Friday, 1 February 2013

A word to our sponsors

A friend of mine was recently shushed by a fellow audience member for talking in the cinema. Fair enough, you might say, people should shut up and let others enjoy the film. Except this wasn't during the film, but during the adverts, for Christ's sake.

What kind of oddball tries to police a hushed silence, all the better to enjoy the hundredth repetition of some ubiquitous and deliberately annoying shill for a brand of insurance, deodorant or whatever? Maybe somebody with the same mindset as the guy asking this scary rhetorical question; 'Are Ad Blocking Browser Extensions Killing The Internet?' To be fair, despite his "OMG, they's KILLING teh Internets!!!" scare headline, he calms down enough to concede that they aren't going to kill the Internet 'any time soon', but that doesn't stop him doing a lot of finger wagging along the way:
Personally, I am not a fan of using the world “entitlement” as an insult. Yet it does seem to apply to many who choose to use an ad blocking extension to remove ads from their favorite sites. Ars Technica’s experiment, in which the site prevented visitors using ad blockers from viewing the site’s content, was an excellent example. While some fans were supportive, others acted as if Ars was withholding what was rightfully theirs.

This is the definition of obtaining something for nothing. Anyone who is choosing not to view the ads on a site is making a deliberate choice not to support the site in question, with a few exceptions aside (a handful of sites offer premium subscriptions which remove some or all advertisements)...

If you care about the sites you visit, and you want them to be successful, you should not be using an ad blocker. It’s that simple. Just say no to blocking ads! 
One of his supporters went even further OTT with the title of his opinion piece 'AdBlock, NoScript & Ghostery – The Trifecta Of Evil.' The Trifecta Of Evil?' Heaven preserve us! Dude, if you think blocking a few ads on the Internet is evil, you need to get a few history books on your shelves, a few news sites in your bookmarks and a sense of proportion in your head.

On a superficial level, the self appointed Ad Police have a point. As I've said before, it's super nice when people create great stuff for free, but most people need to make a living, so we pay them directly for their good or service and accept that it's perfectly OK for them to market what they've created, for example, by advertising. A byproduct of this economic activity is sponsored content, be it commercial TV with adverts or web sites that are free to use and funded by advertising revenues.

So by blocking those adverts, you're KILLING those advertising revenues and selfishly breaking the contract whereby the content provider lets you enjoy stuff for free, on condition that you expose yourself to the adverts that pay for all that lovely content, right?

Well, not quite.  You see, there are two kinds of people in the world, people who divide people up into two kinds of people and people who don't people who find adverts really irritating and people who don't. These two types of people already existed in the antediluvian, pre-Internet world in which I grew up. Although it was an ancient and primitive world , we did have access to a few modern innovations that helped to pass the time when we weren't busy being chased by sabre-toothed tigers, or carving crude fertility goddesses out of mastodon ivory, one of these new-fangled inventions being commercial TV.

Now the thing about commercial telly in those pre-pay-per-view/subscription days was that you didn't pay for content (I know I'm stating the obvious, but this is leading somewhere). The advertisers paid for it, by paying for advertising space. Such channels, of course, still exist (in fact we've got a hell of a lot more of them, as a glance at the Freeview channel menu will confirm).

How did people interact with the ads on commercial telly? How do they still interact with them? Some are swayed by the advertising they see, or let it wash over them. But some behave in perverse and selfish ways, watching the programmes, then, when the ad breaks come round, flipping channels, taking a comfort break, getting up to make a cup of tea, or even talking to friends or family (the ungrateful bastards!). Consuming content for free, then blatantly ignoring the wonderland of lovingly-crafted inducements created for them by toiling teams of latte-slurping creative elves.

It happens and, in the absence of the Thought Police, there's no way for advertisers to force reluctant telly viewers to focus on their message (‘Smith!’ screamed the shrewish voice from the telescreen. ‘6079 Smith W! Yes, you! Pay attention, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Stop asking your wife about her day at work and pay attention to the irritating dog that wants you to buy car insurance! That’s better, comrade!').

And that's the thing. People who ignore telly advertisements, because they're just not interested, are doing the same thing as people who choose to block Internet ads. The only difference is that they're blocking ads by simply doing something else, or by directing their attention elsewhere, rather than by making use of a piece of technology (although even that distinction doesn't necessarily hold any more, now that it's possible to record the programmes you want to watch on a hard disk TV recorder, then play them back, fast forwarding through the ad breaks).

You could come up with countermeasures to slip ever more adverts under the radar of confirmed ad-phobes, but what would be the point? If you're the sort of person who's sufficiently irritated by advertisements to install an ad blocker in the first place, being outwitted or morally blackmailed into removing it isn't actually going to make you buy more stuff (which, after all, is the point of advertising). You'll just grit your teeth and ignore the ads, rather than blocking them. That's what I'd call a lose-lose situation.

If we have to throw some blame around here, then I'd finger the advertisers for making advisements so uninformative and downright irritating that people take active steps to avoid them. That's just my opinion, but it's strongly supported by one fact, (aside from the very existence of ad blockers). As Matt "OMG, they's KILLING teh Internets!!!" Smith admits, 'a handful of sites offer premium subscriptions which remove some or all advertisements.' If letting people pay not to see adverts doesn't count as an admission that most ads are annoying rubbish, then I don't know what would.

Relationship advice for advertisers. Advertising is a form of seduction. You can sweet talk somebody who shows some interest into getting into a commercial relationship with you. But if the prospect says 'no' and keeps on saying 'no', trying to force them to notice you by the sheer attrition of all those notes, cards, karaoke ballads, crap poetry, suicide threats and broken hearts with the message 'I LOVE YOU 4 EVER' burned with weedkiller into the prospect's lawn, in letters four feet high won't work. You're not having a commercial relationship, you're just stalking.

In other words, if you want me to look at more ads, don't try to force them down my throat. Just try to make better - or at least less irritating - ones.

Getting back to the cinema, I don't know how many audience members agreed with the individual who wanted people to stop talking during the commercial break, but it's my guess that he was in a minority of more or less one. The weirdo.