In these bad economic times, it might be heresy to attack marketing, but advertising is starting to crush my innate cheery disposition. The web is being choked with ads, reducing the signal-to-noise ratio so low that many sites and searches are worthless. Google, the darling of weberati, whose motto is “don’t be evil,” has become corrupted by advertising revenue. Slashdot.org should stop making Borg allusions about Microsoft, and start making them about Google. Too often a search on Google leads to page after page of links to sites wanting to sell me something directly, or links that take me to honey-pot pages, with tiny bits of info nestled in large screen acreage of ads. For the most part, I’ve replaced the World Wide Web with Wikipedia when I’m searching for knowledge.
I stopped listening to the radio decades ago because of advertising and annoying disc jockeys. I can only watch TV because of PBS, HBO and DVRs. I know people who have stopped watching television altogether because of the advertisements. I’m quickly approaching the decision to stop going to movies because of advertisements. The only place I don’t mind advertising is the Sunday newspaper, but I feel guilty about all that wasted paper. Shouldn’t there be a better way?
There are sites on the web that will reward or pay you for looking at ads. What we need are systems to bring ads to us when we need and want them. There are times when I’m shopping that I would be open to sales pitches, and I wouldn’t even mind an AI shopping companion. Marketing really should be on the basis of don’t call me, I’ll call you.
Are ads really effective? Sure, sometimes. Those “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” TV mini-dramas from Apple are effective at making me hate them for selling misinformation and promoting style. I’ve never bought a Mac. Microsoft is miserable at creating ads, and I always buy their products? Neither decision has anything to do with advertising. When I want to buy something, I research it, and then look for the most convenient place to shop with the lowest prices. And how often do you see ads on TV selling on the basis of price? I suppose if Apple ran ads that said, “Buy the latest Mac Book with the hi-tech aluminum cases for $899,” I might rush out and buy one. Instead they sell comedy on TV, without mentioning the details of their products, or the price of the one I want. Me to Apple, if you want “me” to be a Mac, then sell that $1299 Mac Book for $899, and I’ll come visit your store.
My point is I’ll buy something I’ve studied if the price is right. The rest of the time I’m just avoiding ads like I avoid mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, germs and viruses. Of course, the real test of reality is whether or not the various forms of mass communication could exist without advertising.
If there were no advertising, how many television channels would we have? How many TV shows would exist? How many college sports programs would exist? How many professional sports teams would exist? Can you imagine racing cars without their advertising paint jobs? HBO and PBS exist without advertising and have outstanding programs.
I’m not alone in my aversion to advertising. It’s obvious some big economic bubbles have burst this year, and I’m wondering if the advertising bubble will not burst soon too? As we move into a world-wide recession we’re going to see a lot of companies cut their advertising budgets. Unless there is real proof that ads bring in dollars, companies will start seeing how naked their marketing programs really are, and close them down. Recession has a way of cutting out the fat, and mean vicious recessions, like I’m guessing we’re moving into, trims away every gram of grease.
I would like to see more marketing along the HBO model. I’d rather pay $5 or $10 a month per channel for a handful of quality channels, and abandon all the rest. I’d rather pay a subscription fee to an online digital magazine if they could provide me the content without the advertising. Theater owners and movie distributors need to cut the ads before people give up on going to the movies. And that’s for three reasons. One I hate seeing the ads. Two I hate people trying to find seats at the last moment trying to avoid the ads. And three, I hate that they waste my Saturday afternoon time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are occasions when I want ads. I’ve been meaning to buy some new shirts, and have wished I could get some stylish ones that fit better. My wife complains about the constant boring shirts I wear now. I wouldn’t mind going to a web site and telling it I’m in the mood to buy shirts and then see some healthy competition to market me new styles, especially if I had more choice in sizing and material.
I don’t know what to do about the web. I can’t believe that all those web pages with Google ads really make enough money to pay their bills. I was just researching on optical astronomical interferometers and I couldn’t believe the “Ads by Google” signs I was seeing on pages with links to scientific papers. The reality is we have too many web sites trying to direct us to too few places with real content by paying for their useless help with web ads. Go away. Please, turn of your servers, and go away. If you try to make money on the web by solely linking to other sites, you are worthless. Google and other top level search engines can do all that work.
Comment to Microsoft, if you want to beat Google, offer a search engine that is based on subscription income and only provides links to 100% content. I can’t guarantee it will work, but if you offered such a service for $19.95 a year, and you filtered out all commercial web pages, you might have an alternative to Google. If I’m sick enough of Google’s commercial results and willing to pay, there might be others like me.
This recession is going to shake up how we earn money and how we spend money. Inflationary bubbles will be bursting everywhere. I think the advertising world will be one big bubble that’s going to pop big time. In all the various mass market venues, we’re going to see disappearing players, fewer networks on TV, fewer magazines and newspapers, and fewer web sites. I’m an ordinary guy, so if I’m reaching the tipping point of running away from advertising, I imagine there are lots of other ordinary folk feeling the same way.
JWH – 10-25-08