The Ads we love to hate

Advertising is everywhere, and there can be very few people who don't love to hate them! But do these irritating modules serve a purpose? Should we block them or just learn to live with them?

I hate advertising, it's everywhere and is often aimed at manipulating your subconscious, but I can't convince myself that we'd be better off if advertising just went away.


Do Ads serve a purpose?

We need to consider where we usually see adverts, especially when considering computer based advertising. No good designer actually wants to taint their work with these units, so why are they there and what are we, the user, getting in return?

The simple truth is, these annoying adverts often subsidise the products we want and consume. Whether it be a free app from your phone's App Store, or a website, those ads are often there to help pay for the developers costs. Bandwidth costs money, and developing a game such as Angry Birds doesn't come cheap either!


Is there an Alternative?

Those heavily opposed to advertising often claim that most users would be willing to pay a small fee instead of being served ads, but in reality this just isn't practical. As an example, you're searching for some information online and discover two sites which appear to hold the information you require. The first charges £1.50 whilst the second is free but ad-supported. Which do you visit?

The Internet works so well because of the lack of so-called Paywalls, although these walls are slowly being erected on some sites (i.e. Murdoch's empire). Could it really work so well if (almost) every site sat behind a paywall? I can't say for certain, but I'd be surprised if it did!


Opponents to Advertising

I don't want to slip into a character assassination, not least because I agree with a lot of the points raised regarding advertising, but something often strikes me when reading anti-advertising comments.In the UK, everyone with a TV has to pay a yearly license fee, and unsurprisingly this is opposed by a fair few people. When looking at the comment history of some of those who oppose the fee, I often find anti-advertising posts as well.

To me, this is something of a paradox. The license fee means that we have a broadcaster who's not permitted to show commercial advertisements, and yet this is opposed by some of the same who oppose advertising. Some of the criticism is justified thanks to the BBC's current penchant for wasting everyones time with shows such as "So you think you can dance", but the ability to watch a film without advert breaks is something I value.

To get back on track, I can't help wonder how many of those who oppose all advertising (and it won't be all) feel that they are entitled to everything for free. Software development, website contribution and tutorial writing requires an investment of time (and often money) and it's right that the author should be able to recoup on that investment to some extent.


Should we block advertising?

There are a number of solutions available to remove advertising from our various screens - AdBlock Plus for Firefox being just one example. I must confess to using ABP for Firefox, but have decided against blocking advertising on my mobile or any other device. I especially refuse to block the adverts that appear in software that I obtained for free.


Where Advertising has gone Wrong

So far, I've talked quite positively about advertising, but it's far from peachy! The ads I have little issue with are the basic text advertisements (such as those that appear on this site), unfortunately some advertisers chose to use large images and Flash banners for advertising. These distract the user from the important areas (i.e. the content) and are, I believe, largely responsible for the anti-advertising surge that is slowly growing. It is these advertisements which have prompted me to install ABP on Firefox.



The other area where advertisers have failed massively is that of user privacy. Recent years have seen a huge surge in Behavioural advertising, where the advertiser tracks a users browsing habits in order to serve "more relevant" advertisements. I believe it was Phorm's CEO - Kent Ertugrul - who claimed that because the ads were more relevant, they should be less annoying. This ridiculous statement appears to be based on the belief that users should be willing to trade their privacy for being irritated less. Is it any wonder Phorm got driven out of the UK market?

Unfortunately, advertisers continue to track our habits, and the situation shows no signs of improving.


What Advertisers need to do

I believe that advertising does (unfortunately) have its place, but advertisers need to start behaving and observing some basic rules;


  • Users shouldn't need to trade privacy for 'more relevant' ads. If you cannot make an advert relevant to the page it is served on, then adverts simply shouldn't be served from that page in the first place!

  • Adverts should be unobtrusive (love them or hate them, Google have always been quite good in this respect). Users are only interested in the content, if you distract them from that then of course they will become annoyed by ads.

  • Adverts should be honest. Those that buy ads shouldn't set up unrelated keywords on the hope of scoring some keywords, if you want to sell me a car don't set motorcycle as a trigger!

Perhaps once these rules are observed, a world might exist where publishers are able to give ad-supported content/software away for free, and users won't feel so inclined to block them! Until then, I fear we may see more sites retreating behind paywalls as advertising revenues continue to shrink (which to be fair is also because we all have less disposable income).