In the last article, I discussed one potential form of monetization by making articles (and other media) commodities through micropayment systems across multiple platforms. Even if we assume that process takes off, I would argue that a “freemium” model might work better. With such a model, ad supported content would continue to be a vital part of any publishing business. Thus, ads need to be better. This has been discussed elsewhere, but I still want to look at how ads these days tend to be unsatisfactory.
The Problems for Users
The biggest complaint from many consumers is that ads disrupt the experience. There are some webpages that are so ad heavy that trying to read the original content becomes a chore. Ads pop-up, start-playing, move around, and eat up bandwidth and processing power, such that sometimes pages crash. On mobile this is especially pronounced. Often times the advertisements themselves are simultaneously intrusive and irrelevant. I could be reading an article about the shifts in political attitudes of academic institutions and be served an advertisement for glowing shoes because a few weeks ago I looked for something similar on Amazon for my Halloween costume. It’s unnerving to know I’m being tracked so closely and annoying that they think everything I search for on an e-commerce site is fair game to market to me.
In summary, ads are:
- Disruptive of the experience
- Visually off-putting [especially on mobile]
The Problem for Publishers and Advertisers
Precisely because of the issues outlined above, a substantial part of the general audience has installed ad-blocking software. This results in massive losses for advertisers. Additionally, there’s ad fraud. Fraud is costing the advertising industry billions of dollars every year. It hasn’t appeared to slow ad spend, but that doesn’t mean the money is well spent. With conversion rates as low as they are, it should indicate that ad delivery is not as effective as it could be. Technology has not helped advertisers hit their target demographics as precisely as many hoped or expected.
In summary, the biggest problems are:
If publishers are building relationships with audiences, they should have a much stronger idea of who is consuming their content than they can determine with a blind algorithm that tracks cookies. Publishers may want to focus on a couple things.
First, ensuring that the ads they are selling are relevant to their audience. For example, it makes sense for a pet publication to build relationships with veterinarians and sell ads concerning pet health. Second, ad placement might make all the difference. We have been trained to view ads as a necessary interruption, television being the classic example. But perhaps this is not the best approach. Undoubtedly, it is important to have ads placed where they will be seen, but I think that can be done without interrupting attention. Good design through cooperation will ultimately bring about the best results. A harmonious transition from content to advertising will likely yield the best returns.