Why advertising online has gone too far,

and how the pendulum is swinging back

A long long time ago, on an internet far far away, there wasn't much advertising (except for students looking for roomies and so forth). Then the internet went all commercial, AOL got access to UseNet, diehard techies for the first time wanted to KILL. But gradually, things settled down, there were banner ads. The banner ads were, for the most part, honest, if annoying. Then some marketing type said "nobody's clicking our ads, what if we tell them they have a virus?"

The Ugly

Annoyingly stupid ad graphic

The ad above isn't real. If it was, it would look LESS like a real error message. It would also shake around in such a disturbing way you'd have NO chance of reading this page.

We all thought that was bad enough, but then began The Plague Of The Popups® which involved at first, one or two annoying popup ad windows when you moved around certain sites only. The three. then twenty seven with several more popUNDER windows that you can't close by right clicking the taskbar icon because they're kind of busy loading a 1.2 Mb shockwave applet to display an ad for (usually) an online promotions scheme. I realized while scanning this page that I actually have no clue what most popup or popunder advertising is for. I don't use internet explorer often, and I haven't actually let a popup load fully for over four years.

Yet site owners still allow them on their site.. I honestly have no clue why. I guess there *ARE* some people näive enough to believe they are really the xxxxxx'th visitor to a site and they are about to get a gift if they click the ad, but there can't be *that* many of them left. In fact, has ANYONE ever clicked one one of those horrible things actually believing they are going to get a gift? I am all for commercial freedom, after all, it lowers prices for everyone, but you can take these things too far. I don't think anybody realistically wants advertising to disappear, or at least doesn't expect it to. The real trouble comes from advertisers with somewhat loose ethical guidelines (I know, marketing?? ads?? ethical?? same sentence??). But when ads start

  1. Getting invasive
  2. Annoying potential customers
  3. Causing errors in your web browser
  4. Downloading malware without your permission
  5. Being patronizing and implying the website visitor has a low IQ

The Bad

These days, navigating the worldwide web with Internet Explorer is like playing Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded. You WILL pick up a downloader/dialer/trojan/whatever you want to call it. It used to be that you could only get those from browsing either seedy porn sites, or warez and crack sites. Now, several perfectly normal looking websites have started installing "toolbars" and "browser helper objects". Many people blame Microsoft for making a browser full of security holes, but no, there are now a few that will at least *attempt* to infect FireFox (they fail..so far). Microsoft is always at the forefront of security concerns for several reasons. Many people only concentrate on the one, namely "they make products with security holes". So do others. The real reason Microsoft products are targeted are manyfold, their software is ubiquitous, [I don't say popular because ...well it's not], they're well known for releasing things with more holes than a collander, many people love to hate them, it's fun, and so on.

The Ugly Pt.II

"Hey you got off the subject of advertising".... no, not really, many marketing people see the ideas that bad programmers use, and think "we could use that to deliver ads". So they do.

I think that things have gone a little too far to say the least. Not all ads are bad, I am not anti-commercial, but think about it from the advertiser's point of view. Their entire aim in placing ads on high traffic sites is to get exposure for their product and/or service. They want to target their ads at high traffic sites, where they stand a chance of getting decent exposure and a reasonable click-through rate. If the ads become annoying and...

yet another d*** ad

...breaking the continuity of the information on the page, then the click-through rate is going to drop because they are driving the potential customers away from the site. They can and do interfere with a page's content, quite frankly making it look like angry fruit salad.

The Good

There are effective and non invasive ways to advertise online, the masters at this are Google™. Google have come in for some criticism lately over their AdWords system. The criticism is unfair. These words (you must have seen them) appear in the same place banner ads would have. These ads are understated, non intrusive, yet very visible. Usually they are also well targeted, although if you search for viruses and make it clear in the search you are not looking for Anti-virus programs, it still targets ads from anti-virus vendors. This is simply because the system is not human verified, which means the targeted ads in Gmail are nothing to worry about. Many people objected to the concept of Google going through Gmail account holders' email messages. My answer to that: It's not as if a computer hasn't looked at your email before, it merely picks up on keywords and targets some non-distracting ads at you, usually with spooky accuracy, possibly hence the level of paranoia.

Google's AdWords are honest about what they are, they usually display text such as "ads by Gooooooogle" or similar. Google also allow "sponsored links" in their search results, and UNLIKE some other search services, they don't allow the ads to pretend to be normal results.

Another service that has taken it upon themselves to re-introuduce us to responsible, honest advertising is Ebay™. At least on the results of their searches, the "paid" adverts are very prominently displayed and separated from the rest of the results by a horizontal rule thus:

which clearly states, "We don't want you to think we stuffed these results in here sneakily". Good going Ebay, I hope this is the "wave of the future" and that sleazy, lying, annoying, and plain disruptive ads are dying out.

Many thanks to Atom Smasher's Error Message Generator
for the ability to create the graphics for this page.

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