The discussions about adblockers flares up high this year. Millions of people all over the world use a small bit of software to hide commercials on the internet. Companies that earn money from clicking ads are angry. Are adblockers theft? Or is it a logical reaction on the greediness of the online industry who prefer annoying ads next to excellent content? In this blog I’m going to look at the essence of online advertisements and I come to the conclusions that user-friendly advertisements are nonsense.
“Global internet traffic will reach up in the end of 2016 to one zettabyte”, reported technology giant Cisco earlier this year. You don’t need to be ashamed if you have never heard about a zettabyte. The chance that you have ever expressed something in zettabytes is nearly non-existent. When you walk sometimes through a multimedia shop and you will come to the conclusion that an external hard drive usually has the storage capacity of one terabyte. Well, if you would buy one million hard disk you would be the proud owner of one zettabyte. Now you can finale save all retransmissions of The Bold and The Beautiful.
Plain and simple:the internet traffic that goes around the world every day is gigantic and keeps rising. In countries, where the government is not censoring the traffic of knowledge, is a lot of knowledge freely accessible. So you can consult freely and for nothing a scientific study which tries to overtake on the basis of mathematical models if a Moroccan king ever could have had 888 childeren, you can laugh and scream monthly with a new fail compilation, or you can search for a nice camping place to explore Eurpoe next summer.
Whoever launched his own blog or used internet to put the spotlight on a product or service knows how difficult it is to attract the attention in the endless stream of information. It’s like shouting out loud on the market: seek the attention, sell your fruit. In situations where there is an overload of information, there is an attention economy.
Nobel prize winner Herbert Simon was one of the first to notice this. In 1961 he wrote:
In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
It is no different for the internet. Building a website or application is relatively cheap and easy. However, it is not naturally to attract users, let alone sell something. In order to get users on a platform there attention needs to be drawn. This is an aspect that forms the basis of one of the oldest definitions of marketing: “ the execution of a business activity that the flow of goods and services from the manufacturer to the customer or user regulates.”
The internet was still in its infancy when the first “ mediators of attention” saw the light. In 1993 was Global Network Navigator the first company that sold clickable advertisements. The company earns weekly a few thousand dollars and was bought up by AOL for a total of 11 million dollar.
Fast forward to 2015. The turnover from advertisements at Google raised up to 67 billion dollar. The earnings from a lot of websites consists of letting as many people as possible click on links to the advertisements, let them look to (commercial)clips and make them read branded content. Every visitor and every click is worth money. Thanks to the attention economy everybody can sell with a blog, website or application some whitespace and become an attention-seeker.
A lot of websites and apps have become the virtual equivalent of Times Square. Flashing advertisements, pop-ups and pop-overs, for the user the most normal thing in the world that his surfing experience is disturbed by colored blocks we call banners. Moreover, we can speak of banner blindness: especially when people are purposeful looking for information they are blind for advertisements.
But there is something else that puts the earnings under pressure. The terror of every marketer: the adblocker, a little piece of software that one installs in the browser and blocks the lion’s share of all advertisements. Both banners and video-advertisements disappear from the screen. Adobe and PageFair estimate the number of users of adblockers in 2014 around 198 million. Recalculated the marketing industry missed around 25 billion dollar.
“Shame! “Online advertising keeps the internet free!” Different media companies went already to court. The marketer of the German media company stated the following: “Adblockers are an attack on media pluralism and freedom of press. Therefore we will investigate all possibilities and continue our legal battle against Eyeo (the company behind Adblock Plus).”
But it can be different. Scott Cunningham, general manager of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), an organization dedicated to standardization and rules for online advertisements, formulates it as follows: “We messed up.” He says that the marketing technology is built to optimize marketing budgets but at the same time made the internet slower, the user experience is displeased and in the end it displayed the patience of the user. As a real marketer Cunningham knows how to enlighten the positive aspects of online advertising: After the dotcom bubble, early last decade digital advertising became the economic engine of a free and democratic web. It entertains people, disturbs markets, dropped the governments and liberates new forms of art. Besides a new digital middle class of SME emerged.”
Hence the IAB launches a new initiative called the L.E.A.N Ads Program: Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported en Non-invasive. Ads may slow the internet down as little as possible, have to be properly secured, need to anticipate on the needs of the customer and may not be intruding.
How this will end up is very unclear. Ads are already build with the speed kept in mind and the security is entrusted to secure partners. Moreover, ads are targeting on users with a certain profile and those profiles are made on the basis of the search history. The most visited websites know how to design their advertisements. There is still space left to improve, but the most has been done already.
One of the definitions of Google for the word invasive is: “tending to intrude on a person's thoughts or privacy”. therefore with the idea of attention economy kept in mind, are advertisements always incisively. They try to attract the attention of the user and send them into a certain direction. L.E.A.N ads are according to me a contradictio in terminis and I have no expectations whatsoever for this initiative.
Despite all the noble causes and the democratic web is the likeability of the marketer and the puffer still to cry on. Only politicians do worse. And that is due to the incisively foundation of the job. The profession of a marketer is to “remarket” products, services and causes. And to attract the attention of the user advertisements are needed. Don’t be silly about it. Whether it is on papyrus or on a screen advertisements are 6000 years old. Pleasant advertisements are like pleasant mosquito’s: even though you replace their buzzing by music of Vivaldi, they keep you from your sleep.
Will advertisements disappear from the internet? No, it’s impossible. It’s a very efficient way to earn money and there is too much money involved. It is in the end for so many people a very efficient way of advertisement that they will look to new ways to attract the attention of the internet user. Reports about good ratings for advertisements on YouTube made the share of Google rise this year. Sure the automatic play movie has a big role in this. In other words: there will always be invested in new forms of video marketing, e-mail marketing, content marketing, social media, etc. But the good ol’ banner will always stay evolving technologically and esthetically.
Nevertheless will the battle against advertisements be staged, a video advertisement before a movie begins is always annoying, beautiful or not. In my opinion this technological battle between the two parties will turn into a trench warfare: a final winner will not be find by tomorrow.
This doesn’t mean that well-meant initiatives are not welcome. International guidinglines and rules for advertisments like penis enlargement pills, hot mothers in your neighborhood and “this man earns $5700 a day, click here to know how” would help the perception of the marketer a lot.
Pleasant advertisements don’t exist. Let us cut the crap and keep our feet firmly on the ground and let marketers do what they do best.
Roel Peters is online marketing consultant at The Reference.
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