“Get that shit out of here!”
Unless you have an ad-blocking app on your browser, your online experience is probably inundated with garbage. It may be for a male enhancement drug (even if you’re a woman), or from a site you visited one time. Or maybe it’s some massive dropdown ad that keeps pushing the article you want to read further and further down the screen, causing you to accidentally click on some bullshit site that you had no intention of visiting. Ads like that are called “takeovers” – go figure.
People are starting to fight back.
But make no mistake, ads are essential. Ads are the reason we get to enjoy a lot of what we read and watch on the internet. Advertisers pay publishers, which helps publishers pay the writers and creators we love. But something happened on the internet that didn’t happen on other media like TV or radio. Things got out of hand, mainly because online advertising is now a wild west-style chase to maximize profits and exposure. I got to see this first-hand.
From 2010 to 2012, I worked as a digital media planner for a major credit card company and some other big national advertisers. We had huge budgets (over $4 million a month) completely devoted to online advertising, and our job was to allocate that budget to publishers that had the right audiences. It was a strange job that I did not like. It felt futile and it felt icky.
I quickly realized that I was contributing to what I hated about the internet. I was doing it in large volumes with some slick technology that pushed the limits of privacy and consumer protection.
My biggest point of confusion came when I encountered my first ad network. These networks buy up unused ad spaces from publishers and sell those spaces to advertisers. So, if a publisher can’t sell all their ad space on their own, they sell the rest off to ad networks who then package this bargain bin of ad space and sell it off. Their main selling point to advertisers is that they promise to place their ads on sites that will have the type of audiences they want to reach.
But here’s the problem: If the publisher couldn’t sell all of their ad space on their own, directly to the advertiser, maybe that’s okay. Maybe if they didn’t sell off the remnants of their ad space, they would have a cleaner site, making for a much nicer user experience. But they did. They had to. Profits were too enticing, sales staff faced too much pressure to meet goals, and ad networks had too much to gain with attractive audience packages that won them billions in revenue. So what we’re left with is an ad-cluttered internet that forced the invention of a technology that blocks all of them.
And now the ad industry is panicking, but they have only themselves to blame.
Our hope, as users of the web, must be that the dust will settle and the online ad world will sober up. Fortunately for publishers, ads aren’t going anywhere. If they do, we will lose a lot of the good stuff we love on the internet. Hopefully, they will become more thoughtful. Give them some credit: they’re trying.