It might be a misconception caused by my job, but it appears to me that a lot is being said about the increased use of ad-blockers. It’s not exactly surprising – in the world of ad-funded Internet, if 50% (or more) people don’t let the ads display, both advertisers and publishers are bound to be getting their knickers in a twist. It’s difficult to blame them, as their well-established methods and business models are going down the drain and they’re faced with something every industry is petrified of – the need to redesign itself. Ad-blocking definitely has its downsides, but should the industry go as far as to call it “extortion”?
What I will start by pointing out is: not every consumer understands that the ‘free’ Internet is only ‘free’ (I will get back to the rationale of the use of quotation marks later on) because the companies are willing to pour buckets of money into online advertising (although it’s still less than they pour on TV and even print media, funnily enough). Although it might seem obvious to those advertising folks, the regular consumer doesn’t see it this way. I only realised it myself once I started reading more about it as part of my job. What users see advertising as is a distraction.
I have only downloaded an ad blocker after having a-one-too-many one sided swearing matches with my computer (it was me swearing and it continuing to play some auto-starting ad of some bullshit I wasn’t interested in and no ‘X’ in sight). I just had enough of having my experience severely disrupted. I didn’t declare a war on the advertising/publishing out of bad will, inborn meanness or out of spite. I did it because I couldn’t see the content I was there to see. If the advertising has stuck to one place, I would never have downloaded an adblocker because I wouldn’t have seen the need. But, sadly, there was a need. Because the advertising industry has gone overboard. Because they thought they could run a havoc over our data usage and website experience. Because someone, somewhere, was bold enough, or stupid enough, or arrogant enough to say “hey, let’s introduce those videos that play themselves and startle people with crappy music, and those ads that move around obscuring text, and those windows that will tell them that their Mac is infected, consumers are gonna love that!”.
Wait a minute. Consumer? Has anyone ever thought of the consumer in this? Or are we an ‘impression’? Are we a ‘click through rate’ if we accidentally click on some banner? Advertisers thought consumers were going to put up with anything (I’m still waiting for ads that jump out of the screen, I’m sure they’ll find a way to execute that), but they bumped their heads onto a harsh wall of reality. Consumers won’t put up with everything that’s thrown at them. A very smart rule I was taught by one of my parents very early in life was ‘clients vote with their feet’ – they don’t like a restaurant? They won’t come again. The receptionist at the hair salon treats them badly? They will find a different place to get their hair cut. It’s a simple rule of business that advertisers, in their offices far removed from the world of customer service, failed to acknowledge. Internet users are now voting with their feet – they’re choosing to walk out on advertising the best way they know, which is blocking ads.
And users far outnumber advertisers.
But let’s go back to the ‘free’ Internet. Just because you don’t pay cash to read an article on your favourite news site doesn’t mean you’re getting it for free. As the Silicon Valley saying goes “if you’re not paying for a product, then you’re the product” – websites get a plethora of data about us from our cookies, comments we leave, dozens of trackers, or information we enter to get a few days of free subscription. We pay with our personal information, and, if a website is ad-heavy, we pay more in data and lost time. So don’t be fooled when you’re told Internet is free, because we’re actually paying a very high price.
So why do I whitelist certain sites? It’s not the ones that pop a message saying “You’re using an ad blocker, you shall not pass”. I try to avoid them like the plague because, to me, they are lazy, not looking for alternatives and better ways to fund their business. But I whitelist my favourite blogs, because I want the people who write them to enjoy payment for their hard work. I will put up with small banner ads (and that’s what you usually see on the blogs), because I want that girl who works her bum off working, studying and entertaining me to enjoy a nice holiday. I whitelisted the Guardian – because they kindly asked me and I enjoy their journalism. I occasionally whitelist sites that ask nicely.
As my mom said, when you’re nice, people become much more willing to help you. But the key here is to inform and to respect. Make sure your user knows how important advertising is to you. And respect the fact that they might not want to be startled to death by an auto-playing ad.