20 September 2017

Ad-clog agonistes

Two and a half years ago I wrote this post about the growing plague of ever-more intrusive and distracting (and numerous) ads on the internet.  Since then the problem has, if anything, gotten worse.  Besides the pop-ups, autoplaying videos, ads that shove the text you're reading sideways as they push in from one side, etc., there are now ads that expand into existence from nowhere right in the middle of the column of text, video ads where the pause button doesn't do anything, pop-up ads with no X to close them (or at least none that I can discover), YouTube ads that interrupt the video in the middle instead of just at the beginning, and in the case of one site, video ads that actually forcibly scroll you up or down the page to where the ad is, snatching you away from what you were reading, and keep on doing so again and again when you try to scroll back.  And the sheer quantity of ads, the overall visual clutter, is overwhelming on some sites.

Now comes a consummation supposedly surprising but in fact entirely predictable -- it turns out there's considerable evidence that online ads don't work and are even counterproductive.

The linked post (by writer Charles Hugh Smith) focuses on "data-mining", the practice of using information collected from internet behavior to tailor ads to a particular individual.  We've all seen this.  If your browsing suggests any interest in something commercial, whether by googling a product or service, visiting a vendor's website, or actually buying something online, you'll be barraged with ads for the same or related things wherever you go.  This is supposed to be good for sales because it targets you with ads for things you've already shown an interest in.

But much of that data is, from the advertiser's viewpoint, wrong or misleading.  In many cases, once you buy something, you won't need to buy another one for a long time, or ever.  Somebody who goes to the trouble of researching something they're thinking of buying probably won't be swayed to an impulse purchase by seeing an ad.  An established habit, like going to a particular restaurant or gas station regularly, doesn't need to be reinforced with ads, and if the customer loses interest, a barrage of targeted ads won't help.

(Tip:  With all the concerns about Google collecting information on people, I now mostly use DuckDuckGo instead.  It claims not to track users at all, and appears to be on-the-level.)

But to me the real meat of the matter is something Smith mentions only in passing:

What this tired narrative never includes is my dismissal of the advert as a matter of habit, and the possibility the advert alienates me in longlasting ways. Most of us never look at ads, and the more you make them intrusive, the more we hate the website, the advertiser and whatever product/service is being pitched. Advertisers may have unwittingly poisoned themselves and their product/service. The net result of the data-mined, contextual, statistically targeted advert may well be a consumer who blacklists the pizza shop from then on. This alienation is of course completely opaque to the data-mining software: there are no data traces left by blacklists/alienation.

How in Hell's name is it possible that the people who design these intrusive and aggravating ads didn't anticipate this reaction?  Who are these people who set out to make themselves the internet equivalent of the neighbor blasting loud music, the mosquito buzzing around your head that you can't ignore and can't swat, the door-to-door evangelical pest -- and didn't realize this was going to make people actively reject and avoid whatever they're pushing?

At best such ads must be utterly ineffective. My only reaction to them is to go for the X or pause button to stop them or get rid of them. It's practically an automatic reflex now. I almost never even notice what's being advertised. If the ads are too persistent I'll just abandon trying to read the site and go somewhere else. I can't imagine anyone reacting to the current level of internet ad-clog by actually wanting to buy something that was being thrown at them that way.  And yes, in cases when an ad is so intrusive and annoying that I can't help noticing what it's selling, it does evoke in me an antipathy to that brand or whatever.  To the extent that I remember the ad, it kills any chance that I would ever buy anything from the advertiser.

All this isn't just my opinion.  As Smith points out, Proctor and Gamble recently made deep cuts in its online advertising -- and the effect on sales was zero.  This makes sense only if those ads weren't generating sales in the first place.  Others will take note.  Spending on online ads runs to tens of billions per year nationally.  Once companies realize they can cut or eliminate this expense without negative consequences (and, indeed, with the positive consequence that they are no longer annoying the shit out of potential customers), they will, especially since older forms of advertising with a proven track record of results still exist.  Ad creators will have to earn their paychecks by making ads that people actually find appealing and want to see instead of just getting in your face over and over.

So hang in there.  Companies are starting to realize that online advertising is a Potemkin village built of hype with no substance to it, and in many cases is actively damaging their interests.  The free market will work its magic and the siege of ads that make reading some of your favorite sites so exasperating will abate.  We will be avenged upon our tormentors.


Anonymous KanaW said...

My only reaction to them is to go for the X or pause button to stop them or get rid of them. It's practically an automatic reflex now. I almost never even notice what's being advertised. If the ads are too persistent I'll just abandon trying to read the site and go somewhere else.

That is exactly what I do. For a while, I removed the ad-blocker, but it made loading pages so incredibly slow that I finally put it back on again. Not that it works on those awful side-bar and centre-screen auto-loads. There are some interesting sites that I'll never return to, simply because it's too bloody annoying trying to read the information around all the adverts.

20 September, 2017 03:23  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I actually will be reading a good piece on a subject that I'm intending to link to my blog because it's such a good read or news piece ... but decide to not link it to my site, simply because of the bloody damn ads all over it moving around, up and down, etc like you talk about here ... for me, it contaminates the story with too many ads. Even the Charles Hugh Smith link you added, oddly was saturated with investment ads. And those investment ads are all over now ... all these joint like Fidelity or whatever investment bank/ firm, are not satisfied any more with those just having an investment with them ... they are actually in prime time tele now (I think Prudential is one), now nickel dime squeezing any extra spending money you may have, using the fear card over retirement, doom gloom, loved ones, etc, etc. They're not satisfied with just your IRA's or whatever ... they are saying now ... what if you can take your bloody damn coffee money for the month and invest that with them, how you can have a chance at making that grow, etc ... it's f**ken sickening and excessive. The f'n pharma commercial, investment commercials, mortgage lending refinancing joints, is saturated more than ever EVEN on the tele and radio ... although Smith sayz it's been slacking off ... sure as Hell hasnt been in my area, and I watch the tele daily as well.

I also heard that these blogs that let these ads on their blog dont really get a Hell of alot of money for it, but everyone today is in a desperate race to financially outdo the other and to keep up with this new pop culture fad of sort. Me? ... I dont even give a shit about making a few bucks a month off it, or paying my internet monthly service ... even though I myself can alwayz use money ... I say "f**k it ... I dont want your money, I will stay on my tight budget, and stay happy the way I am". And at my age, I dont even give a shit how popular it makes you or your website, how fashionable it is, being the "new thing" etc ... I just really dont give a shit. I did a posting on advertisement saturation back in 2010 I believe (?), after I been online a couple years, because of how bad it was, and assumed then that it would get worse just looking at this growing trend. I'll shut up ... Thanx for the read though ... and Thanx for not saturating your blog with these nickel diming ads {:-)

20 September, 2017 06:52  
Blogger Jono said...

You are not alone. The fact that we are already paying to see whatever we see means that we are paying for them to try and sell us stuff. I resent the hell out of that.

20 September, 2017 07:11  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Crooks and Liars has been one of my top two websites for years. In the last half year or so, they have featured ads from the country of New Zealand which play with sound without any way to turn them off. Even when you leave them on to the end, they just start playing again a little while later. This annoyance has almost stopped my ability to stand this website, besides making me hate New Zealand. I hardly look at it at all any more. I mention this particularly to you, because I know that you do the blog roundup there every month or so. It's a shame to have all the good effort of so many contributors to this blog just ruined by the greed of the advertisers, and whoever at Crooks and Liars is so hungry for revenue that they are willing to make their site just about intolerable.

20 September, 2017 17:36  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

"Most of us never look at ads, and the more you make them intrusive, the more we hate the website, the advertiser and whatever product/service is being pitched."

That's exactly my attitude. The extremely annoying ads that are now popping up in the middle of videos are the worst. I stop watching the video immediately and move on. There's nothing that important that would make me watch something that intrusive. I just stop watching and pay no mind to the ad at all.

21 September, 2017 07:04  
Anonymous PsiCop said...

Re: "How in Hell's name is it possible that the people who design these intrusive and aggravating ads didn't anticipate this reaction?"

I'm pretty sure advertisers plan for this. Or, more accurately, plan around it. What they may do is to dismiss its impact. In their minds, perhaps, they think that someone who's alienated by an ad is already someone who isn't very likely to buy, hence, effectively no sales are lost to this ramped-up antipathy.

As for the sites that carry the ads, they may employ a similar calculation: Yeah, maybe they figure someone will be turned off and not go to their site again, but anyone who's really interested in their content will just bite the bullet and keep visiting. So again, not many losses, if any.

I note that the aggravation of ads has led to a proliferation of ad-blockers that can be added to browsers (Adblock, uBlock Origin, etc.) That, in turn, has led to sites that carry ads detecting the presence of ad-blockers and trying to block any browser that has one. Yeah, that's tremendously annoying! Fortunately, there now "anti-adblock killers" (e.g. https://reek.github.io/anti-adblock-killer/) that attempt to derail that ... although ad-carrying sites have begun fending THOSE off, too!

I just hope that, at some point, more rational and mature minds prevail, and work together on a solution to this vicious spiral of ad-driven aggravation. Until then, it's a battle out there.

21 September, 2017 10:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks for all the comments. I had a feeling this post would strike a nerve. It's unfortunate that a lot of otherwise good and valuable sites suffer from this self-inflicted plague.

I can't help but think that when advertising generates antipathy toward the advertiser and has to succeed in spite of that, there's a terrible flaw in the logic somewhere.

22 September, 2017 07:00  

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