A Web without ads

Ad blockers won't destroy the Web, but they might bring us back to the Web we intended to build in the first place.


You might have noticed a small dustup around ad blockers over the last few days. Someone on Twitter asked how this came out of nowhere in three days. Well, it didn’t. It’s been building. Apple kicked it into overdrive by adding ad blocking capability to iOS, but there’s nothing really new.

I recently started using an ad blocker: just Adblock Plus, and just on Chrome. While I’m an ad-hostile person, I’m not aggressively ad-hostile. For the most part, I’m content to ignore advertising. But some site (I don’t remember which) just went too far, probably with mouseover popups that obscured what I wanted to read, and I said “I’ve had it.” You can waste my bandwidth, but don’t prevent me from reading articles.

So, with that in mind, here are a few observations.

If you’re in the ad business, don’t make the experience worse for the readers. Seriously: you ought to realize that if you’ve just annoyed someone, they’re not likely to click on your ad, let alone buy your product. Doc Searls (@dsearls) wrote absolutely the smartest thing I’ve seen on this controversy: “If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them.” And if people are telling you, “we don’t want you, go away,” you’d best figure out why, rather than whining about it. (Searls’ entire series on advertising is excellent, and you should read it. The last post, Debugging adtech assumptions, lists all the prior posts).

If you’re advertising a product, please realize that the goal of advertising is to sell your product. And to that end: making potential customers mad, forcing them to use an ad blocker to regain control of their experience isn’t helping your cause. Really. If you think you’re doing “brand advertising,” you don’t want the value I associate with your brand to be “assholes.” Doc Searls has some excellent points about brand advertising. Go read them.

People who install ad blockers aren’t likely to click on ads, except by accident. They aren’t people who are likely to buy. Every sales team I’ve worked with has understood the difference between low-value and high-value prospects. Those of us with ad blockers are very low-value prospects. You don’t want our eyeballs. We’re not going to buy anyway. If you’re in the ad placement business, please don’t think it’s my job to make your business model work. It isn’t. Here’s a business idea (Google take note): Charge more for clicks by “high value” prospects, which you can define (at least in part) as readers who don’t have any ad blockers installed.

Finally, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing about ad blockers destroying the Web — if there aren’t ads, nobody will provide any content. Nonsense. Albert Wenger writes that ad blockers are a way to decentralize a network that has become overly centralized. In a similar vein, Eric Meyer writes that ad blockers are an opportunity for the Web to reboot. Except that we’re wiser now, and we know what doesn’t work. I’ve been on the Web since being on the Web meant telnetting to www.cern.ch. I’ve used lynx when that was the only browser available. The Web was an interesting, fun, vital, exciting place then. People didn’t need advertising money to maintain a blog, or share ideas. If the advertising business disappeared today, then we might get our interesting, fun, vital, exciting Web back, but without the bloated pages. If anything, advertising has allowed a host of “content” sites to exist that have no reason to exist other than to supply ads. Content that exists only as a conduit for advertising isn’t content. Ad blockers might not destroy the Web, but they might bring us back to the Web we want, the Web we intended to build in the first place.

Cropped image on article and category pages via Pawel Wozniak on Wikimedia Commons.

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