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Ad blockers may kill off free Web content

Column Surfer's wet dream or ad exec's nightmare?
Wed Jul 06 2005, 14:54
ADVERTISING GIANT Doubleclick recently warned that the arrival of new ad-blocking software in browsers would kill-off free content on the Net. I was so shocked I turned off my image and pop-up blockers immediately for fear of actually having to pay for the virtual universe of crap I have to wade through for diamonds every day.

Bernie Smith, the group's privacy manager, whatever that is, claimed in an interview that tools like Adblock - an add-on to the Firefox browser - were linked to "a negative vibe against advertising in general". ‘Vibe'? No, really, he actually used the V-word. Images of Oddball and Keanu flashed through my head, dude. Anyway, how much credence can you give an anti-ad blocking statement made by an ad man? Exactly.

And anyway, people's reaction to ads - be they TV or Internet - is nothing to do a negative vibe. It's hatred, pure and simple. A deep-seated, never-dimming rage at the way that advertising has become more prominent than the TV shows and sites they so-call sponsor. The average on the box is now closer to 20 minutes per hour which is why digital video recorders (DVRs) are such a nice idea. But what about on the Web? Does the arrival of ad blockers mean an end to free content? After all, this very site - a tower of newshound tenacity, innuendo and non-lethal spite - has ads framing and winking around its editorial gold.

Would ad-blockers detract from the revenue generated from these ads and would the INQ crash and burn if advertisers cut and ran. Who knows? Unlike traditional advertising where the medium (paper, TV etc.) gets paid up front, Web-advertising is paid for on the basis of clicks or views. This puts all the power in the hands of advertisers and trust me they are not paying well for the privilege.

The power of the admen and women was never more evident than when they went mad and every site you went to was preceded, or interrupted, by a damned pop-up ad. The reaction was a plethora of pop-up blockers. Some were free, some were not and then some got built as downloadable add-ons to certain browsers.

As you can imagine, the ad execs were not amused. Surprisingly, the media was awash in reports that pop-up blockers would sound the death-knell of free Web content. Sound familiar? Obviously it didn't. The execs returned to whatever cesspit spawned them, sacrificed a few goats and conjured up new methods to peddle their wares.

In fact, I've come across some sneaky pop-up ads that seem able to sidestep my own blocker. The term ‘tit-for-tat' seems to apply here. For every annoying approach to advertising - and it's important to distinguish here - there will be a solution to prevent it. And then it's back to the drawing boards, the cauldrons and the farmyard for more innocent creatures. I said ‘annoying' because a lot of ad-forms are not that annoying.

They exist in the periphery of my surfing and although I rarely click on them I find no reason to banish their existence from my daily surf. I have a screamingly fast 56Kbps modem connection to the Net and only get annoyed when big animated ads stop me from seeing what I want within a reasonable amount of time.

Regular ads - even little animated ones - don't offer much in the way of delay. As such, they can live. Ad blockers are not that new and while posing a minimal threat to the revered ad revenue they will not kill-off free Web content. We are no longer a captive audience and that's what really pi**es off the advertising community. Most surfers are reasonable people and are amenable to some form of advertising.

It's when the ad world starts getting clever with ever-more intrusive kinds of ads that riles us. That's when ad blockers come into the equation. Remember, most of the anti-ad tools have been created not in advance of annoying ad forms, but in response. Do they not listen? What do we need to do to get this fact through? Take out an ad? µ

 

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