Rationality, advertising and profit


Consider a shop that puts a basket full of products, cookies say, complete with a sign that says "FREE". You might expect customers to take quite a few - they might even go like hot cakes....




Now what would you think if a "customer" came into the store shouting abuse and pointing out that the packet had an ad on it for another brand of cookies. Throwing the packet at you he/she leaves the shop in disgust asking that you never offer them a free cookie again - even though the returned packet is probably empty. 

Sounds unreasonable but this is what happens every few moments on the web. Most website don't charge for their content and instead attempt to make some money by running advertising or some sort of affiliate schemes - this is unlikely to amount to a profit but at least it helps with overheads. All such advertising is usually met by the general level of hostility that people should really reserve for something really, really, really bad.

This attitude is wrong but publishers have to work with it.

Imagine how surprised I was to be offered, by Slashdot, the opportunity to disable advertising because I had accumulated enough karma to warrant a reward. My reward was to turn off advertising... and in the process cut the revenue one of my favorite sites recieved.




The wording makes it clear that Slashdot expects me to be alienated by its advertising - but given that I am aware of both sides of the coin I was intrigued by this attitude.

What does it cost me to see a few ads?

I might even be alerted to something useful - even though that is a rare occurrence. Let's hope that there aren't too many users in need of reward who do switch off advertising and so punish a site that gives them so much for no charge at all.

I, of course, left the ads on and I even click on them now and again if I am interested in what they are offering. Where is the harm in seeing a few ads and if it helps a site I like and use so much the better. But it seems I'm in a minority.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but free cookies even if the packet does have advertising seems pretty close to the idea. Yet users go to great lengths to rip the ads off the package and just take the goodies. Adblock addons to browsers are popular and again the end user's response to anything that attempts to foil their use is hostile to say the least.Yet this is just more of the same attitude. By turning off the ads you punish the site for providing you with content.


Part of the reason might be that users have the wrong idea about the other side of the fence. There are too many stories about rich millionaires who have made it rich by simply putting up some website or other and then sitting back and taking the money. Users are under the impression that web advertising pays publishers a huge sum - which if it wasn't so sad would be laughable.

There is also the idea that any website that has advertising is some how in cahoots with big bad commerce and ready to give away the browsing habits and personal details of its visitors. However in most cases this is not the case simply because it isn't worth it. The big social websites may be able to make big money by data mining their client bases, but most web sites simply don't have the volume to make it worth implementing.

OK - it is true that there are rogues who do all of the above. There are sites that provide content that reduces down to virtually nothing but advertising. There are sites who will give you the run around, try to get your details and install keyloggers and other malware. Is this the reason most users are so hostile? It might be, but even if it is it still doesn't explain the irrational response to a site that is providing good content plus a few adverts.

The big question is how to re-educate users so that they see that they are getting a good deal?

How about this for an idea?

Put a button on your website which simply says - switch off adverts. If the user clicks on it - all adverts are gone for the duration of their visit and if they will accept a cookie (the programming kind) then they can be gone for repeat visits too.

Sounds like site suicide but here is the twist. When they click the button you provide a message that says that by turning off the ads they are punishing the site and the people who have worked to create it.

The sad thing is that this approach might just re-educate the user but who is going to try it out? After all any user with an ad-blocker installed has no incentive to click the button and hence no incentive to change their attitude. Any user without an ad-blocker would see the ads anyway and the few users who did opt to turn ads off would simply decrease the sites revenue. Hence any site that tries the idea out would simply be paying to educate the user to the benefit of other sites... ah it is an evolutionary world indeed.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 16 May 2013 )