopes to make money off my other writing--as a sideline, because at this rate I definitely won't be making a living on it. And I reject in sheer horror the idea that the world only deserves to have the text it can get for free. DO. NOT. WANT.  "If you really loved being an investigative reporter tackling organized crime, you'd do it for free!" DOES. NOT. WORK.

Hell, let's look at fanfic for a minute. Fans have always liked taking other people's stories and running with them (and adding sex scenes); they are always going to do this for fun. Unless the canon's out of copyright, you don't get to make money off your fanstuff either, and that's fine, people will still do it. So take a look at Fanfiction.net: more free content than you could ever read, millions of page hits a day, it's a site I don't even visit anymore because Sturgeon's Law is in full effect and most of the PitOfVoles is AWFUL. And FF.net runs ads, because serving millions of page hits a day costs money. Try the newer, more modest, slightly classier Archive Of Our Own, created deliberately as a nonprofit space for fans. Right now AO3's running a donation drive, because running an ad-free site with page hits in the thousands costs money. But if AO3 doesn't survive, who cares, right, fans are still going to write their Holmes/Watson smut and share it with the world on our...ad-supported Livejournals/Tumblrs/etc. Never mind, no ads, we'll just share our smut on email lists...using ad-based free email servers like Gmail. Back to Usenet? Someone's paying for that hosting. Fine, we don't even NEED the Internet, Han/Leia's love will not be denied, we'll just go back to printed fanzines...that cost money to copy at Kinko's and mail around the world.

Remember these are fan creators doing it for love, actively trying NOT to make a profit on their work. Free/freemium Internet hosting revolutionized fan writing, because for the first time you didn't have to go into debt to enable more than fifty people to read your photocopied Starsky/Hutch epic novel. And maybe that's for the best, maybe I'm allergic to the '70s and your fan novel is terrible anyway. I am still 100% happy and okay with that intrepid mafia-investigating reporter not having to go into debt either. I like to keep an eye on which seedy cafes are mob fronts, and more importantly, if someone is willing to pay the reporter for writing, there's a slightly smaller chance the writing is EYE-SEARINGLY TERRIBLE.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:54 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Scientist:

I hear what you're saying, agree with some of it, disagree with other parts.

Models much closer to what you're describing do exist: some countries (the U.S. excluded) have incredibly strict advertising on, for instance, pharmaceutical products; similarly, some jurisdictions have what's called "name/price/quantity" restrictions on behind-the-counter products, where you can only ever name a product, show a pack shot, and tell people how many pills or whatnot are in it and what it costs. New Zealand springs to mind.

Would I like to live in a world where all advertising hews to those sorts of standards? Honestly, no. I think we fundamentally disagree on how much power ads have, and how much they manufacture need, and on, well, a whole bunch of other stuff. As somebody who makes the ads, no, I can absolutely assure you that whether or not the ad persuades somebody to buy something is not the only thing that matters. You can choose to believe me or not.

But in terms of taking this out of the abstract and into a framework that you could show people and say "this is a model that is more acceptable," looking into BTC restrictions and hard-pharma restrictions for medical products provides some excellent boundaries for what can or can't be said and done in a much more robust legislative framework. The U.S. is fairly loosey-goosey with their pharma ad environment, but Canada's PAAB provides some very tight boundaries on what's acceptable and unacceptable in terms of messaging.

There's tons of other tangents this could spin off into, but I feel like I'm just derailing further and further off into the stratosphere, plus I'm super sleepy. MeMail me if you'd like more info on restrictive ad frameworks, because I think there may be existing models that fit what you'd like to see more, and if you ever do get a serious desire to lobby for change, these models would be something you could show people that they would understand immediately, if not totally be on board with.
posted by TheFlak at 7:06 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


What matters in an advertisement is whether it is effective in persuading the people consuming its message to buy the product being promoted. It does not matter whether the product is better than the competition. It does not matter whether the message about the product is true. It only matters if the message is persuasive.

Again, as hard as it might be, people need to separate the how of advertising from the why. Advertising is not propaganda. Advertisers don't seek to create an environment where the truth becomes "impossible" because in such an environment capitalism cannot function. This is why traditionally businesses have been the biggest proponents of such "truth in advertising" laws; when the truth itself becomes the enemy, when transparency is reduced to zero, and where money and power wholly decide winners, there can be no chance of business or of profits.

However, it shouldn't be an arms race and it shouldn't be built on yoking people's natural desires to artificial goals.

Consider the possibility that the silly "arms race to nowhere" that advertisers engage in today is purely a by-product of the technology by which advertising happens. Advertising is still built very much on a broadcast model where the advertiser has no choice but to frantically display his message to as many people as possible and hope that just maybe, out of the millions of "impressions" she makes, she'll get a few hundred "conversions." It's a stupid archaic system based on the assumption that the advertiser cannot connect directly to his clients and so must rely on some sort of intermediary to make the connection.

And it's likely no longer the case.

I suspect that sooner rather than later advertising will radically transform. For one, the assumption that the advertiser cannot connect directly to consumers is no longer the case. Such a direct relationship is possible now thanks to the web. And at that point the wealth that the advertiser previously delivered to the parasite intermediary can be delivered precisely where it belongs: the person whose time is being consumed by the advertisements. That's right, in the future advertisers will pay you to watch advertising. There's really no other option. And at this point I suspect advertising becomes a very different game. One based not so much on shallow appeal and instead relies on a much deeper and more problematic integration of supply and demand. At some point, as Google has shown, advertising stops being advertising and instead becomes truly useful.

Personally I don't get too much worked up about advertising anymore. It can be a dangerous force but the culture is fragmenting and changing far too quickly for advertising to ever become truly tyrannical. Even attempts to bypass "conscious decision-making" by advertisers will ultimately prove futile if other advertisers are simply doing a better job.
posted by nixerman at 7:11 PM on April 23, 2012


It is essentially corporate sophistry. You can argue that the truth of the message matters because lies are less effective, or because lies can make an ad get pulled for legal reasons. These only matter in the context of effectiveness, however.... That is why I see advertisement communication as poisonous.

Religion, interpersonal communication, tribal leadership, commerce, the legal system ... The same complaint applies to everything aspect of human interaction in which there is an advantage to be had. There's a reason that the word sophistry existed before 1950. I mean, here you are trying to convince us to see things your way -- and the truth of your argument doesn't matter, just your ability to convince us! It's turtles all the way down.

It seems like what you dislike is humanity. Advertising is just the process of humanity saying, "Hey, eat my roast mammoth, not Grug's." If you can eliminate the act of people telling each other about commercial products -- completely wipe that type of communication out of existence -- would the actual problem be eliminated? I would argue 'no.'

Some of the most troubling aspects of advertising that you describe are not about advertising, they're about humanity's ever-growing knowledge of how to game the human psyche. It affects to advertising, sleazy bar pick-ups, bartering, international relations...
posted by verb at 7:12 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I say that as someone who writes for fun prose I actively try NOT to make money on, i.e. trashy fanfic about comic book characters kissing each other.

...

Go on.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:17 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


If advertising is a mass industrial gaming of the human psyche, that in itself is bad enough that it shouldn't simply be given free rein. Calling such a phenomenon poisonous, as Scientist has repeatedly, seems like a pretty good characterization to me. There may not always be a fine line differentiating them but manipulation and communication are not the same interchangeable thing.
posted by XMLicious at 7:24 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If you really loved being an investigative reporter tackling organized crime, you'd do it for free!" DOES. NOT. WORK.

Again, I think it's important to separate the how from the why. Frankly, "investigative reporter" already has a distinctly archaic ring to it. I wonder if people will look back and laugh at the notion that it used to be a real job to go out and find out "what's really happening" in the world and then write about it. It's an oddly quixotic, very European notion. Really, it's an occupation that is not long for this world if it's not already dead. And it is already dead, at least in America. See: Iraq. In other countries, where the government steps in and sets a price floor for reporting, you may continue to see it happen but, well, at the end of the day, it all comes down to who's paying you to do what. I'd suggest it's already the case that reporters are not being paid to report the truth and so this entire concern is suspect.

As for the economic models that will support something like journalism today I don't think it'll be hard to build them when the time comes. Sites like reddit and metafilter already have the three most important aspects of any news operation: the ability to quickly gauge which stories are most relevant/interesting, loyal and engaged readers, and a vast network of experts to tap to deliver insight into events. The rest is just implementation details. I'd be very disappointed newspapers and reporters are still around in 20 years; it's 2012, dammit, and Old Media has been dying for at twenty years.
posted by nixerman at 7:34 PM on April 23, 2012


There may not always be a fine line differentiating them but manipulation and communication are not the same interchangeable thing.

By Scientist's characterization, though, any form of communication in which there is a profit incentive is inherently tainted by this dynamic. Regulating and controlling mass communication to hold back the negative aspects is unacceptable, according to Scientist's formulation, because that only convinces results-oriented people to change their tactics.

It seems that the only acceptable solution is to literally convince every human being on earth to be motivated by altruism, then convince Scientist that they're not just fakin' it to get better results.
posted by verb at 7:42 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regulating and controlling mass communication to hold back the negative aspects is unacceptable, according to Scientist's formulation

Didn't he just propose that advertisements should be subject to regulation about their volume, size, content, and color in much the same way that architects are constrained by city planners regarding what kind of buildings they can build?
posted by XMLicious at 7:56 PM on April 23, 2012


Excellent debate by TheFlak and Scientist et al. Bravo.
posted by panaceanot at 8:00 PM on April 23, 2012


Advertisements should be subject to regulation about their volume, size, content, and color in much the same way that architects are constrained by city planners regarding what kind of buildings they can build and nightclubs are constrained by noise ordinances regarding how much noise can be outside their venue.

Given how frequently city planning in the real world results in absolutely terrible societal outcomes (e.g., density levels often far below what's economically and environmentally optimal, destruction of lower-income neighborhoods), I'm not sure how favorably we should look on that as an example of how a type of speech should be regulated.
posted by dsfan at 8:04 PM on April 23, 2012


Right... so, maybe we should look at the stunningly successful cases of city planning with extremely positive societal outcomes as an example, like the separation of bicycle and foot traffic from automotive traffic in the Netherlands.

Of course we shouldn't take disastrously bad city planning as a model. That's like saying, "Given how frequently books have caught on fire, I'm not sure we should have ebooks as a form of digital reading material, because some similar catastrophe might result."
posted by XMLicious at 8:23 PM on April 23, 2012


Advertisements should be subject to regulation about their volume, size, content, and color in much the same way that architects are constrained by city planners regarding what kind of buildings they can build and nightclubs are constrained by noise ordinances regarding how much noise can be outside their venue.


In the United States, there is such a comprehensive body of existing Supreme Court rulings on this that it would likely take a constitutional amendment to enact what you propose.
posted by Diablevert at 8:26 PM on April 23, 2012


TheFlak, while we maybe disagree about the power of ads, I think there is a piece of my argument that I am missing. I don't object to ads on the basis that they are capable of corrupting my psyche by persuading me to make decisions that are in the interest of the advertiser rather than my own. I mean, I do object to them on that basis but that's not my primary objection.

My primary objection is simply that I have to deal with the attempt to hijack my internal decision-making process. I find it outrageous that I must be so constantly bombarded by exhortations to buy and consume in specific ways, and to tie my identity and aspirations to my purchasing choices. It's a constant irritation, like living too close to a highway. You don't notice it until it's gone, and then you realize how much it was stressing you out all this time.

What I think differs between profit-incentivized interactions between advertisers and consumers and between individuals is two things: one, interactions between advertisers and consumers are one-way. The advertiser is the active party, and the consumer (me, everyone) is forced into a passive role. Secondly, billions of dollars. I can buy a megaphone and stand in the park. Coca-Cola or Pfizer can drop into the living rooms of millions of people all at the same time and entice them with a 30-second multimedia extravaganza expertly crafted by highly-skilled, highly-paid specialists. Do you see the difference?

This kind of thing needs to be scaled way, way back. We should not spend more time passively consuming the messages of large corporations than we do actively participating in dialogue with our fellow humans, yet many millions of us (not you, gentle reader, but many of us) do exactly that every day. There's something sick about that, something that rots the soul of our society. It ought to be stopped.
posted by Scientist at 8:33 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right... so, maybe we should look at the stunningly successful cases of city planning with extremely positive societal outcomes as an example, like the separation of bicycle and foot traffic from automotive traffic in the Netherlands.

That's fine, but I think the political dynamics are really different. For something like you're describing, you have a large number of people who get very tangible benefits from the program (almost everyone is a pedestrian at some point, lots of people bike, even car commuters often prefer not to deal with other types of traffic). For advertising, though, you have a relatively small minority who care deeply about avoiding advertising, another minority who care a lot about having ads (the marketers themselves), and a large majority of people who would probably prefer fewer ads but don't actually care very much. It's closer to, for example, lengthy copyright terms--most people probably think having material printed in 1923 being still under copyright is ridiculous if they thought about it, but they don't care, so that's how the laws get made. Strict regulation of advertising formats, I would bet, would eventually tend to favor incumbents at the expense of potential new entrants.
posted by dsfan at 8:45 PM on April 23, 2012


As far as implementation of regulations and analogy to city planning in general, I didn't mean to imply that city planning has been a history of unmitigated success or that the analogy was even particularly close. I was just trying to point out that we do place regulations on the construction of our environments already, and that we could stand to do more of that sort of thing where ads are concerned.

I mean, take a look at this set of photos taken in Brooklyn in 1974 (as seen right here on MeFi a while back). I'm sure you can find a lot wrong with those scenes – the poverty, the segregation – but when you look at those photos, do you really think that the spaces they depict would be improved in any way by the addition of more advertisements? Do you think those kids would be better off if they had some aspirational billboards to look at, some ads for psychoactive drugs to watch on TV, some radio commercials telling them to eat a certain brand of snack food, or websites advertising werebear romance novels? I mean, arguably the latter is sort of unintentional art in and of itself, but really?

The world has improved in many ways, but the proliferation of advertising is a way in which it has deteriorated somewhat. It's like how we have more cars, now. Great, we have unprecedented mobility. Shit, everywhere is now full of loud, dangerous, smoke-breathing congestion. Except that with advertising the pollution is mental, and all the more insidious for that. I get that people are going to draw the line in different places as to where to make the tradeoff, but I'd argue that advertisements don't have nearly as many upsides as cars do.

When it comes right down to it, I would also question the basic premise that more capitalism and more cars have made us happier people. That's a radical view, and I recognize that. I don't think that one has to share my radicalism though to see that the proliferation of advertising in our society is a rotten thing and that we'd be better off if we could find a way to reverse it and get back to a more humane and manageable level of corporate programming in our lives. You just have to imagine a world with less ads, or spend some time in a part of the world that has less. It feels good.
posted by Scientist at 9:06 PM on April 23, 2012


I've visited countries that don't have much advertising. They seemed far less colourful and dynamic, and well... entertaining. Poland springs to mind. There's two types of beer advertising. Red logo for Tyskie, or similar red logo for Zywiec. I think I prefer the plethora of choice, probably falsely implied, by a crowded marketplace of advertisers trying to differentiate their offerings for consumers, or struggling for dominance.
posted by panaceanot at 9:08 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Strict regulation of advertising formats, I would bet, would eventually tend to favor incumbents at the expense of potential new entrants.

How about regulating advertising content? Truth in advertising? Does regulation of those things risk terrible societal outcomes? Scientist mentioned a few more things than advertising format there.

But even in the case of regulating advertisement format, what about the recent FCC ruling prohibiting the audio volume of television ads from blaring way above the volume of the program you're watching to get your attention? I hope that we can agree that no lower-income neighborhoods will be destroyed by that.

I kinda think it's things like Coca-Cola and Pepsi being able to buy full-spectrum ambient dominance of everyone's mindshare that inhibits new entrants to their markets, not the other way around.
posted by XMLicious at 9:16 PM on April 23, 2012


Didn't he just propose that advertisements should be subject to regulation about their volume, size, content, and color in much the same way that architects are constrained by city planners regarding what kind of buildings they can build?

Scientist's objection, stated many times, is that the very nature of "advertising" is uniquely poisonous and evil, and that it is something special and unique apart from other kinds of profit-motivated human speech. This has been stated quite a few times.

He's also said that the problem itself isn't solved by regulation, and that it can only be a temporary blockade that sociopathic advertisers will eventually work around. To wit:

You can argue that the truth of the message matters because lies are less effective, or because lies can make an ad get pulled for legal reasons. These only matter in the context of effectiveness, however. From the perspective of the person making the advertisement, all that matters is that I buy the product. Only laws, strategy, and personal scruples stand in the way of the lies, and that is thin protection indeed.

Scientist, the suggestions that you're proposing -- regulating the color, size, volume, and so on of advertisements -- are the easy parts. Billboards can already be covered by the kinds of architectural guidelines that you said could be used as a model. Advertisements aren't exempt from noise regulation laws, either. That's not the kind of thing that you'll see any objection to, really.

Color and size aren't what damage peoples' self-images, though. If you believe that the problem is people lying and manipulating others for profit, making them do it in slightly quieter monotones really is pointless. To date, efforts to regulate the actual content of advertising have been complicated. Preventing beer companies from showing people drinking beer in their ads? That helped light the fire underneath the very lifestyle advertising that you've said is so pernicious. Regulation and standards around the physical appearances of fashion models, for example, are difficult to nail and they are by definition only solutions to very specific spot-problems.

I don't want to be too hard on you, because I'm sympathetic to the critiques you're putting out there. I just think that advertising is a mixed bag (rather than an unmitigated evil), the same as any other intersection of communication and commerce. Damaging advertising is symptomatic of deeper, emergent problem. Focusing on advertising as The Great Evil feels like a profound waste of energy and attention, even if it would be gratifying to reduce, say, the number of yogurt ads in the world.
posted by verb at 9:20 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, take a look at this set of photos taken in Brooklyn in 1974 (as seen right here on MeFi a while back). I'm sure you can find a lot wrong with those scenes – the poverty, the segregation – but when you look at those photos, do you really think that the spaces they depict would be improved in any way by the addition of more advertisements? Do you think those kids would be better off if they had some aspirational billboards to look at, some ads for psychoactive drugs to watch on TV, some radio commercials telling them to eat a certain brand of snack food, or websites advertising werebear romance novels? I mean, arguably the latter is sort of unintentional art in and of itself, but really?

In complete sincerity...yes (well, to be fair, I have no particular view about whether the kids would be "better off," that's something of an empirical question about which I don't know much, but you seem to be talking about things aesthetically as well). When I see those photos, well, I mean the first thing that leaps out is like you say, the poverty and segregation, but even apart from that is a "sameness" I find very bland compared to a modern city, with advertising and all. And I get that you don't feel the same way--to you advertisements probably run together in the same way as the graffiti runs together to me. But yeah, I basically feel like panaceanot--give me Tokyo at night over this, any day. Then again, I get a genuine thrill out of seeing people trading futures on the CME, and I'm guessing you don't feel the same way about that either.

XMLicious, I think relatively few people object to what you're describing. Regulation of "content and color"...that's just a whole different thing. I don't get the sense what Scientist is depicting is saying basic things like "you can't lie" or "you can't have cartoon camels smoking" when talking about regulating content, though perhaps I read to much into it.
posted by dsfan at 9:32 PM on April 23, 2012


Damaging advertising is symptomatic of deeper, emergent problem.

So wait, is it Scientist who dislikes humanity, or is it you? ;^)
posted by XMLicious at 9:37 PM on April 23, 2012


verb: I agree wholeheartedly that I would not focus on advertising as the source of the disease. Advertising is merely a major manifestation of a deeper plague. You are correct that I do not see regulation of advertisements as being a truly effective solution – indeed, I stated in the comment where I proposed tighter regulation on ads that I was stating a compromise position. My true objection is to any manifestation of capitalism that treats human beings as exploitable resources rather than as valid, sentient beings.

My objection is to the dehumanization of humanity in the name of profit. I see advertisements as fundamentally dehumanizing, in their motive, in their intent, in their delivery. But I agree that I view them as a symptom of a problem that is even larger and more systemic, which is, essentially, the prioritization of greed over love. That is where I am coming from here.

It is a radical position but not, I think, a hypocritical one. It is only hypocritical when one does not carry it to its logical conclusion, or when one uses it as a cudgel to create shame and self-hatred in others. I hate nobody. I never called marketers sociopaths, or ghouls. I never said I had no sympathy for them, or for the people who run websites with ads. I said I have no sympathy for advertisements, and for advertising companies. I have loads of sympathy for the people who make ads and who work in those companies. They are human beings, they were brought up into a particular society and they frame their lives within it, just as nearly all of us do. I don't think they are evil, though I think some of their creations are evil.

More than once I have expressed sympathy for the operators of ad-supported websites, though I do not think that their right to run their sites trumps my right to choose what images I consume. I have infinite love for human beings, none at all for corporations or systems.
posted by Scientist at 9:39 PM on April 23, 2012


I think the regulation issue is a slight derail, as it was merely an aside to the point that advertising is generally a bad thing. I actually think that verb said it better than anyone else: that the kind of communication that advertising is, is a gambit to game the human psyche. It's manipulation, dressed up to look fashionable or endearing.

So gaming the human psyche may be common and mass industrial gaming of the human psyche may be a necessary evil but, to put it redundantly, a necessary evil is still not a good thing.
posted by XMLicious at 9:49 PM on April 23, 2012


So gaming the human psyche may be common and mass industrial gaming of the human psyche may be a necessary evil

Though, again, it's not clear that this is what advertising has to be. Fundamentally, advertising is about supply discovering demand. Even if you presume malicious intent on the part of advertisers -- and that supply can, through trickery and fraud, create demand -- there remains a core fact that all advertising, even the worst advertising, potentially enables mutually beneficial transactions to take place. If you take the long view then the question is really: do bad businesses, by virtue of advertising, triumph over good businesses? And I include in bad businesses those businesses that deliberate manipulate the masses for profit.

This may not be the case. It's possible that advertising is getting better. Even if advertisers really are scum -- and many of them probably are -- the nature of advertising in a free society might be to gradually reward good advertising and while actively filtering out bad advertising. False consciousness is always a possibility but when you consider the sheer number and diversity of advertisers its not obvious that the masses could really be gamed in the long run.

So advertising is a dangerous force but it's not clear that it's a necessarily oppressive force. And the idea that all advertising is intrinsically bad simply doesn't square with everyday human life. It's an industry in the midst of great change the real question is whether future advertising will be worse, or better, than what we have today.

My true objection is to any manifestation of capitalism that treats human beings as exploitable resources rather than as valid, sentient beings.

This is just an argument for better advertising. Though I'm sure a busy body such as yourself could certainly get behind "good advertising." You might be all for glitz and glamour if the goal wasn't profit but was rather to, say, prevent the spread of STDs. There's a deeper issue here but really, the call to regulate something as dynamic as advertising is tremendously naive. It is, shall we say, something that is here to stay.
posted by nixerman at 10:17 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So advertising is a dangerous force but it's not clear that it's a necessarily oppressive force. And the idea that all advertising is intrinsically bad simply doesn't square with everyday human life.

Try cold-calling the CEO of any large company to sell her something. You won't get through. (I have a friend who specializes in this kind of sales work, believe me you won't.)

For some reason, people who have the resources and position to control it don't intentionally allow themselves to be the passive recipients of sales messaging - it's kept beyond arm's length by gatekeeping secretaries and subordinates, the sales pitch only happens at the pleasure of and on the schedule of the executive, and if you try any shit you get shown the door.

I think that in everyday human life, it should be this way for everyone.
posted by XMLicious at 10:40 PM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


So the idea of regulating advertising as strictly as we regulate architecture is utopian, of course, and seems weird, but...

Well, okay, here's a random story. Once I lived in an old building where the owner lived downstairs from me and ran a hair salon out of her apartment — she had converted pretty much the whole front half of the unit into salon space. Because this business was in a residential neighborhood, the only signage she could put up on the building was the name ("Susie's") in not-too-large letters, and wasn't allowed (IIRC) to put up any other signage (again, IIRC) anywhere but on the building.

And, yeah, it's never going to happen, completely impossible, but, what if all businesses had to adhere by the same rules? And what if (again, utopian as all getout) similar regulations prevented overbearing advertisement in broadcast media (like, since we're being utopian here, let's say that we-the-people pass laws requiring advertisement be sold at low fixed rates and assigned to people wanting to advertise by a lottery or queue system). It'd be pretty nice, I think. It'd make it much, much harder for a company to get big enough to dominate any market except for the geographically smallest, and so much, much easier for small companies to get off the ground.

Rejoining the other conversation thread going on (erm... the on-topic one, sorry), I can't even think of a utopian scheme that could regulate web advertising effectively...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:50 PM on April 23, 2012


And all that said, remember back in 199whatever when a law firm posted an advertisement on every USENET group and the Internet as a whole flipped the fuck out over it, because:
  1. Basically no one had ever been rude enough to post to every group before,
  2. at that point, the Internet was small enough for actions to seem personal instead of commercial, and
  3. it seemed like if it took off and a bunch of people started doing it, it would destroy the medium's usefulness for conversation?
They were right, and they were right to flip out over it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:01 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Given the amount of access that people have to information nowadays, there's a solid case to be made that advertising is old 'n busted. Any time you want to buy something you can research the shit out of it without leaving your chair. You can see the business's own promotional material by going to their websites, you can see what other customers experiences and discoveries are from a thousand sites, you can see what independent analysts say at a thousand more.

Previous generations have never had anything remotely comparable. Even 8-10 years ago it wasn't like it is now.

Advertising is the buggy whip of the 21st century. The reason there's so damn much of it is because of diminishing returns. TV is now over 30% commercials in prime time, and there's no limit at all the rest of the schedule. So I simply never watch broadcast TV live -- I timeshift with zapping. I'm fortunate enough to live in a city where fully half of the cinemas are locally owned and don't show any commercials; only a couple of trailers. They also commonly serve food and beer and will bring them to your seat -- that's how they manage to stay in business without taking advertising. So needless to say, those are the cinemas I go to, and yes, they show first-run premium films.

And of course I run adblockers and flashblock everywhere, except on sites where they have politely asked me not to and promised in return to keep the ads under control (so far that means Ars Technica). I find advertising repulsive enough to take steps to avoid it -- this to me counts as a major form of quality of life improvement. Also I live in a city that has a very restrictive billboard code as well. Broadcast radio is out of the question. Streaming radio takes care of that and is by a conservative measure about a zillion times better anyway. I don't need advertising, I don't want it, I don't use it, and I find that it takes far less of my time to avoid than it would suck up if I didn't avoid, and frankly it's time better spent.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:07 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm with you George, and I have made similar decisions in my life to limit my advertising intake, but we're outliers and likely will be for the forseeable future. Most people don't see the need to filter ads like that, and of those that do not all of them know how. It takes technical savvy, research skills, time, a willingness to seek out alternative media, and often money to cut ads put of one's life. It's not the kind of thing you're ever going to get a majority of the population to do, it just takes too much work.

Advertising isn't leaving us anytime soon, though I will agree that if one is trying to be an informed consumer there are plenty of options out there. Of course, just try researching everything you buy at the grocery store to find the ideal choice in the price/volume/quality matrix among the various brands on offer, sometime. You'll drive yourself mad.
posted by Scientist at 6:24 AM on April 24, 2012


Of course, just try researching everything you buy at the grocery store to find the ideal choice in the price/volume/quality matrix among the various brands on offer, sometime. You'll drive yourself mad.

Advertising doesn't provide an alternative to that. Having seen an advertisement for a cake mix tells me very little about it except how pretty the family on TV who ate it was. Brand recognition is not a substitute for information. You don't need to research everything exhaustively. Most of us choose among a pretty manageable set of discretionary products which change only slowly over time; it's easy to be discerning when you're only making one or two new choices a week.

I assume you're right, though, that advertising isn't going away (even though it is sickly and broken) because businesses will always try to control the conversation with the consumer. Note how, say, Geico spends staggering sums on advertising on the one hand, but does everything in its power to keep you from being able to get anyone on the phone. (Believe me, I speak from experience. I was once stupid enough to have a Geico policy.) They don't want you to talk to them, they want to talk at you. They're an extreme case but overall this split is normal. As a larger and large swathe of the consumer base learns how much choice they really have about how to participate in the conversation with the marketplace, the bang/buck ratio of advertising will continue to plummet. Business will have to react to this, and the ones who do will have a future.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:38 AM on April 24, 2012


Advertising doesn't provide an alternative to that. No it doesn't, but it sure can make your life harder when you're trying to figure out which type of bread or pasta or jelly or yogurt you should buy. It muddies the waters. That's all I meant.
posted by Scientist at 7:01 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


>> Damaging advertising is symptomatic of deeper, emergent problem.

So wait, is it Scientist who dislikes humanity, or is it you? ;^)


Oh, absolutely it's me. ;-) My 'You just don't like humanity' objection to Scientist wasn't an attempt to characterize him as a grump, it was an attempt to point out that the problems of exploitation and deception he is troubled by are not advertising-related but human-related.

Advertising covers a pretty wide range of actions, from a multi-billion-dollar television/print/social media blitz to putting a sign that says, 'BANANAS 10¢' outside your grocery store. If the latter is unacceptable, Scientist has gone beyond unrealistic and is just nutty. But if the latter is acceptable, the difficult task is figuring out where the line lies between his 'acceptable communication about products' and 'evil, bad advertising.' Is it the size of the sign? The truthfulness of the content? the color of the sign? Should bright yellow be allowed? Should it be allowed only for bananas? Should pictures be banned, or perhaps pictures of anything other than bananas? That would avoid the lifestyle advertising problem, unless of course the grocery store put a tagline like 'Bananas: They're fun!' below the picture of the banana. That would be an attempt to manipulate and control the viewer.

Marxist critiques of capitalism are being deployed against the act of telling other people about products, which strikes me as bizarre and superficial. No one here is willing to define advertising, which means that if their ideas were ever implemented they'd be ineffective: television ads for profit-driven companies would be banned, billboards would be the sole domain of the government and nonprofit organizations, and would only be allowed to have boring sentences in black and white, but companies with product to sell would fall back on other reliable mechanisms: pay pretty people to use your products, pay friendly people to mention the products, use brighter packaging to... Oh, wait. Packaging is advertising too, isn't it? Perhaps product names should also be regulated, too, to ensure that some products don't have an unfair advantage in George Spiggott's fantasy of tabular product data.

Scientist has cast such a wide net that his critique applies to any action in which one person stands to gain money, power, or influence. But his concrete solutions cover an infinitesimally narrow range of activities -- billboards and television and radio and online banner ads, basically. Either he's missing the point of his own critique, or he's trying to ban talking about commerce on the sly. That sounds like a fascinating conversation -- a total nonstarter without violent revolution, but interesting.

My point isn't that advertising and other forms of communication shouldn't be regulated. Noise levels in television ads, truth-in-advertising laws, public nuisance laws, and other barriers are a good thing. But none of them are attempts to solve what Scientist says he objects to -- the human tendency to see other humans as exploitable. Regulation on advertising will make the world infinitesimally less annoying, but the problems he seems genuinely troubled by will remain just as present.
posted by verb at 7:04 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


George Spiggott's fantasy of tabular product data.

Y'know, with as many straw men as you keep around you're gonna need a bigger house.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:12 AM on April 24, 2012


Advertising doesn't provide an alternative to that. No it doesn't, but it sure can make your life harder when you're trying to figure out which type of bread or pasta or jelly or yogurt you should buy. It muddies the waters. That's all I meant.

I would argue that the diversity of products generated by a consumer-oriented economy makes it difficult. We only have so much time, so much attention, and so much care to dedicate to questions like 'Which brand of peanut butter should I grab?'

As long as the product isn't dangerous or adulterated -- food safety laws, product purity laws, and truth-in-advertising laws are definitely important -- the differences between brands basically boil down to intangible positioning. Creamier, smoother, slightly milder, a touch less sticky, has cartoons on the container, the smell reminds you of your grandparents' house... And that doesn't even begin to touch on products whose differences lie in the realm of design rather than nutritional or flavor information.


>> George Spiggott's fantasy of tabular product data.

Y'know, with as many straw men as you keep around you're gonna need a bigger house.


A giant centralized database of product data is -- literally -- the only option we have that would avoid the potential for manipulative communication. Even that is mediated, because the choice of what product details to track and compare is an implicit choice about what to value. Product naming, product coloration, price point, durability... We'd drift into the equivalent of SEO, with companies gaming product stats to improve their rankings against genuinely better products.

I am absolutely in favor of attempts to cut through the haze of commercial messaging in our society, I'm staggered by the level of inexplicable ignorance about the nature of advertising, marketing, product positioning, political speech, human psychology, and the history of rhetoric on display in this thread. The core problems that Scientist has brought up are not advertising problems -- manipulative and/or deceptive advertising is a symptom of those problems. Treating advertising as the source -- as Scientist has repeatedly -- ensures that energy, attention, and resources are wasted in a quixotic quests to desaturate television ads and reduce the number of starbursts on catalog covers.
posted by verb at 7:32 AM on April 24, 2012


A giant centralized database of product data is -- literally -- the only option we have that would avoid the potential for manipulative communication

You are proposing it and claiming that I proposed it. I actually proposed nothing at all. Show otherwise. Business websites exist, where a customer can voluntarily go to see the busness's own description. Review sites exist where third parties compare and critique products. Forums exist where customers share their experiences.

Note that an opt-in approach where the consumer can seek out the business's own product description is the first thing i mentioned, both times. The business is absolutely at liberty to engage in manipulative communication if they like. (In fact, let them. When BS has to compete with conflicting testimony instead of being broadcast without contradiction, it only makes it more obvious.)

I said nothing about "avoiding the potential for manipulative communication", which is one of the many, many straw men, the invented positions that you are substituting for people's actual positions. I have not made any idealized demands that no potential for distortion by anyone may exist. In the quote I called out, that paragraph contains between 6 and 8 straw men along these lines and I'd be happy to enumerate them sentence by sentence if you like.

But it is interesting that the defenders of advertising here uniformly cannot represent a position without radically misrepresenting it. There's something remarkably appropriate about this.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:44 AM on April 24, 2012


The sheer fact that there exist modes of communication that are absolutely ubiquitous and that are only accessible to people with money is itself troubling in a democracy - and, for whatever it's worth, the current legal understanding of communication via those modes as "speech" is willfully stupid, like, right up there with the Dred Scott decision.

I think maybe this is why the pro-advertising people and the anti-advertising people are talking past one another. There's two critiques of advertising in play - one, a critique of whether the content or form of ads is ethically designed, and the other, a critique of the sheer existence of mass advertising as a thing in and of itself. And, well, I think it's worthwhile to note that when advertising is introduced into a medium where there was no advertising before, the advertisers are typically perceived as rude self-interested assholes, rather than as helpful purveyors of information.

Critiques of advertising in total are, of course, totally utopian. It'll be possible to make a living making advertisements for the foreseeable future, barring nuclear war or asteroid impact or the second coming or the revolution or whatever. Nevertheless, it's still a critique worth making.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:13 AM on April 24, 2012


You are proposing it and claiming that I proposed it. I actually proposed nothing at all. Show otherwise. Business websites exist, where a customer can voluntarily go to see the busness's own description. Review sites exist where third parties compare and critique products. Forums exist where customers share their experiences.

And those business web sites are advertising. The copywriting that results in a product description is advertising and marketing. Deceptive businesses spam consumer product discussion forums with shill "fans." Product catalogs are advertising, and a big sign that says '50% OFF' is advertising. You are advocating a model that, if applied consistently, only allows for objective third-party non-profit comparisons of measurable product data. Those are useful things to have, no doubt.


I said nothing about "avoiding the potential for manipulative communication", which is one of the many, many straw men, the invented positions that you are substituting for people's actual positions.

I apologize for attributing Scientist's positions to you, but you apparently haven't read any of the things he's said in this if you think that 'avoiding the potential for manipulative communication' is a misrepresentation of his stated desires. I'm not defending advertising, I'm saying that the people demonizing it in this thread are fundamentally ignorant of modern communication. You are either not thinking through the implications of what you are advocating, or you are unaware of the way advertising actually works outside of television and print ads for products.

But it is interesting that the defenders of advertising here uniformly cannot represent a position without radically misrepresenting it. There's something remarkably appropriate about this.

I'm not defending advertising, I'm sighing, and rubbing my face, as bad freshman marxism being applied to mass commercial communication by people who can't be arsed to think through the implications of their critiques.
posted by verb at 8:21 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The sheer fact that there exist modes of communication that are absolutely ubiquitous and that are only accessible to people with money is itself troubling in a democracy

That's a matter of scale, though, not a matter of form. If I have a sign and a marker, I can advertise my garage sale. If a thousand people do that, we can turn town square into an eyesore just as easily as Coca-Cola.

I would pose this question to Scientist, George_Spiggot, and the others who ave staked out the 'Anti-Advertising' position in this thread. How would you define advertising?
posted by verb at 8:26 AM on April 24, 2012


if the latter is acceptable, the difficult task is figuring out where the line lies between his 'acceptable communication about products' and 'evil, bad advertising.' Is it the size of the sign? The truthfulness of the content? the color of the sign? Should bright yellow be allowed? Should it be allowed only for bananas? Should pictures be banned, or perhaps pictures of anything other than bananas? That would avoid the lifestyle advertising problem, unless of course the grocery store put a tagline like 'Bananas: They're fun!' below the picture of the banana. That would be an attempt to manipulate and control the viewer.

The "truthfulness" of the content, of course, but there's a lot to it. Of course these aren't easy distinctions, but would you agree that personal and commercial speech should be treated differently? People can deceive. Businesses and people selling things should not be able to. Yet they do.

I would pose this question to Scientist, George_Spiggot, and the others who ave staked out the 'Anti-Advertising' position in this thread. How would you define advertising?

I'd say advertising is speech explicitly designed to encourage actions or opinions. A guy hanging up a flier for his band is advertising. A kid 50 cent lemonade sign is advertising. Political campaign buttons are advertising. Band T-shirts are advertising etc.

I think what most people object to about advertising is deceptive speech, as well as psychological manipulation ("If you buy this you won't look so fat.")

Yeah, yeah, I know, define "deceptive speech" or "psychologically manipulative speech" etc. etc. ... "bananas are fun"? ... definitely manipulative and deceptive. bananas are not fun.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:38 AM on April 24, 2012


How would you define advertising?

For me personally, and for purposes of this conversation, I'd say any unsolicited communication (yes, including nonprofits) that uses a strongly overly-inclusive and in some sense invasive approach, such that its reach and unwelcome, not trivially ignorable impact is dramatically out of proportion to its utility to that subset of people who might be interested in it and benefit from it.

Yes, I know that the term advertising is much broader than that, but personally, that defines the subset of it that starts to get into areas I object to. I'd be quite willing to discuss tweaking the bounds and getting a handle on the degree of disproportion.

Examples would be billboards that for 99 percent of people are just something that blocks the sky compared to 1% who might say "Yes, I want that candy bar, thank you for reminding me that it exists and is so chocolaty-looking." Commercials that occupy 20 minutes of every hour of television and consume the time and attention of 40 million people when barely 40,000 thousand of them are candidates for the message.

For me, deception is a different issue, but a simpler problem. It used to be more regulated than it is. We can fix that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:49 AM on April 24, 2012


(yes, I know "40 million" and "40,000 thousand" are actually the same number. I meant "40 thousand" of course)
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:51 AM on April 24, 2012


Yes, I know that the term advertising is much broader than that, but personally, that defines the subset of it that starts to get into areas I object to. I'd be quite willing to discuss tweaking the bounds and getting a handle on the degree of disproportion.

If you're willing to use that narrow of a definition of advertising, I'm a lot more willing to get on board with what you're saying. We've all got a fixed amount of attention/energy/time, and it's too easy for people to fill up our metaphorical buffers. Junk faxes, junk texts, junk mail, spam email, unsolicited phone calls, etc. all have a cumulative effect.

Another challenge is in areas like television entertainment, where the advertising content is solicited, via the decision to watch television. I can purchase the content without advertisements and watch it on my computer or DVD player, but if I'm watching an on-air broadcast, the advertisers are paying for the production of the show I'm watching in exchange for me viewing their message.


Yes, I know that the term advertising is much broader than that, but personally, that defines the subset of it that starts to get into areas I object to. I'd be quite willing to discuss tweaking the bounds and getting a handle on the degree of disproportion.

This is even less precise than your definition, but some of the primary points of concern for me are: 1) Attempts to control or dominate public discourse, and 2) Attempts to masquerade marketing messages as objective fact. Despite my pooh-poohing of some of the ideas mentioned above, I'm a big proponent of clear and unambiguous separation of marketing/advertising messages and factual third-party information....
posted by verb at 9:04 AM on April 24, 2012


verb: The core problems that Scientist has brought up are not advertising problems -- manipulative and/or deceptive advertising is a symptom of those problems. Treating advertising as the source -- as Scientist has repeatedly -- ensures that energy, attention, and resources are wasted in a quixotic quests to desaturate television ads and reduce the number of starbursts on catalog covers.

Did you happen to read my comment above yours which begins, "I agree wholeheartedly that I would not focus on advertising as the source of the disease. Advertising is merely a major manifestation of a deeper plague", and then goes on to say, "My objection is to the dehumanization of humanity in the name of profit"? Because if so, I'm not sure where you're getting the idea you keep repeating, that I am treating advertising as the source of the problem and ignoring the deeper issue of manipulative communication and exploitation in general.

I am talking about reining in advertising because that is the framework of this discussion. I fully recognize that it is only a symptom. There is more than one way to treat a disease, however -- sometimes you attack the root cause, sometimes you attack the symptoms, sometimes a combination. I recognize that in this case there's likely not going to be a lot of social change coming from this here MetaFilter thread.

What I'm trying to do is highlight problems and see if I can convince people that the volume, scope, frequency, and content of advertising in our society is problematic and detrimental to overall quality of life. I'm not trying to create a serious proposal for a Utopian reformation of society in general. OK? I'm fine with not having all the solutions. Sometimes it's OK to just try to raise awareness of a problem. I don't have to constantly show up to every discussion about a societal ill with a comprehensive plan for a peaceful revolution into a fully enlightened panhuman society, and it's annoying that that's the standard you're trying to hold me to here.
posted by Scientist at 9:10 AM on April 24, 2012


Yes, it is absolutely a question of scale - and, well, this is one of those situations where a change in quantity (or size) becomes a change in quality. Mass commercial communication may be (and, I'd posit, is) corrosive to public discourse in ways that small-scale commercial communication isn't. This is important, since if we are to take democracy seriously we need uncorroded channels for public discourse, for us to perform our shared duties as citizens.

Again: purely utopian. Advertising isn't going away anytime soon. Nevertheless, it's worthwhile to point out that it does in fact have negative effects more meaningful than just the production of annoyance in those who have to view it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:17 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This whole discussion has degenerated into what kind of wine to serve with our moon cheese.

Here, in the United States of 2012, there exists an extensive body of constitutional law which recognises few distinctions between commercial and non-commercial advocacy, and which would probably require a constitutional amendment in order to restrict commercial speech to the degree that many here advocate. In this reality, advertisements have been the primary funding source for almost all mass communication since 1654 --- date of the first newspaper ad --- and as mass communication has evolved into different media advertising has evolved along with it. It has been the sole source of support for the vast majority of radio and television for the entirety of their existence as mediums of communication. It has been one of the primary sources of support for the world wide web, again, almost from the beginning of the web as a resource open to the broader public instead of /a limited coterie of university and government scientists.

The evolution of advertising over the next decade or so is going to have very important --- and, I believe, very likely detrimental --- effects on society. There's a lot to be talked about there --- stuff real people could actually do to affect this development.

Instead, y'all are trying to argue about whether one could somehow impose a clampdown on commercial speech the like if which has only ever been achieved in post industrial societies where there is no independent commerce --- because they are totalitarian. I have no doubt Scientist's cri di coeur is sincere. It's also loony, and entirely irrelevant to people like the yokel who was once the subject of this thread --- the guy trying to make a living writing interesting stuff about movies. I personally, would like to live in a world where at least some people have a chance to do what they're passionate about for a living. Figuring out how to do that in a way that that doesn't require each of us to sign over our brains to the thought police is I think, a worthy goal. Marxism has been tried and failed, but hey this is a free country, so by all means grab a lance and charge a windmill if that's what your into. I just wish you hadn't ruined this thread by stomping inhere and bellowing your rendition of The Impossible Dream.
posted by Diablevert at 9:18 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nonsense, Diablevert.There's nothing impossible dream about it. And really, court rulings have little to do with it. Its for political reasons the FCC dropped its fairness doctrine, and its been due to underfunded trade regulatory bodies like FCC and FTC and lack of enforcement muscle and political will that have stymied the effective regulation of advertising. It's not pie in the sky. Even a modest return to the neglected truth in advertising and fairness in news coverage regs we had just a couple of decades ago, before Reagan, would be an improvement over where we are now; as is now, many people don't even realize those rules aren't enforced anymore and go around feeling falsely secure that at the very least advertisers can't be brazenly lying about their products or services. Thanks to post-Reagan shifts in regulatory standards, we're not protected under the law as much as we once were from fraudulent advertising. That's not uropianism so much as historical perspective.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:43 AM on April 24, 2012


D. It is perfectly sensible (and incredibly useful, when trying to figure out goals and values) to discuss problems with systems that cannot feasibly be fixed. An understanding of what those problems are - in this case, the deep distortions introduced by commercial communication via mass media, commercial communication that one can't escape receiving, but which most people who aren't large corporate interests can't afford to carry out on a mass scale - is useful even if we can't do anything about it.

Here's an old joke that I got from a David Foster Wallace piece: two young fish are swimming around one day when an old fish swims by and says "great water today, isn't it?" The old fish swims off, and one of the young fish turns to the other and says "what's water?"

We're not discussing which wine goes best with moon cheese. We're discussing water.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:46 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Doh: that last post was supposed to start with "diablevert:", not with the letter D. Damn this cell phone! Damn these fat thumbs!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:48 AM on April 24, 2012


nixerman: "[investigative journalism] is an oddly quixotic, very European notion."

This is the biggest load of bullshit I've heard in a while.

nixerman: "As for the economic models that will support something like journalism today I don't think it'll be hard to build them when the time comes. Sites like reddit and metafilter already have the three most important aspects of any news operation: the ability to quickly gauge which stories are most relevant/interesting, loyal and engaged readers, and a vast network of experts to tap to deliver insight into events."

Don't give yourself too much credit. Sites like Metafilter and Reddit don't go out and investigate, they read links and bicker over how to interpret them. Investigative journalism is not going away.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:42 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


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