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Peak Advertising and the Future of the Web
June 3, 2014 2:04 PM   Subscribe

"Advertising is not well. Though companies supported by advertising still dominate the landscape and capture the popular imagination, cracks are beginning to show in the very financial foundations of the web. Despite the best efforts of an industry, advertising is becoming less and less effective online. The once reliable fuel that powered a generation of innovations on the web is slowly, but perceptibly beginning to falter. Consider the long-term trend: when the first banner advertisement emerged online in 1994, it reported a (now) staggering clickthrough rate of 78%. By 2011, the average Facebook advertisement clickthrough rate sat dramatically lower at 0.05%. Even if only a rough proxy, something underlies such a dramatic change in the ability for an advertisement to pique the interest of users online. What underlies this decline, and what does it mean for the Internet at large? This short [PDF] paper puts forth the argument for peak advertising—the argument that an overall slowing in online advertising will eventually force a significant (and potentially painful) shift in the structure of business online. Like the theory of Peak Oil that it references, the goal is not to look to the immediate upcoming quarter, but to think on the decade-long scale about the business models that sustain the Internet."

Key Findings:
  • Key indicators for online advertising effectiveness have declined since the launch of the first banner advertisement in 1994. These declines are increasingly placing pressure on even the most established businesses in the space.
  • These developments suggest important (and potentially painful) implications for market structure, privacy, and authenticity online.
  • Existing alternatives appear at present to be insufficient to replace lost revenue from near-future declines in the value of display, search, and mobile advertising.
  • Ultimately, the economics of the web will necessitate pivotal decisions about the financial underpinnings of the Internet in the decades to come.
Relevant:
AdAge: Google Profit Misses Estimates As Search Ad Prices Decline

Ars Technica: Why Ad Blocking is Devastating to the Sites You Love (previously)

The Guardian: Adblock Plus: the tiny plugin threatening the internet's business model

Wired: How Click Fraud Could Swallow the Internet

SEOBook: How Brands Came to Dominate Google's Relevancy Algorithm

Boston Review: Censored by Google
Some smaller independent sites burned by Google's newly UGC-hostile filters: TVTropes - DaniWeb - RecipeLand - SkyscraperCity - EnglishForums - And of course, MetaFilter
WaPo: Data brokers use ‘billions’ of data points to profile Americans

ProPublica: Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You

Senate Commerce Committee: A Review of the Data Broker Industry - December 2013 [PDF] (previously)

Acxiom: A PDF guide from "the largest company you've never heard of" to the myriad lifestyle categories it crunches; see also Vienna Teng's "The Hymn of Acxiom" (previously)

Pacific Standard: Outing Advertisers: A Conversation With Reddit’s HailCorporate
posted by Rhaomi (173 comments total) 118 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been on the internet for twenty years and I'm having trouble remembering any ad I actually clicked on purpose.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:09 PM on June 3 [116 favorites]


Maybe if advertisers didn't steal our private information and then deploy it against us in such obvious, patronizing ways, or lure us with such patently lowbrow click bait it insults our intelligence, or shill obvious crap based on obvious lies.

Nah, that couldn't be it.
posted by spitbull at 2:09 PM on June 3 [43 favorites]


Advertising is a virus of the mind, to which we develop immunity via exposure.
posted by kewb at 2:11 PM on June 3 [60 favorites]


Great post.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 2:12 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested to see their cite for the clickthrough rate of 78% for the first banner ad; the ancillary links in the post give the number as 44%.
posted by Earthtopus at 2:12 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Every kind of advertising spoils its own nest eventually. The early adopter gets great results, and others see that and want to participate, and eventually they saturate, and then oversaturate, the medium and effectiveness eventually plummets. The advertisers, in a vain quest to gain attention, start to be obnoxious, and this drives viewers away.

The only cases where advertising really works effectively is where the readers/viewers want to read the advertising. That's why "Sky and Telescope" can charge premium rates for their ads; it's the main attraction of the magazine for its readers.

The big difference for web advertising compared to, for instance, magazines is that it's possible for viewers to use automated filtering to exclude the advertising if they are sophisticated enough. (That's also technically possible for television, but so far the networks have squelched the technology with a blizzard of lawsuits.)

As advertisers become ever more frantic and their ads become ever more obnoxious, more and more people will resort to ad blockers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:14 PM on June 3 [23 favorites]


How does this compare to effectiveness of ads in newspapers and magazines? Except for the perfume ones that are almost impossible to ignore, most print advertisements are easily skipped over while reading the articles.
posted by tommasz at 2:16 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Yes, a great post, and something I've been pondering for quite awhile. Much thanks, Rhaomi.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:16 PM on June 3


Peak advertising, sure. Peak cat video? NEVAR
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:16 PM on June 3 [10 favorites]


Advertising has always been a bit of a zero-sum game- if nobody advertised, the rewards would have been immense to the first person to do it. As it increases, using it merely becomes a cost of doing business.

Of course click-through rates are horrible (and a horrible measurement, as they allude to). Call-rates on informercials are horrible, but that doesn't stop people from spending millions on TV ads. If companies like Coke and Budweiser stopped advertising, they'd slowly exit our consciousness and lose steam. They certainly aren't succeeding on the merits of their product.

Anyone who thinks they are immune to advertising is sadly delusional. Everyone is impressionable, and unless people stop spending money, marketers will find money to get their share.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:18 PM on June 3 [9 favorites]


Thanks for putting this together. I've been thinking about the Peak Ads hypothesis since dear leader mentioned the theory in his post on Medium.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:19 PM on June 3


I expect advertising on websites will eventually have to move to the television model: accept that a certain number of impressions will have to be good enough, rather than clickthroughs. Which means that the revenues will drop considerably, but the ads, as we all know damn well and good, will never go away.
posted by chimaera at 2:19 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Advertising will change, but I don't think it will ever go away. Content marketing and native advertising will become more popular probably. Interesting read though.
posted by mosschief at 2:19 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


on a decade-long scale, internet advertisers will do just fine as long as they find three or four other planets with intelligent life and get them to do earth-style social media and buy our shit. the ant people of orion will be driving chevys, because we have the galaxy's top marketing/sales people. there's no don draper on rigel or betelgeuse.
posted by bruce at 2:20 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


How does this compare to effectiveness of ads in newspapers and magazines?

I for one have never clicked on a newspaper ad.
posted by xingcat at 2:21 PM on June 3 [30 favorites]


The thing is that you can shop directly on the internet without ever using ads. Everything you want is either on amazon or ebay. What is the point of ads then?

Facebook and the major ad networks bombard me with ads for things I have already looked at and either bought or decided I didn't want. What is the point these ads then? Do that many people reconsider their decisions? I could understand showing similar products to ones I have looked at but they show the exact same ones. Maybe they could show me cheaper ones but nope. Exact same ones at the exact store.

Is this machine learning recommendation engine AI wisdom? "Buy what you already considered/own". Seriously?

Maybe more people are indecisive than I think. Maybe that actually is the best ad spend buck.

But it is annoying as hell to me.
posted by srboisvert at 2:24 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


Despite the best efforts of an industry, advertising is becoming less and less effective online.

Has online advertising ever been effective? I can't recall ever clicking on an ad in the past ten years.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:26 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


"Advertising is not well."

May it get very sick, and die soon.

Then we'll all be living in a better world.
posted by Rash at 2:27 PM on June 3 [8 favorites]


I don't want to be the sort of person that's blocking ads, but lots of purportedly respectable advertising networks struggle to keep from serving malware:

* Ads 'biggest mobile malware risk' (March 2014)
* The Wild Wild Web: YouTube ads serving malware (Feb 2014)
* Yahoo's malware-pushing ads linked to larger malware scheme (Jan 2014)

So I feel like a leech for running NoScript on Firefox, but at least I'm a safer leech. It's not really Ad Block but because so much advertising relies on JavaScript it ends up functioning that way. I've whitelisted some things like Project Wonderful--I know their ad serving model won't serve me something infectious--but I can't give most ad networks that privilege.
posted by foxfirefey at 2:27 PM on June 3 [19 favorites]


Anyone who thinks they are immune to advertising is sadly delusional

Perhaps, but as someone who spends way more time online than I should, I can honestly say I've never clicked on an ad on purpose and I've never bought anything online as a result of an ad. And I don't even always use adblock; I've had it on one browser on one computer in my entire life. For whatever reason, TV and print ads are much more effective on me than online.

Strange thing is, even the ads before youtube videos don't work for me. I'll click on the "skip" button, or simply close the window and say "fuck it, it's not worth my time sitting through this ad when I should be watching a man in a horse mask dancing around his apartment"
posted by Hoopo at 2:30 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


I wish there was a way to allow ads into my browser while still blocking all of the scripting they tend to have. It's either hammer with noscript, block with adblock or dedicate a couple of hours a month to cleaning out malware/worse. A whitelist would be absolutely great, but at the moment, I don't trust anyone to keep it. Also, I do intend to keep blocking google analytics. Google knows too much about me already.
posted by Hactar at 2:33 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


How many ways are there to define the Law of Diminishing Returns? The more Internet advertising there is, the less effective any of it becomes.

If you didn't get in on the gold rush, you end up a miner, busting your ass in the dark and cold for $2 a day.
posted by Repack Rider at 2:34 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


Advertising is not well.

I assume this is just poor grammar. It should read "Advertising is not good."
posted by The World Famous at 2:36 PM on June 3 [35 favorites]


"Send us a picture showing how YOU like your Tombstone® Pizza"

I swear I saw almost that verbatim yesterday and was filled with a little sadness for everyone involved, including myself.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:36 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


Did anyone read that Acxiom PDF? Interesting to read all of the categories and yet I couldn't see myself in any of them. Who goes to bed watching Scrubs on tv?

I went to a meditation retreat once and was removed from 'the world' for a total of 9-10 days. When it was done I took the train back and stopped over in a busy metropolitan area to switch trains and get a calling card. I was entirely overwhelmed at how bombarded I felt by advertising everywhere. Magazines, billboards, signs, everything. You really don't notice it how saturated it is until you get away from it for a while.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:36 PM on June 3 [7 favorites]


Note that the source paper addresses the "I've never even clicked an ad" sentiment:
[T]he changing demographics of web users do not favor advertising.

For the perspective of advertising, not all users of the Internet are created equal. One 2013 paper conducted a controlled experiment on over a million customers to measure the causal effect of online advertising on sales. Researchers found that while customers “between the ages of 20 and 40 experienced little or no effect from the advertising...individuals aged 50 to 80 experience a sizable positive effect on sales.”4

Perhaps most notably, customers older than 65 years of age, despite constituting only 5% of the experimental group, were responsible for 40% of the total effect observed as a result of the advertising. This was in spite of the fact that younger customers were more likely to see retailer advertisements and also saw more advertisements by simple virtue of their heavier Internet usage. Researchers, however, found no statistically significant effect on purchase behavior for younger subjects.5

This experiment suggests that there may be a generational gap in receptiveness to advertising online. Ironically, the generation most identified as the “Internet generation” are some of its worst supporters from a purely financial point of view. As demographics shift over time, particularly within the United States, the overall effectiveness of online advertising will fall.
The source for these numbers is available via this PDF paper.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:38 PM on June 3 [15 favorites]


Anyone who thinks they are immune to advertising is sadly delusional

I should hope the state of the art in advertising is effective enough to sway me.

Because otherwise, the ad industry will have even more impetus to ask for more big data snake oil and subject me to even more surveillance.
posted by ocschwar at 2:40 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


An observation: most people think of the US when it comes to advertising bombardment. But London and Paris purely STUPIFIED me with the amount of outdoor print advertising there was EVERYWHERE. I live in Chicago, and there's nowhere near the level of posters, signs, window clings, billboards on the subway, streets, kiosks, etc. I remember reading an article about giant print ads put up on the renovation screens over the Doges Palace in Venice not too long ago.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:41 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


Hoopo, I've rarely clicked on ads as well, but haven't you ever become aware of a product due to its online ad? There are lots of small companies advertising on the web, and I doubt you would have heard of them otherwise.

I'm not claiming that advertising is equally effective on all people, nor is any one type or strategy (online, print, TV, radio) effective on any given person.

I guess what I'm saying is that people who say that advertising doesn't work on them are like the people who say they aren't prejudiced or who don't see color. Of course they do. The fact that they claim they don't makes me even more sure.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:44 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


2bucksplus: "I've been thinking about the Peak Ads hypothesis since dear leader mentioned the theory in his post on Medium."
I totally forgot to mention -- big hat tip to Matt for tipping me off to this paper (and thus the rest of this post) in his Medium essay.
jeff-o-matic: "I remember reading an article about giant print ads put up on the renovation screens over the Doges Palace in Venice not too long ago."
I posted that! :D
posted by Rhaomi at 2:44 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


The only cases where advertising really works effectively is where the readers/viewers want to read the advertising.

Native advertising is really popular right now for this reason.
posted by ryoshu at 2:47 PM on June 3


Hahah. Cool. Adding to my comment for people who haven't been: In the London tube (subway) system I saw vast hallways and stairwells with huge posters, one after another, row after row, sometimes the same ad placed over and over, to the point where I was completely aware of seeing them during my visit. One was an ad for an upcoming Ricky Gervais live show (several years ago). Half of London was buried beneath posters of Ricky Gervais.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:49 PM on June 3


I wonder if the difference between online advertising vs. old-media advertising (newspapers, magazines, television, bus ads, bus stop ads, blimps, stadium names, paying people to run on a treadmill over Times Square, etc.) is that it's much easier to produce metrics for online advertisements. On the internets, you can measure clickthrough, and you can also track cookies to see if people are purchasing your wares or reading your website after vising a site that shows your ads. I'm sure the people who sell bus ads (and all the other old media ads) have ways of tracking them, but I am guessing that it's harder to draw a direct line from one specific ad to actual customers coming in the door.

I mean, given all the various ad forms that Coke throws against the wall, I have a hard time believing that they can reliably figure out which individual ads are worth the money and which aren't. (Does anyone have hard numbers on this? Do they have better metrics than I think they do?)

Meanwhile, I do see two models working for people/content producers earning a living online:

1) Sponsored posts/content. Sometimes done badly; sometimes not. (I'm sure the sponsored laundry room over at Manhattan Nest has made me feel more positively about Lowe's, for example.)

2) Author/artist blogs, where the writer also sells a product they create, or has a service (e.g. a fabulously successful florist whose blog is marketing for their products), or publishes books, or gets speaking engagements.

The problem is that these models don't easily scale to larger sites with more than a few content producers.
posted by pie ninja at 2:50 PM on June 3 [12 favorites]


One of the solutions that people are currently using that the Peak Ad document mentions is native advertising, which is truly terrible. Despite enjoying and clicking on a lot of Onion content on Facebook, I get sort of mad whenever they put up native advertising (even though they tongue-in-cheek cop to the fact that that's what it is).
posted by codacorolla at 2:52 PM on June 3


It's hard to avoid the impression that online ads don't work very well because their actual utility for consumers is close to zero.
posted by clockzero at 2:53 PM on June 3 [10 favorites]


The implications for the internet really can not be overstated. For start-ups, pretty soon the free, ad-supported model will simply be unsustainable even in the short term. This is a tremendous hurdle, because now a start-up will either have to convince you to give them your credit card or will have to work with micro-transactions through the various app stores.

But for larger companies it is potentially even worse. Google is still making 90% or more of its revenue from placing ads. Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Pandora, and many others make at least 50% of their revenue from ads. It's really going to be a brutal transition.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:54 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


What can I do to help hasten the collapse of the online advertising industry?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:54 PM on June 3 [25 favorites]


But for larger companies it is potentially even worse. Google is still making 90% or more of its revenue from placing ads. Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Pandora, and many others make at least 50% of their revenue from ads. It's really going to be a brutal transition.

I guess this explains both the cash hoarding and the enthusiasm for purchasing specialized companies that make real, interesting products, to some degree.
posted by clockzero at 2:59 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I know ads are annoying, but people cheering the demise of the online ad ecosystem should be careful of what they wish for. Forget about the chilling effect it would have on the survival and proliferation of the web we know and love. Just imagining the damage a desperately flailing Google could wreak if its multi-billion dollar AdSense empire collapsed (taking 90% of its revenue with it) is terrifying enough.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:01 PM on June 3 [11 favorites]


Yeah I wouldn't be altogether shocked if Google bought a "real" operating company like Uber soon. Something data-reliant and data-generating (so Google understands it) but that throws off real cash and is insulated from reliance on advertising revenue. Drones/robots/self-driving cars simply won't be real products soon enough.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:04 PM on June 3


It also occurs to me that un- or under-employed people could be hit hard by the loss of ad-supported free services. I mean, just from Google: email, scheduling, productivity suites, etc. Their loss could widen the income gap even more, since they are increasingly mandatory (and previously expensive) job-hunting or freelance tools.
posted by gilrain at 3:05 PM on June 3 [19 favorites]


I've been clicking on newpaper and magazine ads for YEARS, but all I've gotten is ink on my fingers.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:10 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


But for larger companies it is potentially even worse. Google is still making 90% or more of its revenue from placing ads. Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Pandora, and many others make at least 50% of their revenue from ads. It's really going to be a brutal transition.

You mean the consumer of products might have to return to actually buying them?

I'd be a hell of alot happier if Google would let me opt out of their ad network for a price (assuming of course, I could afford it). Some services are already out there allow me to do this. Netflix is a great example; I don't watch TV with commercials. I pay them to stream it to me without them. On the rare occasion I watch something that has ads (i'm looking at YOU hulu) I get really pissed off that I cant buy them away.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:11 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


"An observation: most people think of the US when it comes to advertising bombardment. But London and Paris purely STUPIFIED me with the amount of outdoor print advertising there was EVERYWHERE. I live in Chicago, and there's nowhere near the level of posters, signs, window clings, billboards on the subway, streets, kiosks, etc. I remember reading an article about giant print ads put up on the renovation screens over the Doges Palace in Venice not too long ago."

You can thank Lady Bird Johnson, whose Beautify America campaign fought against highway billboards and led to more restrictions on outdoor advertising all over the country.
posted by klangklangston at 3:11 PM on June 3 [44 favorites]


Facebook and the major ad networks bombard me with ads for things I have already looked at and either bought or decided I didn't want. What is the point these ads then? Do that many people reconsider their decisions?

This is called retargeting, and I'm told it does work. I don't know why people don't start putting a time delay on it, though. Sometime I look at something, don't make a decision, and forget about it. Remind me a week later and I might want it.
posted by flaterik at 3:13 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


The internet consumer is increasingly ad-adverse and unless the total number of consumers increases it seems unlikely that ad revenues will continue to exist at the current level ad infinitum.

So the alternative seems to be that companies reduce the cost of doing business on the internet or they develop a superior method of converting viewers to consumers which simply can't be done with many of the traditional forms of internet advertising. That means that companies are going to have to develop more compelling forms of advertisement.

I'm not entirely convinced that infinite data-mining is going to increase the overall conversion rate for internet advertising. It can probably prevent the floor from completely dropping out but I'm not convinced that the increases in conversion rate are going to be self sustaining.

I'm less concerned about the decline of free tools like (email, scheduling, and productivity suites) because I'd rather companies (and freelancers) to actually pay for use and then pass those costs on to their clients. The current method just seems to make some very very wealthy people even wealthier.
posted by vuron at 3:17 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


If they gave us living-wage jobs instead of advertisements, they would save all that ad money they've been flushing down the toilet and we could afford to actually buy their fucking products. Problem solved, no?

I have a Marketing degree and designed advertising for a living at one point and, in two decades online, I've never knowingly clicked on an internet ad.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:19 PM on June 3 [35 favorites]


How about peak capitalism? Property and debt are unsustainably valuable to a decreasing number of people. Thanks for the technology and shit, capitalism, but now it's time to give a fuck about more than multiplying obscene wealth.
posted by aydeejones at 3:21 PM on June 3 [21 favorites]


I well recall internal metrics on ad campaigns from before the dot-com bubble burst showing under 1% of impressions creating clickthroughs. It was a point of internal contention with regard to the long-term sustainability of internet advertising even then, nearly twenty years ago. The standard argument against it as a concern at the time was that end-to-end metrics were a new thing which would wither and die when the relatively small numbers of attributable ad-driven consumer purchase decisions were plainly recorded and reported.

Here we are, and here we are. Awareness campaigns, anyone?
posted by mwhybark at 3:25 PM on June 3


I don't love ads, but I'm more than happy for all the other people clicking them to pay for my free internet services. I know a lot of people say they'd rather just pay, but how many sites do you visit in a week? Would you really want to pay $5 a month for every single one of them? Forget Metafilter it self needing money, what if every single link on the front page was behind a paywall?

That said, I'm not panicking just yet, the doom and gloom linked article on Google missing targets on declining ad prices hides this little nugget: "On that front, Google is still booming, with ad revenue up 17% in the most recent quarter to $13.9 billion." They aren't about to collapse just yet.
posted by markr at 3:27 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


People get angry about advertising. Take junk mail, or direct response marketing. This stuff, and the stuff you see online and everywhere else is the gasoline of our engine. All of you (and me) out there who have web access, bachelor degrees, cars, a 401k, trips to fun places, have all that more or less from the shared illusion of advertising.

People get pissed off about junk mail. Fine. Recycle it. But every postcard and envelope you throw away is a way for a guy at an ad agency to have a job, a woman in a printing company to make a living, a woman who sells ink, provides paper, the post office employees, etc. to live more or less like all of us here on the blue. Thing is? It works - and it mostly doesn't matter if you throw it away.

Yes, I would prefer an ideal world with less economic inequality. But in the meantime, are you going to give up your trip with the kids to Orlando? Are you not going to buy xmas presents? Are you going to keep going to your job that is largely made possible by the fact that people buy crap from other people who are paid to make crap? Advertising runs our lives.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 3:28 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


Has online advertising ever been effective? I can't recall ever clicking on an ad in the past ten years.

Well, your writing is intelligible, correctly spelled and posted to Metafilter. As with questions about who keeps buying things from email spam, I don't think you're part of the target audience.
posted by indubitable at 3:32 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


The only cases where advertising really works effectively is where the readers/viewers want to read the advertising. That's why "Sky and Telescope" can charge premium rates for their ads; it's the main attraction of the magazine for its readers.

I think that's really insightful. Pinterest, Tumblr, etc may be better positioned going forward if they can teach advertisers how to reach/connect with the users in such a way that users will find and share the adverts themselves.

You may also see publishers doing the same -- offering merchandisers access to the audience in a deeper way than a banner ad or interstitial. It starts with sponsored content and dedicated ad blocks for the length of the campaign, other social media opportunities with the audience (tweetchats, ask the expert at WidgetCo Hangouts, Like campaigns), maybe included a pay for customers promo with site-specific offers. In effect, the publisher is curating the ads at the same time they are curating the content.
posted by notyou at 3:32 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I'd pay for numerous websites if it wasn't a case of "pay an ungodly amount for a bunch of features I'd never use". Like Ars for instance. They want $5/month. For a single site. Uh ok. How much do you really make off me in advertising from a guy like me? Charge me that and I'll sub. Penny a page assuming you get REALLY good CPM rates? I shouldn't be looking at more than $1/mo except on an OS X release.

"But $5/month isn't that much" I hear you say. The biggest problem is that if I subbed to all the websites on my feed for $5/month I'd end up paying $30/month for 98% duplicated content and 2% the oddball story I'd miss because someone was in the right place at the right time. Multiply that by the four categories of sites I use and that's $120/mo for a LOT of duplicated effort.
posted by Talez at 3:34 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


I saw one ad on Facebook recently that I actually wanted to click, but I was busy and didn't and couldn't find it when I went back - the ads aimed at me had changed to a new set.

The ephemeral nature of online ads has to affect their click-through. There's no chance to go back to section B of the newspaper and look over that ad again.
posted by thecjm at 3:36 PM on June 3 [14 favorites]


Who goes to bed watching Scrubs on tv?

Weirdly, I do, St. Peepsburg. But I definitely don't do a half hour of pilates before bed. What the hell is that about?
posted by knownassociate at 3:43 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'd love to see a more "federated" internet come about as falling ad revenue makes it nonprofitable for Google to offer everything as a freebie, with lock-in and ad impressions in exchange. By "federated", I mean the original sort of decentralized internet where it was common for people to host their own services on personal machines, and everything worked together by using internet standards like SMTP/TELNET/FTP (not that those particular protocols are appropriate choices in 2014!); control of names would probably still take place via a central authority, though alternatives like namecoin are intriguing.

Except that at the same time I realize that the internet I imagine is considerably less equitable than the one we have now: it's due to my privilege (better knowledge of computers than most, plenty of free time) that I can set up web, e-mail, chat, calendar, etc, on a hosting service for an out-of-pocket cost of $5/month or so. Even if you assume that $5 is affordable for anyone, there's the other cost in time and knowledge to configure and maintain it all.

Free Software people and hosting providers could do some work towards making more "turn-key" hosting that is useful for people with lower levels of computer savvy, but they are still unlikely to reach the ease of use of "create a gmail account".

Of course, as long as we're in fantasyland we can imagine a return to the days of mom&pop ISPs where for shockingly little money a tame sysadmin keeps our e-mail running; serving a few dozen to a few hundred users, including a loss-leader free service for low income households. Today, that could mean a neighborhood-scale wireless network with an internet connection running at a few hundred megabits. As long as everybody doesn't expect to come home and stream a TV episode at 6PM. (of course not--It'll be legal to torrent the show during non-peak hours and watch it at your leisure. this is my fantasy land, after all)

(disclaimer: I display ads on my personal website, and also use a few referral links; presently the revenue is enough to cover that $5/month hosting I mentioned, but buy much less than one restaurant meal a month from the rest of the proceeds. I also encourage any reader of my site who doesn't like ads to block them)
posted by jepler at 3:47 PM on June 3 [8 favorites]


But every postcard and envelope you throw away is a way for a guy at an ad agency to have a job, a woman in a printing company to make a living, a woman who sells ink, provides paper, the post office employees, etc. to live more or less like all of us here on the blue.

Every time I see someone using "jobs" to justify anything, it's always bad. Strip-mining, prisons, advertising, armaments, etc. Every single time.
posted by Slinga at 3:49 PM on June 3 [41 favorites]


I'm not entirely convinced that infinite data-mining is going to increase the overall conversion rate for internet advertising. It can probably prevent the floor from completely dropping out but I'm not convinced that the increases in conversion rate are going to be self sustaining.

Right, the constant refrains of "big data!" have the subtle note of an industry trying to convince itself that they can mine their way out of this hole.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:50 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Actually, advertising is NOT the economic engine. It's bait for the economic engine - people with disposable income. You know, the same people we're busy decimating.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:54 PM on June 3 [15 favorites]


It doesn't matter how good the bait is if there aren't any fish.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:56 PM on June 3 [14 favorites]


We did some experiments with an eye tracking system for a class project. People literally do not look at ads -- your brain has become hardwired to spot ad-like things in your peripheral vision and ignore them. In fact anything that looks ad-like gets ignored, which is why you shouldn't put anything important on the top or right hand side of the page.
posted by miyabo at 3:59 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


You know, there are some ads I would actually like to see. I'd like, while looking at Facebook or Twitter or whatever, to see an ad telling me bananas are on special at my local supermarket. I'd like to see an ad telling me the mechanic down in the next suburb is offering 30% of car servicing for the next week. These are things that I actually want to know, that I could use - and given the information Facebook etc. have about me, surely their algorithms could target these ads at me, if they existed. But those businesses are just too small, too local - businesses aren't buying these ads. So instead I get ads for mortgage refinancing and the latest Mazda or shit that is not ever going to be an impulse purchase, that's almost never going to influence me to buy something. What's the point, exactly? Aim lower, guys.
posted by Jimbob at 4:01 PM on June 3 [20 favorites]


I'm also glad I took the time to read about the Hubbert peak theory. For a non-renewable natural resource, it does seem like some sort of "exponential at first, and later dropping to zero" rate curve is plausible, and the derivative-of-sigmoid is certainly one of the simplest such functions.

Of course, it's easy to imagine cases where you wouldn't get a derivative-of-sigmoid curve. For instance, imagine we mined Red Ore to make cellphones, and that Red Ore is nonrenewable. The initial curve looks exponential, because adoption of cellphones happens to be itself a sigmoid. But later, the demand for cellphones settles at some nonzero value (e.g., 1% of cellphones break each month). If the change from exponential to linear demand for cellphones happens well before "peak red ore", then the red ore cumulative production graph won't look at all sigmoid and attempts to guess the timing of peak red ore by looking at red ore extraction rates before the peak won't be helpful. Whether this sort of model applies to fossil fuel extraction is anybody's guess.

I also don't see any specific reason that online advertising revenue should have a a derivative-of-sigmoid shape, except that relating "peak ads" to "peak oil" is more exciting than saying "maybe people just don't like ads".
posted by jepler at 4:02 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Google Adwords are not a tool to find out about your favourite products. They are a tool with which to attack your least favourite products instead - each Adwords click costs the advertiser money. See adverts for things you hate and will never use? Click straight through! You can make quite a targeted response to undermining ad campaigns.
posted by davemee at 4:02 PM on June 3 [7 favorites]


I wonder if the difference between online advertising vs. old-media advertising (newspapers, magazines, television, bus ads, bus stop ads, blimps, stadium names, paying people to run on a treadmill over Times Square, etc.) is that it's much easier to produce metrics for online advertisements.

Yes. At least from my limited experience working at a couple places that advertised via online campaigns.

One place in particular was painfully unaware of how important brand recognition vs click-through rate was until it was too late. They started out with very little online competition, but as they grew, other players jumped into the field. Players with lots of branding and real world advertising.

At one point, I asked why we didn't advertise using billboards. Because they tried it in some limited markets but it "didn't work". When I asked what that meant, they said that that they used a coupon code on the billboard to gauge response, and the coupon code was virtually unused. So okay, you expected someone going 55-70 mph to remember a coupon code?

Radio ads and tv ads were tested the same way, and "didn't work".

Again, who remembers a coupon code from either sources?

Meanwhile, we got stomped by newer competition which was very brand-centric and advertised heavily in meatspace. When they advertised online, their ads pitched their business. Ours sold products, which were identical at any other vendor.

Google even told us we needed to focus on branding.

But by the time that message sunk in, it was too little, too late. The company still exists, but it's a fraction of the size it was.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:09 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


Instead of looking for a Hubbert Peak, maybe consider mathematical models for an epidemic disease with acquired immunity reaching its endemic steady-state:
R0 × S = 1
There's a sucker born every minute, but that's not enough to sustain exponential ad revenue growth--nor does it ever drive ad revenue to zero, or get rid of ads.
posted by jepler at 4:09 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I wonder if anyone's calculated the amount of money wasted on delivering ads that nobody will ever see or click on. Not just the cost per 1M, but the energy devoted to creating the images, hosting them on a server, sending network traffic back and forth, adding 30 more trackers to an already bloated page, and so forth.

Probably a number I don't want to know, come to think of it.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:16 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


The problem is really that the marginal cost of an online ad is 0 and inventory is virtually infinite but yet unlike radio or TV or newspapers there are no local monopolies or oligopolies able to exercise market power. So therefore over time marginal revenue begins to move towards marginal cost.
posted by JPD at 4:19 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Re local, I just googled "pizza [my town]" -- my town is served by 20+ pizzerias in town and nearby, many of which send fliers and buy ads in the local free rags. Zero adwords were served other than Seamless which I happen to know does not serve my town. That's not want of media capability it is want of advertiser interest.
posted by MattD at 4:25 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


> What can I do to help hasten the collapse of the online advertising industry?

pay for the services you use.
posted by sxtxixtxcxh at 4:34 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


I've been toying for a while with the idea of attention as a resource -- there are only a finite number of things that we can focus on in a minute or a day. And work, navigation, social responsibilities, and, of course, the business of living all take up big pieces of that attention. Advertising wants everything that's left over (actually, the want considerably more than that), but there is only so much advertising to go around. In the print days, advertisers didn't have much in the way of solid measures for "advertising success," but now they have settled on the click-through as their gold standard, never thinking, apparently, that there are a finite number of click-throughs to "harvest." Something needs to change, but the pandora's box of metrics has been opened -- advertisers can't take anything on faith, and the truism that not everyone can think but they all can count has come back to haunt them. We were all happier when they didn't realize how little people paid attention even to successful ads.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:36 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


As a counterpoint online advertising including mobile, search and banners is still growing > 50% per year. Ad words isn't the best venue to advertise your local pizza place. You are better off with Yelp for the direct transaction advertising and using social media for brand awareness.
posted by humanfont at 4:38 PM on June 3


But honestly is the marginal cost of Internet advertising truly 0? I mean yes each ad once created can be served an infinite number of times but is the click through conversion rate steady across the lifespan of an ad? Or does an ad have a relatively high initial appeal that declines rapidly. I know that most ad campaigns that resonate with me as a consumer have a novel aspect that declines almost immediately. It's useful in creating brand awareness but is very rarely going to generate an immediate sale.

I suspect that long term the savvy marketing campaigns will be about selling a companies vision and less about selling things. Ie we as consumers buy products that represent our vision of ourselves and the best marketing is about getting us to incorporate a company and its products into our self image. Apple obviously succeed with this type of marketing but few others seem to be able to.
posted by vuron at 4:43 PM on June 3


Except for the perfume ones that are almost impossible to ignore, most print advertisements are easily skipped over while reading the articles.

Women's magazines are nothing but ads; before I had a smart phone I would get so bored because it would take me five minutes to read the "content" while waiting at the doctor's office, the rest was all ads. Lots of other magazines aren't much better.

As far as buying decisions go, packaging is a bigger influence on me, in that I consider buying things I might not otherwise because I saw them in the store and found them interesting. I also can touch them, read the small print, and generally get a better feel for whether I like it or not. Can't do that online. Maybe that's why I don't impulse-buy as much online; I will shop around, look for good prices and reviews, because I worry that the picture I see won't look anything like what I get. I do pay attention to some email promotions for a few places I shop online, because they are things I regularly need/buy.

Even if I like something on an online ad, I'm not going to interrupt what I'm doing to buy it right then.
posted by emjaybee at 4:51 PM on June 3


I have enough difficulty with concentration and focus, and online ads are not only distracting but are the most likely vector for infection, as was mentioned in a comment above, so Adblock is a necessity on my desktop browsers. I don't ad-block on mobile (mostly not as much of a security risk yet), but any site that bombards me with ads is not one I'm likely to visit more than once or twice. People remember negative experiences. Google isn't going away, but they may have to adapt their business model to the reality of a more crowded internet competing for users' limited attention spans and tolerance for marketing. I don't think telling individual users to turn off Adblock is a workable strategy, due to annoyance as well as security.

I personally don't mind ads in podcasting nearly as much, and depending on the show/network, I'm more likely to support the sponsors than with web or mobile/app ads. Individual endorsements can make the difference, which is a very old method used on radio and TV in the "golden era."
posted by krinklyfig at 4:53 PM on June 3


Maybe we just don't want that much more stuff. I'm so tired of stuff.
posted by spitbull at 4:55 PM on June 3 [13 favorites]


vuron, Kevin Roberts (of Saatchi and Saatchi) refers to those as Lovemarks.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:55 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


But honestly is the marginal cost of Internet advertising truly 0? I mean yes each ad once created can be served an infinite number of times but is the click through conversion rate steady across the lifespan of an ad? Or does an ad have a relatively high initial appeal that declines rapidly. I know that most ad campaigns that resonate with me as a consumer have a novel aspect that declines almost immediately. It's useful in creating brand awareness but is very rarely going to generate an immediate sale

I meant for the ad server not the advertiser
posted by JPD at 4:57 PM on June 3


Sometimes I feel bad about using adblock plus, but every time I turn it off, the following happens:

1. I get hit by malware attacks from hacked ad servers. Usually they're either blocked by a reasonably recent anti-virus, or avoidable by the savvy (i.e. they masquerade as system message or such) but people without strong security skills could be hit. About half of the malware infestations I fix for other people appear to have came from hacked ad servers.
2. I encounter ads that are so intrusive I'm just unwilling to deal with them. This includes auto-playing video, anything that makes noise on its own, interstitials, and flash garbage that lags the hell out of your browser.
3. I get annoyed at seeing ads that are obviously traps for the unwary (fake system messages, fake download buttons, ads that don't say anything about what they're selling, things that obviously deliver something other than what they say, etc) or ads that obviously lie.

And then it goes right back on. And it goes on everyone's computer I configure. On today's internet, I consider adblockers to be a necessary part of everyone's computer security, probably more important than an antivirus program. Hacked ad servers are a huge vector that are difficult to educate users against, because users think they are on trustworthy sites and are therefore willing to agree to run things, etc. they normally wouldn't.

Honestly, I blame advertising companies. They need to secure their damn servers (you know, if your ad server gets hacked and serves viruses, you should probably be liable). They need to stop using scripting and video (I know it gets more attention, but everyone hates autoplaying video, so it's not good attention, and scripting slows down web browsers dramatically) They need to find reliable companies to advertise (seriously 80% of the ads I see are clearly either selling worthless products, serving malware, or attempting to trick the user). And they need to stop expecting users to click. It's nice that users have the ability to click, but people are just not so much into interrupting what they are doing to follow an ad at any given time. It's like expecting someone watching a commercial on TV to drop everything right now and go to the store.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:58 PM on June 3 [29 favorites]


I've been beating this drum for years, but what ever happened to the idea of paying for stuff? What if the whole web switched to a pay-for-service model, but the actual payments were really really small, such that $100 a year would get you unfettered access to all your favorite sites, and in return you never had to worry about those sites doing sketchy things with your identity or data? I'd go for that in a heartbeat.

Plus, such a system would have the potential to save journalism, by providing actual money to reputable news sites that engage in substantive investigative reporting.
posted by evil otto at 4:58 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Kevin Roberts (of Saatchi and Saatchi) refers to those as Lovemarks.

From the link:

Lovemarks, explains Roberts, command both respect and love. This is achieved through the trinity of mystery, sensuality, and intimacy.

Is this a date? I thought we were having a friendly discussion about branding...
posted by krinklyfig at 5:06 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


It doesn't matter how good the bait is if there aren't any fish.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:56 PM on June 3


It strikes me that, at least in the US, the "over 50" crowd who are apparently floating the whole online advertising thing are also the generation with an inordinate amount of the wealth. younger people in the US are not invested in by society.
posted by eustatic at 5:11 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


srboisvert: "The thing is that you can shop directly on the internet without ever using ads. Everything you want is either on amazon or ebay. What is the point of ads then?
"

If nothing else good advertising will make you aware of products that solve a problem. For example I rarely watch live television but last month I happened to be in the room while my wife was watching baseball. An ad came on for Square which is a simple, transparent CC processing company that offers a free card reader for smart phones. It's pretty brilliant. Maybe there are hundreds of companies with the same business model but the fact is it never would have occurred to me to look because I figured accepting CC meant signing some contract with a bank with a bunch of user fees and monthly minimums and basically 600 ways to screw you if you are only doing a few hundred dollars a month in sales.

That was good advertising and IIRC the ad itself was straight forward and clear without dancing bears or half naked models.
posted by Mitheral at 5:11 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


What if the whole web switched to a pay-for-service model, but the actual payments were really really small, such that $100 a year would get you unfettered access to all your favorite sites...

But the thing is, it wouldn't work - the math isn't anywhere close to working out. If every single American - including infants and the elderly - paid $100 / year for all this content (presumably on top of their ISP bills?), that would be $30B. The advertising revenue alone for Google in 2013 was over $50B - let alone all the other ad networks. And that's not considering any of the "premium" media sites that charge for access.

Also another reason that some sites prefer ad-based revenue to direct customer payments is that it gives the site administrator 2 or 4 accounts to manage rather than many thousands. And usually there is a proper accountant on the other end whose literal job it is to manage payments, rather than regular end users whose credit cards expire, who dispute fees, and whose individual payment amounts are very tiny. I agree with you in theory but one very real reason we can't just go back to "people paying for stuff" is that it's an administrative pain in the ass to sell retail products and services.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 5:16 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


This is partly why I've started pulling my news via RSS and printing it on paper. I'm not kidding. Marketing techniques have so badly polluted the visual experience of most major-media web sites that they are not worth reading on a screen.

The corporate run Convenience+Free+Ads model has remade the internet into a system that is for self promoters, from Amazon to Gaga to your narcissist former classmate. This is inherently hostile to readers. Printing is one (admittedly ridiculous) tactic for reclaiming a little bit of agency and dignity as a reader.

Plus paper is nice, portable, recyclable, local, easily shared and you can make notes on it.
posted by mr.ersatz at 5:16 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that the cost of an ad is zero, even with almost-free storage space.

Time to pitch, sketch, create, brainstorm, produce, approve, revise, renew approvals, and so forth. Agencies don't work cheap, and not even an in-house person has time that is infinite and valueless (no matter how they're treated).

Add in the very real cost of delivering all those packets, and somebody's paying for it. Forget putting the squeeze on Netflix, Comcast and their ilk should be going after the thousands of companies we block in Ghostery every day. (The average weight of a page increases every month, and I think retargeting/marketing cruft is a huge contributor to this.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:17 PM on June 3


The idea of NOT paying for stuff ( or paying as little as absolutely possible) has always been the mantra of the rich, powerful, and organized business elite. Hell, it's the whole idea behind " enlightened self-interest " that our economy was based on. Somewhere along the line, we (amazingly, stupendously) forgot that "self-interest" only becomes "enlightened" when there are social constraints in place. Remove the constraints and everything becomes a race to the bottom for all but the elite. The something-for-nothing idea is as much a response to more people having less means as it is bread-and-circuses-sleight-of-hand-while-the-robbery-is-happening.

(Sorry, I may have anger issues.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:18 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I've been beating this drum for years, but what ever happened to the idea of paying for stuff? What if the whole web switched to a pay-for-service model, but the actual payments were really really small

micropayments have been the internet dream for decades; i would suspect that bloated, imperialistic financial companies are in the way of making micropayments happen in a way that most of us can actually afford.
posted by eustatic at 5:20 PM on June 3


Actually while older consumers are generally more affluent they can be resistant to new brands. Most branding seems to be about building brand recognition and loyalty earlier rather than later because you ultimately want an entire lifetime of purchases. All of the big brands don't just want a single impulse purchase but rather a longtime relationship with the consumer were supplementary products are also sold. The problem is that only established brands can typically generate that sort of mind sharing through very expensive campaigns. Any thing else typically requires a transformative product or service.
posted by vuron at 5:23 PM on June 3


More fun facts about display advertising
The average person is served over 1,700 banner ads per month
So much wasted effort. Other than Evony or a particularly hideous one involving Photoshopped teeth, I can't remember a damn one.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:24 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


As someone who works as an UX-Designer I have also worked on many Product Launches, Marketing Campaigns, Micro Sites and Social Media Campaigns ...

Let me add some "Extensions" to this Debate.

Online Ads are no longer just about Clickthroughs.

Yes, it's nice when you get a Click, but most "visual" Advertising is about Information and Brand Awareness. Even when you not consciously see and memorize the Ad you will subconsciously remember at least it's basic visual Information.

This means that by repeated Exposure you will recognize the Brand's Design Language and most of all it will grow familiar with it. This is most important, since we dislike Change and we don't really like new Stuff. That is why we often stick so vehemently to familiar Brands.


Marketing Campaigns have mostly shifted to a wider Approach based on Social Media, targeted and classic Ads, Search Engine Optimization and targeted Content.


If you really want to know especially what Social Media is about then please watch Generation Like, which really explains nicely how young People are involved in marketing themselves and other People's Crap:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/

Let me flesh out the integrated Approach to all Elements I just listed:

Classical Advertising sows the Seeds in a Shotgun Approach - not very much liked by Advertisers and Eyeballs, but it still works well enough considering the simple Fact that Exposure works even when you don’t buy anything.

Target Advertising works much better to raise Brand Awareness - more efficient, especially thanks to Social Networks and Google Adwords who can target Audiences very specifically. Not to mention such hidden Icebergs of Consumer Data like Acxiom who go Way beyond the online Universe to harvest Data about you.

Social Media Campaigns and especially Viral Marketing is meant to involve you or at least “brush” you with the Hype and throw some Bits of Information once again at your Subconcious. When you see some silly Dog or other stupid Story unfold in a Viral Video or Photo it is mostly about forming a positive Relationship with the Brand.

A lot of Guerrilla Marketing is about filling Consumer Ratings, Blog Posts and other Content Outlets with neutral to good Ratings. This will water down the average to a lukewarm Reviews or allows the Company to repeat Keywords and Phrases for Search Engines to crawl and Consumers to see. While some of these Fake Ratings might be easy to spot - good Agencies have long perfected the Art of hidden Messaging.

The Repetition of Keywords or even “Bag or Words” that the Company wants to have it’s Product associated with are as important for Search Engine Optimization as well as for the classic Marketing Act of hammering the same Message again and again …

But even worse then Fake Messages are "Prosumers" willingly and often enthusiastically spreading the good Message themselves. While the usual Apple or Android Fanboi is easy to watch many People often use Reviews to explain their sometimes bad Buying Decision. It is like a fierce Justification why they overspent on something they didn't need. Not mention blind Brand Loyality which is often religious beyond believe ...

Search Engines - or better say Google - still work mostly on Relevance based on Repetition and Popularity. Despite Google’s Efforts it’s Search and Ranking does not really understand the World and can’t tell Truth from Fiction.

So a Company tries to hog one of the five top Spots when you search for a Product or a Solution. Paid Ads on the Side or top Spots are worth their Money in Gold, because you have on one Side the Consumer with a real Need and on the other Google telling that Person that whatever it shows its the most relevant - read best - Thing they can get (even when it’s a paid Ad).

Another important Acts happen either when you Shop (offline or online) and you encounter the Brand again - hopefully while you are looking to buy something in that Category. If you haven’t a favourite yet all the tugging on your Subconscious will entice you to go for you new - yet to you not fully realized - best Friend. If you already have a Favourite then it’s all about making you familiar enough with a new Product that you might consider trying it ...

So yes, Online Advertising might be less successful in creating Clickthroughs and Sales, but the Mix of Online Marketing has long evolved since 1994.
posted by homodigitalis at 5:25 PM on June 3 [8 favorites]


Advertising is a virus of the mind, to which we develop immunity via exposure.

I just favorited this like like a Press Your Luck contestant slamming that big red button
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:28 PM on June 3


Jimbob: " These are things that I actually want to know, that I could use - and given the information Facebook etc. have about me, surely their algorithms could target these ads at me, if they existed. But those businesses are just too small, too local - businesses aren't buying these ads. So instead I get ads for mortgage refinancing and the latest Mazda or shit that is not ever going to be an impulse purchase, that's almost never going to influence me to buy something. What's the point, exactly? Aim lower, guys."
MattD: "Re local, I just googled "pizza [my town]" -- my town is served by 20+ pizzerias in town and nearby, many of which send fliers and buy ads in the local free rags. Zero adwords were served other than Seamless which I happen to know does not serve my town. That's not want of media capability it is want of advertiser interest."

A colleague of mine worked on building a local internet ad network like this, and what he found was that it was very difficult to manage that many contacts with that many (unsophisticated) advertisers without having an ad team that was, essentially, the size of the local newspaper's. You need a lot of ad account guys who can do a lot of hand-holding with small, local advertisers, and to pay ad account guys you need ads that cost a certain amount, which requires a certain audience delivery, which just turns you back into the local newspaper, which advertisers are already comfortable with.

Eventually someone will crack this (some combination of local search and static ad placement on local content-generating sites, I would guess), but he worked at this for like five years, has plenty of expertise and loads of contacts, and it was always a struggle to make the money work.

Mitrovarr: "2. I encounter ads that are so intrusive I'm just unwilling to deal with them. This includes auto-playing video, anything that makes noise on its own, interstitials, and flash garbage that lags the hell out of your browser."

Uggggggggh, the ones that MOVE, especially in my peripheral vision, make me actively nauseated. Like, I get dizzy and have a sense of sick vertigo. If I lived in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter I would punch those stupid fucking moving portraits and photos for always fucking around in the corner of my eye making it impossible to read anything. When you put an ad that flashes or moves on a site that I'm supposed to be reading? Sorry, no, I'm closing your site. BECAUSE I CAN'T READ WHILE YOUR FUCKING AD DANCES AROUND. After two or three times, I'll remember not to visit there anymore.

I would actually tolerate static banner ads, which I'm used to from newspapers/magazines, when reading content. But nobody can leave well enough alone, I swear to god. They can't just slap up a picture or some words and leave it alone.

On the plus side, the awfulness of internet advertising has made me appreciate junk mail, which I can casually flip through, noting the local grocery specials and who's sending out coupons, and then immediately recycle, with very little hassle. Junk mail is now like, "Oh, local companies I might be interested in! And if not, it's not intrusive!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:29 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I can definitely confirm that my brain basically ignores most Internet ad content kinda like a built in a block program. Anything that even looks like standard ads gets pattern matched and ignored. I still use ad block to block the egregious advertising and malware. If you want brand recognition from me you have to delight me as a consumer.
posted by vuron at 5:31 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I feel bad about using adblock plus, but every time I turn it off, the following happens:

1. I get hit by malware attacks from hacked ad servers. Usually they're either blocked by a reasonably recent anti-virus, or avoidable by the savvy (i.e. they masquerade as system message or such) but people without strong security skills could be hit. About half of the malware infestations I fix for other people appear to have came from hacked ad servers.
2. I encounter ads that are so intrusive I'm just unwilling to deal with them. This includes auto-playing video, anything that makes noise on its own, interstitials, and flash garbage that lags the hell out of your browser.
3. I get annoyed at seeing ads that are obviously traps for the unwary (fake system messages, fake download buttons, ads that don't say anything about what they're selling, things that obviously deliver something other than what they say, etc) or ads that obviously lie.

mitrovarr, the only time I run into anything resembling that is when I'm on pretty... skeezy parts of the internet. It's definitely not true everywhere.

I'm pretty against adblock. If you don't like a business' business model, you're free to not utilize it.
posted by flaterik at 5:33 PM on June 3


A coupla thoughts:

--Sites themselves are moving to the ad model now (in desperation?). As you move the cursor over the page on many sites (go look at google news or WIRED), things pop up and slide in or even sometimes *cover content I'm trying to read*...just like ads, cept it's often content about the site. Some make me click through a giant first page ad, then I get to the (ad-less) content. OK by me: count my eyeballs and let me in. Once. I'm with the note above though that I'm not gonna sit through a 30 second video ad before I see video content of some sort. Nope, I instantly click off (and often remember to never return to sites that do that...).

Message to sites: I don't want things popping up, sliding in, "helping" me, flashing, scrolling, or heavens forbid, covering content on your site. My conditioned mind immediately tells me "it's an ad! Close it or ignore it."

--Web is off on the wrong foot with the "clickthrough" metric. In most media, if an ad is there, it just gets counted as an "eyeball." That's what advertisers pay for.

--Google and other metrics gathering sites are attempting to collect as much information about users as possible, then bundling these data in packages to sell to the advertisers. Many sites have sold out to these data gatherers. Try running Ghostery and then clicking on sites (WIRED again) and you'll see 10 or 15 of those pests attempting to gather as much information as possible...about you! Many attempt to plant beacons/trackers on your software/machine so they can follow you around too. It's kinda like getting your street address to send you junk mail or your phone number to sell to marketers, that isn't enough. They go through your trash, peer in the windows, and follow you around taking notes on your habits.

--Several studies have shown that if content on your site even looks like an ad, or is in a place on a web page that usually contains an ad, then the majority of users *won't even see it*! Hypothesis: users have learned to block content on sites that might be an ad. (Sorry, no cites come to mind, but I did graduate work on this and it was out there. See Jakob Nielsen too).

--I have always felt there is some responsibility on sites to reject the annoying, popup, dancing (remember that annoying thing?), slide in, popover, flash autorun, content blocking stuff that advertisers place on their sites. Stop that crap and I'll also stop using a popup and flash blocker.

K, thanx, bye.
posted by CrowGoat at 5:39 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I'm certain that the science behind modern advertising is sound - especially the embrace of repetition. The mumbo-jumbo, to my mind, is asserting that the techniques are effective before a consumer is in the market. Until a person is actively searching for a product, most ads are just so much noise.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:41 PM on June 3


If internet companies go belly-up because of their business model's overreliance on advertising revenue, all I can say is "GOOD!!!!"

The thing is, these people learned nothing from the first dotcom bust. They deserve to learn some hard lessons, because the advertising market is *way* oversaturated.

What's more, consumers should wise-up too. Community run sites are more likely to protect their rights and privacy than your typical dotcom, without the constant need for ever-increasing ad revenue / monitization.
posted by markkraft at 5:45 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure about that because some goods are clearly designed about being aspirational. You might not be in the market for a Tesla now but they want you to aspire to buying so that you won't just buy the Mercedes. By marketing a lifestyle you can build brand loyalty minus the initial sale.
posted by vuron at 5:47 PM on June 3


The amusing quote...

"The once reliable fuel that powered a generation of innovations on the web..."

Pop quiz:
Name five recent, meaningful innovations on the web.
posted by markkraft at 5:51 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I came back to say "micropayments", but I see that I was beaten to the punch.

I honestly don't understand why it hasn't taken off. To avoid a per-transaction fee on every four-cent micropayment (which would obviously make the whole thing impractical), let end users charge up their account in $20 or $50 increments, and disburse payments to content owners similarly. (Isn't this basically what Flattr does?)

(eustatic, was it those per-transaction fees that you had in mind with your comments about obstructionism by financial companies, or were you thinking of something else? I'm curious.)

It may be that, as long as the current model (free content and services supported by advertising) is viable, a paid model (even one based on microtransactions) just isn't competitive enough to gain traction.

I do think that advertising is a blight upon civilization, and that micropayments would be a significant improvement (at least online, but then all media is gradually moving online). The more cynical part of me, though, imagines that it would usher in a new golden age in the art of clickbait.

Name five recent, meaningful innovations on the web.

Kickstarter: has made a lot of really cool things possible that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Uh, that's all I got.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:56 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Recently I've been amusing myself by imagining Don Draper pitching Facebook ads:

"Imagine this: the reader goes on to their Facebook page, looks at all of the fun that their friends are having, people getting married, having kids, and they feel stuck. They feel lost. The entire world is moving by them one post at a time, as they stay in the same place, and everyone else scrolls on past. How do you sell to the hopeless? Your fantasy can't be too unbelievable - can't seem too far out of reach. So, instead, a woman caught in a candid moment. Maybe a hint of a bland, generic apartment behind her. She's pretty, but not too pretty. The reader looks to the side, escaping from a world that's passing him by, and he sees something that he can have. More than that, something he can imagine having. This is what we're selling: the possibility that the fantasy could be true. 'Come Meet Single Women' that one line, that one promise, that one possibility."
posted by codacorolla at 5:56 PM on June 3 [19 favorites]


"The once reliable fuel that powered a generation of innovations on the web insane valuations on NASDAQ..."
posted by markkraft at 5:56 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


flaterik: the only time I run into anything resembling that is when I'm on pretty... skeezy parts of the internet. It's definitely not true everywhere.

I'm pretty against adblock. If you don't like a business' business model, you're free to not utilize it.


Well, high-profile sites have had their ad servers hacked, so that's certainly not 'skeevy' parts of the internet. And one of the malware infestations I just recently fixed came from a fake download button on a driver download site. It was the first thing listed when you googled the model number.

So yeah, they can totally hit regular people.

As far as business models and such, businesses can detect if you're using adblock pretty easily. If they don't want me on, they can say so (some do, but it's extremely rare).
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:06 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


The only time I've ever clicked an ad was when I search Google for a specific website and the sponsored link that appears is the exact site I'm looking for. The fact the site paid for that link is, I think, a good example of why internet advertising is so horribly broken.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:09 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


flaterik: "If you don't like a business' business model, you're free to not utilize it."

And they are free not to serve content on port 80 unrestricted. The idea that end users have to consume content exactly as the creator imagined it is misguided and impossible to enforce to boot.
posted by Mitheral at 6:09 PM on June 3 [13 favorites]


Tim! A gentleman and a scholar. He deserves his own post.
posted by jcruelty at 6:28 PM on June 3


I don't think not using adblockers should be enforced.

I just think using them is awfully entitled behavior.
posted by flaterik at 6:34 PM on June 3


And I think that being assaulted every which way I turn with crass, blaring, insincere advertisements, for shit I don't need or want, targeted at me by profiling me to a degree that would make the NSA jealous, is pretty objectionable behavior as well.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:38 PM on June 3 [18 favorites]


I don't feel it is a complicated position to feel that when a business' avenue for profit offends you that you should stop using the business rather than circumventing the means the business uses to pay its employees - while still using its resources and costing it money.

A lot of us make our livelihoods, one way or another, from the internet. A lot of that money comes from advertising. I don't like theft analogies, but there's definitely something untoward there.

Then again, I'm constantly shocked by how many software developers are totally happy to make money using pirated software.

And the ad targeting argument goes both ways - Mitheral argues that anything being served on port 80 is free to be used in any way seen fit. How is that different than the behavior information that you are broadcasting being recorded?

Which, again, would not be available - or at least be much less so - to the advertisers if you stopped using the service.

I 100% agree that ads are overdone and insane. And I avoid websites that have too much of it for me. Popovers, slide outs, excessive preroll - all have made me take my traffic elsewhere. (Usually back here...) The rest, like so many of you, I simply ignore. Or, sometimes, click on. Targeting and such is, in the end, designed to show you things you want.

Sometimes it even does.
posted by flaterik at 6:49 PM on June 3


BoardGameGeek has the best ads. One of the very few sites where I've actually clicked on an ad, definitely the only site I've ever made a purchase from an ad I clicked on.

BGG is partly supported by voluntary user contributions — one of the perks at the level at which I support BGG is the option to turn off ads, yet I choose not to, that's how good they are.

On a site devoted to board games, the ads are for — get this — board games! Some of them even good games, and at reasonable prices.

Compared to the ads on most of the internet, this represents a ninja-level mastery of ad targeting.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:01 PM on June 3 [8 favorites]


Everybody thinks advertising doesn't work on them.

But, you know what Geico is. You know about Old Spice. Zoom-Zoom is more than just baby talk. I know that Humera is something something expensive medication for rheumatoid arthritis. I know I should just do it, that If I'm Hurt in a Car, I Should Call William Attar. There's a polar bear that drinks coca cola. There was another godzilla movie.

All of this is detritus that just poured out of my brain, and the only reason it got in there was because of advertising.

There is real estate in your brain that assholes in suits are frothing at the mouth and fighting over. And you have no say in the matter.
posted by cacofonie at 7:04 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


The free internet was never going to work. We'll subscribe to commercial websites.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:18 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


mitrovarr, the only time I run into anything resembling that is when I'm on pretty... skeezy parts of the internet. It's definitely not true everywhere.

I did IT work for years, and I saw malicious code sneaking through major ad networks utilized everywhere, from the largest, most prominent (purportedly "trusted") websites down to personal websites and individual fan pages of major recording acts hosted by the artist. It was pretty easy discerning if an infection was acquired through porn/gambling, etc. type sites, which typically were not the majority of infections we encountered. Most were caught through email links or attachments, or malicious code injected into banner ads on otherwise non-skeezy sites. It's been a few years since I've been active in IT (2012), but Adblock or no-script were part of the browser protection we installed on every cleaned computer (with Firefox, if it wasn't installed), along with more typical anti-malware desktop software. I did this for my own clients as well as my employer's customers.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:34 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


"I don't think not using adblockers should be enforced.

I just think using them is awfully entitled behavior."


Well put, flaterik

The Web is one of the few places where a member of the 99.9% can experience what it is like to live off the efforts of others.
posted by carping demon at 7:34 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


"Zoom-Zoom is more than just baby talk. I know that Humera is something something expensive medication for rheumatoid arthritis. I know I should just do it, that If I'm Hurt in a Car, I Should Call William Attar. ."

Hm. Never heard of any of these.

(Thank you, AdBlock!)

"The free internet was never going to work. We'll subscribe to commercial websites."

The free internet was never going to work. We'll share whatever the hell anyone else tries to firewall!
posted by markkraft at 7:35 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


"The Web is one of the few places where a member of the 99.9% can experience what it is like to live off the efforts of others."

Or rather, the .1% will have to suffice making somewhat smaller profits for selling air, because we seem to insist on breathing, regardless of whether we opted in for the banner ads or signed up for a subscription in order to do so.
posted by markkraft at 7:38 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


For those who don't use Adblock, I heartily recommend Nuke Anything Enhanced 1.0.2
posted by carping demon at 7:48 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


cacofonie: "Everybody thinks advertising doesn't work on them.

But, you know what Geico is. You know about Old Spice. Zoom-Zoom is more than just baby talk. I know that Humera is something something expensive medication for rheumatoid arthritis. I know I should just do it, that If I'm Hurt in a Car, I Should Call William Attar. There's a polar bear that drinks coca cola. There was another godzilla movie.
"

But you're talking about brand awareness. And that's nice, but unless it ultimately translates into sales, it doesn't matter much.

I know what Geico is, but I don't use them for my insurance needs. I do use Old Spice, because I randomly picked it when I started wearing deodorant in middle school, and it works fine. Zoom-Zoom has not moved me to buy...what is it, a Miata? I've never heard of Humera. I know Just Do It is a Nike slogan, but I buy whatever shoes fit and look okay (right now I wear New Balance). I've never heard of William Attar. The polar bear may drink Coke, but I normally stick to iced tea. And I'm aware of the new Godzilla, but have no plans to see it.

So, I feel pretty good saying advertising *doesn't* work on me, by and large.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:51 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


The free internet was never going to work. We'll subscribe to commercial websites.

There's plenty of room for ad-supported sites. However, paying for highly desired content may become more widespread. It already works for some sites with a strong community, or where the content itself is created through traditional means, e.g. paid writers, editors, producers, etc. There is way too much potential money to be made from the wide-open spaces and untold billions of potential new customers to put up high barriers to entry for everyone. So, while Andrew Sullivan does well with paid subscribers, Jimmy Pardo's podcast joined Earwolf recently and switched to ad-supported podcasting, because Pardo kept his core supporters but struggled to bring in new subscribers (because Earwolf's particular flavor of ad-supported business model is working better in terms of growth and revenue than his own paid content model was).
posted by krinklyfig at 7:59 PM on June 3


I went for years without an ad blocker.

Then Youtube started showing video ads.

I have no interest in micromanaging who's allowed to show me ads, so to those sites who suffer because I now use Adblock Plus: Blame Google and all the other fucking idiots who decided that static images and text was not attention grabbing enough.
posted by ymgve at 8:12 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Gah! Why is this so hard to understand??
I am a millenial (just barely) - and I spent a ton of money on my computer (because I finally came up with the money to spend.)

I don't want it infected with malware, I don't want it suddenly producing sounds when I haven't asked it to do so, I don't want software on it that I did not specifically request!
I use adblock because it is the single (and I mean single!) piece of software that has protected my precious and valuable computer from stupid bullshit for the past five years.
Malwarebytes, ccleaner, spybot - none of these programs have done as much as adblock to defend my pc against stupid shit.

It's a $1500 device. That's it. If you break it, I'm screwed. Ads break my computer. I don't trust them, they're constantly asking for my personal information and then ruining my pc. If, somehow, ads weren't connected to cookies or software or something (I know, impossible), I'd consider it. But $1500 is too much to risk on trusting sales-people.

I trust the staff at metafilter.com and it is my one-and-only whitelisted website.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:21 PM on June 3 [13 favorites]


The Web is one of the few places where a member of the 99.9% can experience what it is like to live off the efforts of others.

Right. Because limiting my exposure to advertising and malicious browser hijacking is just like being one of the world's most wealthy and powerful capitalists.

Actually, most business people I've met aren't very sentimental when it comes to business, especially when a business model that once worked well is no longer bringing in as much money. They simply try something else that matches how people behave rather than trying to shame people into neglecting their own needs in to prop up a model that no longer works. Guilt tripping your customers into doing something they hate isn't typically how it works. People use Adblock because they're overwhelmed with ads and concerned about security at the same time. It's rational behavior, and trying to appeal to people's sense of community is a hard sell when you're asking them to watch all the ads. I don't think you can blame anyone who is fed up and overwhelmed. Consumers didn't create this issue. They're just acting in their own interest, as is expected in the marketplace.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:26 PM on June 3 [11 favorites]


flaterik: I don't feel it is a complicated position to feel that when a business' avenue for profit offends you that you should stop using the business rather than circumventing the means the business uses to pay its employees - while still using its resources and costing it money.

Here is the way I feel about it. There are two models for behavior within a system. There is the polite, civilized model. In that model, honesty and accountability are important. In that system, it would be impolite to use adblock. However, in that system, things like product liability (serving viruses that break my computer? Pay me.), truth-in-advertising laws, and basic principles of courtesy exist. This is not the model the internet is currently following.

The other model is the wild-west model. In that model, it's all carpe diem, dog-eat-dog, and courtesy goes out the window. Sites are free to lie through their teeth, try to trick you, and serve up malware with a shrug. Regulation is lax and only the grossest of offenses draw legal attention. Under these rules, we are free to deploy countermeasures, and if they don't like it, they can deploy countermeasures to those. That is the internet we have.

If you like the first system better, I can see it! It has some advantages (and some disadvantages, it is hard to get rapid growth or fast development without the freedom of the wild-west model). But I am not pulling my countermeasures back in until there is something to hold the other side to decent behavior.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:50 PM on June 3 [9 favorites]


"The free internet was never going to work. We'll subscribe to commercial websites."

The free internet was never going to work. We'll share whatever the hell anyone else tries to firewall!


Its as if people think content makers will continue to make content if they can't make money. Sorry, but no.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:07 PM on June 3


People use Adblock because they're overwhelmed with ads and concerned about security at the same time. It's rational behavior, and trying to appeal to people's sense of community is a hard sell when you're asking them to watch all the ads. I don't think you can blame anyone who is fed up and overwhelmed. Consumers didn't create this issue. They're just acting in their own interest, as is expected in the marketplace.

Well, the content providers will also act in their own interest. If there is no money to be made, investors will not invest in businesses putting content on the internet.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:10 PM on June 3


put another way, unless there's a way to pay for the content we watch, the internet will be only advertisement.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:10 PM on June 3


I have never actually gotten malware from an ad, and aside from y'all, I don't know anyone that has, either. Between lots of windows and mac usage (usually concurrently, and though I no longer use windows at all it's only been a couple of years).

"Adblock as malware defense" is foreign to my experience - but it is also an argument outside of the point I was making. Because I don't doubt YOUR experience, it's not one I have an argument against.

I still don't find "ads are annoying" to be compelling at all, though.
posted by flaterik at 9:35 PM on June 3


Ironmouth: "Its as if people think content makers will continue to make content if they can't make money. Sorry, but no."

Metafilter is nothing but content and none of us is getting paid to create it.
posted by Mitheral at 9:46 PM on June 3 [10 favorites]


This is called retargeting, and I'm told it does work.

I'm glad I know the term now.

A while back I bought a bathroom vent fan. Now, if you buy a vent fan, chances are you need another in about ten years, when the first one breaks. But no, any visit to amazon since then brings up links to more vent fans, rather than things that someone who buys vent fans might want, like tools or appliances or a new sink.

Are there in fact people who compulsively buy vent fans and ironing boards and waffle irons, all the things you buy intermittently at best? Because from what I can see, online advertising is being run by dunces and aimed at some tiny minority of aged and unsophisticated middle Americans. The chances that I see an ad with relevance to me -- despite google and all the advertisers having access to my entire search history -- approaches zero.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:09 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


put another way, unless there's a way to pay for the content we watch, the internet will be only advertisement.

I don't disagree. But blaming people who don't click enough ads seems misplaced. Consumers are not responding well to the current state of advertising on the web, and the economy as a whole isn't all that healthy. But it's all on them that Adsense isn't as hot as it used to be? That doesn't seem to be quite right. Who is writing the checks and taking on advertisers as clients? Who created this market and the short-lived pricing model? Joe Delltower running (deprecated) XP?

I'm all for paying for cool stuff, but no way in hell am I going back to "all ads allowed" just to help DoubleClick and Google meet their revenue targets. Similarly, when I had DirecTV, I channel surfed during commercials and felt no shame.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:11 PM on June 3


Adblocking for malware defense is an insurance policy. I don't know that I've saved myself that much trouble by using adblocking to keep my computer clean, but anecdotal evidence suggests that even if my probability of being infected is low, my risk to the center of my daily activities is very high. (cf Baby_Balrog's comment)

In general I do prefer to pay for my entertainment directly these days instead of using ad-supported options. I think there's room for a mix on the internet, but most of the companies who have money to advertise just don't advertise what I want to buy. For instance: if I want to buy clothing "like brand x that I like to wear" online, there are about six big name advertisers who pay for people like me. I know them all, and if I want to buy from them, I'm already doing so. In terms of smaller companies that I'd like to buy from, I only find out about them by word of mouth or by viral advertising (fashion blog sponsorship). I don't know whether that's a function of the amount of money and effort involved in advertising on the internet or whether that's just a failure to target to my market. I'm a middle-aged woman with disposable income. People ought to be able to sell me on some bloody clothes.
posted by immlass at 10:17 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Its as if people think content makers will continue to make content if they can't make money. Sorry, but no.
Sure, that makes sense. After all, nobody ever made anything before there was money in making things, and certainly nobody has ever made anything with no financial motive in mind since. That's why there's no such thing as open-source software, for example, and why nobody streams on Twitch without first becoming a partner and making sure that some kind of revenue sharing is firmly in place. It's also why nobody has ever created any mods, levels, or skins for any video game, and why the only fiction on the internet is behind paywalls.

I don't even disagree with the idea that people who make cool things should be paid for their cool things, but "people will only make stuff if they're getting paid" is a tremendously stupid thing to say.

Also, flaterik: Advertisers are sneaking shit into our browsers and computers, harvesting our behavior patterns without our consent to fuel an industry that makes the webpages we visit less useful and, at times, actively harmful. (You can keep pretending that no ad server on the internet has ever been put to malicious use either by its owners or by attackers, but you know it's not true and we all know that you know that.) They're not even asking us, mostly because they know damn well that we'd tell them no. If you think the desire to prevent that makes us the entitled ones, then you need to look up the word "entitled".

My default state is not available for harvest. If somebody wants to use me to make a profit, they can ask. If I haven't explicitly told them that it's okay, doing it anyway is pretty fucking entitled.
posted by IAmUnaware at 10:59 PM on June 3 [10 favorites]


I just think using [ad blocking software] is awfully entitled behaviour.

The reality is that advertising today, on and off the internet, is a permanent assault of attempted cognitive jamming, which I do in fact believe people are entitled not to be subjected to, as a matter of basic human rights.

At this stage, if you want some kind of silent social compact with your readers or viewers about ad-supported publishing, you will have to run your own ad network, and probably stick to the digital equivalent of black-and-white ads at the bottom of the newspaper page.

Chances are it will be easier to plainly ask people to contribute to your costs if they value continued online access to your work. I have subscribed to sites in response to a polite message in a placeholder for blocked ads.
posted by ormon nekas at 11:00 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


On posting: what IAmUnaware said.

As far as outdoor advertising is concerned, I also have a moral objection to the owners of whatever happens to be within my field of vision or hearing selling off my cognitive processing time (and the implied chance to mess with my decision-making) to the highest bidder. It's entitlement on a feudal scale.
posted by ormon nekas at 11:05 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Nobody has the right to write anything directly onto my brain without my permission. I realize that that position, should it become widely adopted, means that certain economic models will become unviable. But I believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks -- and as with all economic disruptions, I am willing to do other things (eg, change laws, pay taxes for public support, subscribe to websites) to ease the transition.

But even if I thought it was unfair on the websites I use to not allow their sponsors write access to my brain, I would still reject the logic that I should stop reading those websites if I refuse to view their ads. Since every piece of media in existence uses ads, that would entail stopping reading all media, and my right and duty to be an informed citizen outweighs my duty to support individual businesses by allowing their sponsors write access to my brain. No one has a right to their business model -- though again, I will do what I can to otherwise support the sites I love.
posted by chortly at 11:28 PM on June 3


Ironmouth: the free internet was great. It was called the 'world wide web'. It was full of amazing, spontaneous stuff, carefully made for no other reason than the human drive to create and share art. It relied on people having free time, but we can think of any number of more inclusive models now.

Online advertising didn't fund the free internet. It drowned it in noise. It incentivised dishonesty, content farming, massive plagiarism, domain squatting, search engine manipulation. As a business model, even without the malware, it is poisonous.
posted by ormon nekas at 11:43 PM on June 3 [30 favorites]


Ironmouth: "Its as if people think content makers will continue to make content if they can't make money. Sorry, but no."

Mitheral: Metafilter is nothing but content and none of us is getting paid to create it.


Well said. The same is true of Wikipedia. And nearly every weblog. Discussion forums on every subject from water gardens to spaceflight. Heck, even YouTube, Pintrest, Facebook, and Twitter derive almost all their value from free, user-generated content: all the net billionaires really offer is some search functionality and an overcomplicated, specialized hosting service. MeFi beats all of them, because it invests its revenues in actual people performing a uniquely human service: creating a community and enforcing community standards. Not surprisingly, it's the only one of the list that I'd ever dream of paying for.

If the floor falls out from under these business models, and all those web.behemoths fold next week? No matter. Honestly, none.

The people who create interesting content on the web will still be there, wanting to share, and so will the people who want to absorb that content. We may have to find new ways to connect the two. I may decide to pull a couple more dollars each month from my pocket to support people like MeFi who help me find the best of what I'm interested in. My silly cat videos can live just as well on my ISPs servers as they can on YouTube's. My friends will still share photos and news of their lives, even if they don't do it through Facebook. But the fundamentals of people with thoughts to share and a medium through which they can do so for almost zero incremental cost will remain entirely unchanged.

The Internet was full of knowledge, interest, and delight long before there was a world wide web. The web was full of those things long before anyone was making money from it.

They won't go away if the current business models stop working. There may be temporary disruptions in how we find the things we value, but the history of the net is one long series of disruptions that leave it even more useful and delightful than it was before. If the next wave of change sweeps away the dime store hucksters and aggregating middlemen and the data-mining prodnoses, I for one will only cheer, and eagerly await the better thing that replaces them.
posted by CHoldredge at 12:05 AM on June 4 [8 favorites]


(You can keep pretending that no ad server on the internet has ever been put to malicious use either by its owners or by attackers, but you know it's not true and we all know that you know that.)

I said quite clearly that though it had never happened to me, I in no way denied that it happened to those of you who said it had. I have no idea where you got the idea that I was denying that it existed. I have CERTAINLY seen ads in networks that were far more intrusive than should be allowed - and when it intersected with my professional life I was very noisy about trying to shut them down.

You're not going to escape advertising as a concept. But you can avoid the places where it exceeds rationality. My usage of video sites has decreased dramatically, tracking very closely with the dramatic rise in pre-roll ads. Sites with giant popovers and other obtrusive bullshit will very quickly get an "I don't care what content I was interested in, I am closing your window and never going back".

These things bother me too. I just have a different response, and I feel that the difference in response matters.

The reality is that advertising today, on and off the internet, is a permanent assault of attempted cognitive jamming, which I do in fact believe people are entitled not to be subjected to, as a matter of basic human rights.

I do not agree that a content producer associating advertising with viewing their content is completely analogous to pervasive outdoor advertising associated with being in a public space. I am strongly in favor of legislation limiting the latter.
posted by flaterik at 12:43 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I remember the Internet before there was advertising. I know it won't be the same as it was before, but if whatever it becomes lacks advertising, I'm looking forward to seeing it.
posted by Revvy at 1:11 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Lots of hate for advertising, but meanwhile online ad spend continues to rise in Europe - up 12% in 2013, and the US - up 17% in 2013 (& beyond)

The reason that ad spend is moving online (including to mobile) is that it is easier to track its effectiveness than for other media.

At the same time there's also a rise in digital PR/social media management, and production of videos and so on that don't count as 'advertising' in most measures.

I'm very skeptical of the Pead Ads argument, but even if it does turn out to be true I don't think we'll hit Peak Marketing any time soon. Sorry.
posted by DanCall at 1:37 AM on June 4


I haven't read everything here, but a search of the comments shows that nobody had mentioned affiliate marketing, which in my naïveté seems like a technique that will become more and more popular. It's not affected by adblocking and is effectively transparent to the consumer.
Didn't Metafilter introduce a feature a few months ago to show Amazon items mentioned by users? In hindsight this seems like an attempt to increase affiliate income in view of reduced income from conventional ads.
posted by exogenous at 4:57 AM on June 4


Targeting and such is, in the end, designed to show you things you want.

The hell it is.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:16 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]


Try running Ghostery and then clicking on sites (WIRED again) and you'll see 10 or 15 of those pests attempting to gather as much information as possible

It's not just major commercial sites like Wired. Any random blog that isn't run by someone like Richard Stallman is likely to have half a dozen bits of javascript recording things in vast centralized databases every time you visit a web page. Even if you don't care about being tracked, it's probably a good idea to try Ghostery just to see how amazingly ubiquitous the trackers have become.
posted by sfenders at 5:17 AM on June 4


Lots of hate for advertising

The last person to trust is the businessman who comes up to you out of the blue and starts explaining why you should give him your money. When I see an ad coming up, I avert my eyes and quickly try to fix them on the "Skip this ad" or "Close this window" button. I feel defeated (and hostile towards the advertiser and the product) when an ad message registers in my mind.

The only type of online ad I might trust: You're on a site like MetaFilter, where you have a bunch of trusted friends of one sort or another (online people who make you laugh, who seem to know what they're talking about most of the time, who are respected experts, etc.) with whom you regularly interact for things unrelated to product sales. And there is a way to see which products your friends prefer, things your pals are enjoying right now, along with links for buying those things. Assuming you kept your list of friends to people you actually trust and kept the shills out, you might get some good recommendations. For example, the MetaFilter Amazon store would be an Amazon page filtered by reviews (good and bad) from Metafilter members I had added to my Contacts list. I wouldn't see any products on that page unless one of my pals had reviewed it. "Oh, look, jessamyn is rereading Barbara Cartland! I must give her a try!" So I buy all 723 novels.
posted by pracowity at 5:19 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


Let's just hope that the collapse of the ad-driven internet changes our society's priorities... because I am still waiting for my flying car and rocketpack.
posted by markkraft at 6:48 AM on June 4


I truly hate advertisement. I really wish that there was a resurgence of microtransactions, where I could specify a monthly budget for internet enjoyment (perhaps $30 total) and at the end of the month my browser would divvy up that pot proportionally between the web sites that I spent time on. $12 to metafilter, $.45 to reddit, $.05 to youtube, etc.
posted by rebent at 6:49 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


Disjointed thoughts:

There's an old quote, which I'll butcher: "I KNOW half my advertising budget is wasted, but I don't know which half."

Click-through as a metric is stupid. It's a way to screw the content provider. It's not enough that you got the eyeballs.

Those of you bitching about Adblock. Fear not! It'll be litigated out of existence soon enough. Don't you worry your pretty little head. It's already happening for crissake. That should be the point of the Guardian article. Adblock sucking up to companies.

I hate everything. God DAMN I hate everything.
posted by Trochanter at 7:01 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]


flaterik: Yes, I agree that the arguments against pervasive outdoor advertising don't necessarily apply to ad-supported online publishing.

I do think that all advertising becomes morally problematic when it crosses a line between information and outright manipulation. I think this is not the same thing as being annoying or intrusive (even though they often go together), and is on its own a reasonable justification for using ad-blocking software, because it is an effective way to force the web publisher to ask for prior consent.

So many websites expend zero effort on addressing any of the problematic aspects of online ads (security and privacy, cognitive fatigue, aesthetic nuisance, moral aspects of manipulation without consent). Instead, they turn over whole iframes to unscrupulous, basically lawless ad networks. The terms of this unspoken contract are lopsided and I choose to decline them by blocking ads by default.

Should we leave ads on regardless, for the sake of the few who play fair? I can see why if you think that, the reverse position seems like "entitlement", especially if you think ad-blocker users are primarily motivated by aesthetics or convenience. But then, exposing yourself and your computer daily to the full brunt of that stuff (even if you manually click away from the more obnoxious cases) doesn't just seem misguided to me; from where I'm standing, it looks like Stockholm syndrome.
posted by ormon nekas at 7:37 AM on June 4


Those of you bitching about Adblock. Fear not! It'll be litigated out of existence soon enough.

So it will be replaced. Any decent platform will let folks control /etc/hosts or equivalent to block network connections to ad servers, trackers, and the like. Unless you are using an oddball operating system, chances are someone has already set up decent software to do this for you, whether or not its name contains the term "AdBlock." I've done this with all the computers and phones I've had for years. As far as litigation goes, to those entities that want to force anyone to make network connections against their will, I say "come at me."

Android alone has several apps that do this so long as you have root access, which is pretty straightforward to obtain with most devices. Sorry, poor saps on iOS where Apple spends considerable effort to fight jailbreaking in order to block users from full control of the hardware they own.
posted by exogenous at 7:48 AM on June 4


I just think using [ad blocking software] is awfully entitled behaviour.
Which is just as idiotic as that tv exec who thought skipping ads to go pee is equal to theft.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:57 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


I find your lack of defeatism disturbing...
posted by Trochanter at 7:58 AM on June 4


Its as if people think content makers will continue to make content if they can't make money. Sorry, but no.
To give one counterexample, the vast majority of software that I use in my personal life is totally free.
posted by Flunkie at 8:06 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


"Its as if people think content makers will continue to make content if they can't make money. Sorry, but no."

Actually, content creators made content for free -- and at their expense -- from the earliest days of the internet. There was, in fact, some pretty amazing content out there, long before professional content makers came along.

But gee, I sure would hate to miss out on ten more snappy, exciting web journalism techniques to beat a dead horse.

No, really... I'm just dying to be trolled by the next content maker who wants to say dickish, contrarian, idiotic things for clickthroughs and easy money.

Of course, it's not as though ad money is going away. Rather, reality will settle in and ads will be worth something closer to what ads should be worth. Clearly, the argument being made here is that none of the content creators can deal with reality... and frankly, I hope that's not entirely the case.
posted by markkraft at 8:22 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Micropayments.

We need an easy interface that lets content providers and service providers be greedy without resporting to being creepy.
posted by ocschwar at 8:38 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I think this goes hand in hand with the way they tailor their advertising to individual users based on data they've harvested from you: I'm kinda petty about reviewing online purchases. I, in fact, have not done any reviews for quite a while now out of the principle that I don't want to provide free marketing or sales data to online retailers. They should hire someone to do that for them, not milk more out of me than they already have. You could say it benefits everyone for customers to provide reviews but I would say they already track so much of our information it's just giving them a freebie to review purchases for them too. Maybe if there was more of an incentive than "this is for the good of everyone." It's already a market transaction and I've already paid my money in addition to having my cookies tracked. And yet they want even more from me?

As for Ghostery, I turn it off and on as I browse. My only apprehension is does Ghostery store all that data?
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:52 AM on June 4


I don't click on a lot of banner ads, but I have definitely clicked on the "sponsored results" ads at the top of google searches, though at least a few times, those have been the same site as the top result anyways, more out of laziness than anything else.

That said, I have still engaged with internet advertising a lot, mostly via podcast advertising. Sklarbro Country turned me on to Bonobos clothing, and I've purchased at least a few things that were advertised on various Maximum Fun shows. That may be a function of the promo code model that all podcast ads seem to adopt.

Additionally, I have "subscribed" to Maximum Fun for the last year or so, and that has been pretty great. I pay one amount per month, and support a dozen different creative groups that provide a lot of entertainment to me (I spend more time listening to MaxFun than I do watching stuff on Netflix, for instance). All of these guys pool their resources and can get better ad buys, reduced admin fees, etc.

That makes me wish that other podcasts/sites would group together in this way. It feels weird to be a 1$/month subscriber to 10 different sites (and probably the only entity that is really supported in that instance is PayPal) in a way that a single 10$/month subscription divided up wouldn't. Maybe that is just a weird mental block on my end, but there is probably something to independent sites grouping together under unified banners in a subscription model.
posted by grandsham at 9:20 AM on June 4


The people who create interesting content on the web will still be there, wanting to share, and so will the people who want to absorb that content. We may have to find new ways to connect the two. I may decide to pull a couple more dollars each month from my pocket to support people like MeFi who help me find the best of what I'm interested in. My silly cat videos can live just as well on my ISPs servers as they can on YouTube's. My friends will still share photos and news of their lives, even if they don't do it through Facebook. But the fundamentals of people with thoughts to share and a medium through which they can do so for almost zero incremental cost will remain entirely unchanged.

Well, yes and no.

I work in the traditional print media, which is hitching its wagon to this notion that as print advertising declines, the revenue will be replaced with digital advertising. As the FPP suggests, that may be a chimera; still, even now, even as it declines precipitously, print advertising provides the lion's share of revenue to traditional print media.

So the print advertising continues to shrink, digital ad revenue never pans out to the extent we hoped... and then what?

Well, sure, traditional print media slowly (or not so slowly) fades away. In it's place - what, then? If the revenue to support actual reporting ceases to exist - you'll still have your silly cat videos, you'll still have your MeFis and your bloggers creating "interesting content," But if you, say, want to know what happened at your local town meeting that you couldn't make, we're reduced to hoping some enterprising local blogger who isn't getting paid for it took the time to go down there and find out, and report on it.

There'll still be plenty of interesting content. Who'll create the vital content - that's my question.
posted by kgasmart at 10:05 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Well, sure, traditional print media slowly (or not so slowly) fades away. In it's place - what, then?

As mentioned several times: micropayments.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:13 AM on June 4


Its as if people think content makers will continue to make content if they can't make money. Sorry, but no.

The internet was a great thing before ads. It will be a great thing again when ads are gone. In the meantime, it's kind of an OK thing.

Fuck the content makers; their business models are not my problem. The internet is for communication, and I can do that with or without them.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:42 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I truly hate advertisement. I really wish that there was a resurgence of microtransactions, where I could specify a monthly budget for internet enjoyment (perhaps $30 total) and at the end of the month my browser would divvy up that pot proportionally between the web sites that I spent time on. $12 to metafilter, $.45 to reddit, $.05 to youtube, etc.

Micropayments will never work because people are way too cheap. Andrew Sullivan had one of the biggest individual blogs out there, something like 5 million monthly uniques, IIRC. From that, he has culled just under 29,000 subscribers at $20 a year in about a year and a half of begging. From that, he is just about able to support himself and a staff of, I think, five. He pays his interns, as well.

So basically, it seems to me that only about 0.067 % of the people that were clicking on his site every month were actually willing to put cash on the barrel head, when it came down to it. I'm sure you could make the payments technology simpler, easier. Maybe you could double the response rate that way. All the way up to a tenth of a percent or so.

Besides which, everyone in the thread's talking about part of the problem with advertising being the psychic cost, the cost to your attention. Or alternatively, the creeping insidiousness of the trackers that follow your every move. Micropayments have both those problems, except much, much worse. Because either it's gonna be a nickel for every single thing you click, or you're gonna have to decide, is this site good enough, worthy enough, for one of my precious nickels? Sure, some stuff will be worth it, but lots of stuff won't and that will be incredibly annoying, as your monthly budget gets eaten away by bullshit. And if you think you can just spend a nickle on everything you read on the internet and still be spending $30 bucks a month, you're out of your mind. That's twenty sites a day. 2-0. Check the weather, the traffic, get directions, look at your email -- you probably click more than twenty sites before you're through brushing your teeth in the morning, if you have a smart phone. And if a click is so cheap you can keep to your $30 buck budget, there won't be professional content producers. A five person blog, which does no original research and little other content than commentary, cost $1.50 a day to stay in the black by itself. Micropayments are a fantasy.
posted by Diablevert at 11:45 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Who'll create the vital content - that's my question.

The BBC?
posted by alasdair at 12:26 PM on June 4


"Fuck the content makers; their business models are not my problem. The internet is for communication, and I can do that with or without them."

Psst. You know that stuff we share on MetaFilter? It's from content makers! And if we want to keep sharing cool things here, it's worth caring about how those content makers are able to support themselves!
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


Targeting and such is, in the end, designed to show you things you want.

The hell it is.


I didn't say it was successful very often.
posted by flaterik at 12:39 PM on June 4


Psst. You know that stuff we share on MetaFilter? It's from content makers!

Quite a lot of whom actually do it as a hobby rather than a job. There's plenty of interesting stuff to link to beyond Buzzfeed, Youtube, the NYT and the Grauniad.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:16 PM on June 4


There appears to be a lot of people misconstruing content producers and artists. Here's how to tell the difference:

A Content Producer makes money from content.

An Artist makes content because they have to.

One of these groups will keep making content even if there's no way to monetize it.
posted by Revvy at 2:18 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


"Quite a lot of whom actually do it as a hobby rather than a job. There's plenty of interesting stuff to link to beyond Buzzfeed, Youtube, the NYT and the Grauniad."

Wait, there's more stuff to link to? Why, my stars and garters, I've never linked to anything but those big four! It's a brave new world!

Why, I wonder if there are any other professionals who might be making worthwhile content that don't work at any of those big four. Could you call your local librarian and ask them if there's an internet beyond those sites?

"There appears to be a lot of people misconstruing content producers and artists. Here's how to tell the difference:

A Content Producer makes money from content.

An Artist makes content because they have to.

One of these groups will keep making content even if there's no way to monetize it.
"

…yes, but neither of them can live for free, and I'd rather have a world where people who are good at making content get paid for that, rather than having to scuzz by on a Pizza Hut job because there's no way to reward them for what they do that's valuable to the broader culture.

And where would you rather your money go?
posted by klangklangston at 4:22 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]


And where would you rather your money go?

Beer, shared with the artist while I appreciate their art. I would rather place the artists that I appreciate ahead of the middlemen, rather than the middlemen getting a majority. It was a semantic point, rather than a suggestion.*

neither of them can live for free

Middlemen will find something else to middle in and artists have lived for free throughout history. Even the concept of "living for free" is so inexorably tied to a monetary economy that

there's no way to reward them for what they do that's valuable to the broader culture

becomes a foregone conclusion. I don't measure what art does for me solely in money, which allows me to work too hard and spend too much on things that I enjoy, whether I make them or someone else does.

*Maybe it is time we consider the possibility of measuring a person's contribution to humanity in something other than money. I mean formally, in society, instead of just how we all do it personally.
posted by Revvy at 7:57 PM on June 4


"Beer, shared with the artist while I appreciate their art. I would rather place the artists that I appreciate ahead of the middlemen, rather than the middlemen getting a majority. It was a semantic point, rather than a suggestion.*"

Your landlord takes beer? Man, he's cooler than my landlord. I bet he's cooler than the landlord of this hypothetical artist you're sharing with.

"Middlemen will find something else to middle in and artists have lived for free throughout history. Even the concept of "living for free" is so inexorably tied to a monetary economy that …"

Lived for free? Bullshit.

becomes a foregone conclusion. I don't measure what art does for me solely in money, which allows me to work too hard and spend too much on things that I enjoy, whether I make them or someone else does."

Man, that's great for you, but so what? I want to live in an economy that can support at least some people who make art getting paid to do exactly that. Getting on some pretentious anti-capitalist jag over the transcendent nature of art is a cop-out. Art needs both Cartier-Bresson and Henry Darger, and to think that any artists of note have lived completely free (outside of a monastery) is just bafflingly naive.
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


As I said, it was a semantic definition, not a real suggestion. The point was to show how incongruous it is to argue that no art or content will be produced because content producers can't make money. That position is more unsupportable than a post-capitalist contribution metric.
posted by Revvy at 11:40 PM on June 4


I was expecting a few more mentions of MeFi considering the recent fundraising. Even with over a decade of community and a fantastic percentage (25% !) of daily users putting our money where our mouth is, advertising still provides the majority of the revenue.
posted by ersatz at 4:02 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Online Journalism Is Suffering Print's Fate
The problem is, advertising dollars are shrinking. We just can't charge as much for Web advertising as we used to for print advertising. A decade ago, when I entered professional journalism and began earnestly discussing its financial future, there was a reasonable case that, eventually, digital advertising would be worth more than print advertising -- you could precisely target it, after all, and measure its effects. As soon as we got better at building digital ad products and educated advertisers, in theory we'd be in better shape than ever.

That theory has, alas, been pretty well destroyed by the last 10 years. Advertisers still won't pay print rates for digital.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:53 AM on June 13


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