Remember that scene in Mad Men where Don Draper sips his whiskey then tells his client that the best way to win customers is to annoy the shit out of them? No. Because it didn’t happen.
Today I’m going to talk about in-your-face advertising on websites, and why it is a terrible idea.
As bandwidths have increased, online advertising has shifted towards ‘rich media’, i.e. video and sound clips. While it could be used to create some fun and interactive campaigns, it usually isn’t. Instead, they are a particularly insidious form of advertising that seems to believe that if they hold your screen hostage for long enough, Stockholm Syndrome will set in and you’ll suddenly adore the brand. Here’s a good example from The Independent’s website [I added the music]:
Here’s a thought that’s never entered my mind: ‘You know what this site needs? An inescapable picture of the professional troll Katie Hopkins in her pants.’
Try as they might, forcing me to look at Katie Hopkins’ face isn’t making me feel any more favourable towards her brand of hate. Even though I am convinced that the left side banner is actually Bill Nighy in an unconvincing wig.
I know enough about computers to know how to block ads from displaying in my browser, and it is increasingly tempting. Here’s what the same page looks like with an ad-blocker:
It looks so clean! It also runs a lot better without my browser constantly having to calculate how far it needs to drag Katie Hopkins’ dead-eyed stare until eye contact is re-established.
Because I know how hard it is for sites to make money, and because I don’t wish to pay for every piece of content I encounter on the internet, I don’t block adverts. Like it or not, advertising is the lifeblood of the free web. Either we expect that sites will display advertising, or the internet will become one paywall after another. An internet without advertising would be like that ‘fuck you, pay me’ scene from Goodfellas.
Oh, you wanted to hear what’s happening in the world? Fuck you, pay me. Wanted to check the weather? Fuck you, pay me. Wanted to read a foulmouthed op-ed? Fuck you, pay me.
I’d love for this writing lark to be my day job, but the only way for that to be remotely possible is for online publishing to keep being profitable. However, it’s getting more difficult for me to criticise those who choose to use AdBlock. I’ve made some mockups of a few of the other ‘rich media’ advertising forms that you’ve undoubtedly encountered:
Otherwise known as ‘find the X as quickly as possible’.
Expandable takeover ads.
Otherwise known as ‘the ones that slightly overlap with the main menu and stop you from getting to the link you want to click’.
Otherwise known as ‘the ones that push away everything you wanted to see’.
Like most people, I’m so used to the old school banner ads that they just fade into the background. However, the answer doesn’t lie in creating browser-clogging widgets. While these may yield higher numbers of clicks at the moment, it won’t be long until users will become fed up. It takes two minutes to install a browser extension to block ads, and then everyone loses out. The advertisers and the sites don’t make a profit, and online publications start shutting down.
Good advertising draws you in, while decent advertising lets you get away. If I’m not interested, I’m not interested. So how can they make adverts that are attention grabbing but don’t getting in the way? I don’t have an answer. I’m not Don Draper. But making adverts that behave like needy children is a surefire way of infuriating your audience. Then again, Katie Hopkins has built a lucrative career by baiting the public. Maybe that is the key to making the internet profitable after all.
In that case, I’m going back to Teletext.