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How does commentary affect the world around us?

Advertisers Have Entirely the Wrong Idea (Yet Again)

Publishers of websites are considering more intrusive advertising, such as video ads you can’t just click through. The thought is to make the internet more like TV: “It’s a similar type of user-interruption experience as a commercial in the middle of a TV show,” says one brilliant ad exec. This won’t work, however, because the internet is NOT TV–and that’s what’s so great about it. The interactivity, the potential for feedback: people go online to engage, they go to TV to veg out. Ads that can’t be avoided online will annoy users; I, personally, might consciously choose not to buy a product that messes up my internet experience with intrusive ads.

The only reason publishers are freaking out about online advertising is that the internet has finally given them the technology to actually know what their ads accomplish. The answer? Very little. It’s impossible to measure how many people see a billboard or print ad. (It’s possible to estimate how many people travel a highway or read a paper, but it’s difficult to say how many of those notice or care about ads. Even Google’s new billboards are somewhat odd: how can you click a link on a billboard?) But when you have metrics for your website, it’s painfully easy to see how few people click through. And not only can we not look at ads online, we can also block them altogether in many cases. There’s a reason that browsers have pop-up blockers and Firefox has adblock: people don’t want to see ads.

When will corporations learn this? When will the time-honored “advertising budgets” be spent in better ways, perhaps by providing special deals to loyal customers, referral fees for people who bring their friends over, and other innovative techniques? Maybe a site’s biggest commenter gets a 5% discount (hello, massive commentary!). Maybe someone who wins a contest based on site content gets a prize. But the ad execs’ thought process is just wrong. “If you want to move share over from TV, which is still the biggest ad marketplace, you better look like TV more than a newspaper,” another exec commented. I don’t mean to say that advertising can’t ever work. But I do think it’s dangerous to think about the web as TV OR a newspaper. It’s an entirely different medium and needs to be treated as such by advertisers, content creators, and users alike. Otherwise it will never realize its great potential.

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Filed under: Business Models, Content

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