The Advertising Goose

I used to sell online advertising, mostly whilst clothed. Such was the life of lean startup dot commers back in 2000. Yes, I worked from home. No, it wasn't a bedroom. Not strictly speaking.

It wasn’t something I enjoyed doing particularly but was the main income stream for my former site

I was fortunate in that I had a very focused website full of car content. I wrote a good deal of the content and it was fun, focused, irreverent — and on occasion — popular.

I introduced classified advertising — not as an income stream initially, but as ‘free’ content that would further entertain the readers. We had forums too. Not everyone engaged with every part of the site but those foundations formed a stable platform that people came back to in increasing numbers for their daily fix.

Focus my man, focus

Every aspect of the site was focused on cars. I tried all sorts of things over the years in terms of editorial, widgets and technical bells and whistles to maintain its position as a ‘go to’ destination for petrolheads.

A core component of that entertainment was the advertising. Yes, it was the means by which I paid for servers, services and my grub and grundies but it was part of the experience.

Reading about Porsches and seeing adverts around the content for someone selling shiny bits for you 911 wasn’t rocket science. In fact it was MS Access and Javascript.

Ye Olde Popup

Back in the day, the big threat to user experience was ‘popups’ - new windows with an advert in it that interrupted your browsing experience in a very annoying manner.

You probably wouldn’t dare serve one now unless you run a porn site, but they were pretty popular back in the dark days. I resisted but for one ad campaign for a Vauxhall VX220. It was my first big break into the world of ad agencies and big dosh rather than the hundred or so small companies that I dealt with directly.

It certainly created a lot of debate and some animosity but I consoled myself - with the pieces of silver - and justified to myself that the relevance justified it the intrusion. Everyone has their price…

Ads, what ads?

Fast forward ten years and the industry as a whole has succumbed too. It’s been a slippery slope and I was at the thin end of that wedge. It’s now incredibly lucrative to display all sorts of irrelevant nonsense on a page. Thanks to ‘smart’ targeting and behavioural tracking (yes, spying) the advertisers know that there’s a good chance the user will click on it.

Been shopping for lawn mowers? Expect lawn mowers to pop up next time you read your favourite cycling site or basketweaving blog.

“You might like this” — the box says as it displays pretty girls in stock photos with clickbait headlines about unbelievable this or that. Yes, we’re intrigued, we click but it doesn’t mean we like that content.

Please sell me something I don't need!

The industry has lost site of the fact that well placed advertising is entertaining and relevant — when in context.

Algorithmic advertising engines with live bidding systems might be the cutting edge in damn clever computing, but when I read a tech site, I want to see ads for gizmos that I didn't realise I needed!. When I read a car site, I want to see chrome, rubber and Alcantara ads.

Ad blockers have now killed the golden goose. I use one and I’m sad that I’ve resorted to it, but I don’t like being followed round the internet with adverts for Nerf guns and Tiffany ear rings because my family have been on the iPad.

Sorry industry but you’ve brought this crisis on yourselves. Subscription systems and requests to turn off ad blockers aren’t the answer. Relevant, entertaining advertising delivered in moderation is. It really is that simple.