When I was very small, I didn’t realise adverts were adverts. Most of films I’d watch were films my parents had recorded from TV onto VHS tapes (hello ancient history.) Of course they came with ad breaks baked in, so in my tiny mind I just assumed that the ads were a natural part of the film.
We had a copy of Mary Poppins that had an advert I can still vaguely remember now – it must have been an advert for milk, because it had these animated milk bottles that would hop along a rooftop to a jingly tune. As a small child – I can’t have been much older than 3 or 4 – I always really looked forward to ‘the milk bottle bit’ in Mary Poppins.
I don’t remember when I learnt that adverts are not an inherent part of movies. I must have been pretty astounded. Perhaps my unremembered outrage is what sparked my later-life hatred of ads. Probably not. Probably I hate ads because ads are hateful.
Ads are intrusive. They are usually loud, repetitive, and almost never watched by choice. They wilfully take up chunks of my time that I had set aside to do something else. I hate them.
For a long time I never really ‘got’ adverts. I knew they existed to try and make me buy things. I knew I never bought anything they advertised, so I found them pointless. I didn’t understand, and didn’t attempt to understand, the relationship between the content provider and the advertiser. I just sort of thought ads were a way of capitalism making my life slightly worse.
Which is why when I heard of a way of making internet adverts go away for good, I was all over it. I hated internet ads most of all, because I can remember a time when the internet was relatively new and ad-free, before capitalism really got its teeth in and turned it into the bloated ad-fest it is today.
So I turned my Adblock on and left it on for years, proud of myself for outsmarting those heinous admen who were intent on ruining my internet.
In the following years, however, I began to understand a little more about how advertising, and advertising revenue, works. I started taking marketing jobs, because I have a creative writing degree which these days pretty much means marketing jobs or nothing. For a brief while I made some money writing ads for Google, those horrible punchy little single-sentence boxes that pop up at the top of more or less everything these days.
Now I wasn’t particularly proud of myself for writing the kind of thing I personally hate, and the sooner I can forget what things like PPC and CPC are the better, but it did give me an insight into how internet advertising works, and how people actually make money online.
For a lot of websites advertising is their sole source of income. And it’s not just bloggers looking to make a quick buck – services like YouTube and Twitch wouldn’t exist without advertising. Without advertising, we’d have no video blogs, no Let’s Plays, no independent reviews. Hell, without advertising we’d have very little outlet for creative works at all, because most people can’t keep on creating content for free.
I started to feel bad about using Adblock, because I realised that Adblock is damaging the income of sites I like. Last year, Destructoid posted that on average 40% of their readers are blocking ads using Adblock. That’s almost half the site’s audience, who are using bandwidth and server space that Destructoid have to pay for, but who thanks to Adblock are not contributing anything to the site’s income.
That Destructoid article is sobering stuff, and also gives great insight into how internet advertising actually works. For more great arguments against blanket use of Adblock, here’s Jim Sterling making an appeal against it, and here’s Boogie2988 doing the same.
All the points raised here are completely understandable, and I sympathise with them. However, on the other side of sanity, we have people branding Adblock users as thieves, suggesting that blocking ads is akin to stealing content.
Which is isn’t. At all. I want to be clear where I stand on this; while content providers have every right to use advertising to make money on their websites, no one on the internet is obligated to interact with or even look at those ads. If you choose to distribute your content for free, then be aware that that is what you are doing. By committing to free content delivery, whether supported by ads or not, you are giving all users the right to view your content for free, whether they choose to view your ads or not.
We do not sign a contract when we fire up a browser in which we agree to support sites’ use of advertising. Adblock gives internet users the power to choose whether or not they see ads, and every internet user has the right to use that power.
However. If you browse websites whose content you enjoy, and you would like to continue seeing content from those sites, then I believe that you absolutely should disable Adblock for those sites. It’s easy to do; here are helpful instructions from the people at Adblock themselves.
And if you continue to browse sites you enjoy whilst blocking their ads? Well, that’s entirely your prerogative, and while I’m not going to brand you a thief, you should be aware that you are part of a problem that is seriously hurting independent online publishing.
Personally I recommend a flexible Adblock strategy when browsing the internet. Absolutely do keep your adblocker on – there are certain practices such as auto-playing audio ads and auto-expanding rollovers which I do believe were developed by Satan himself, and I very little sympathy for sites who actively choose to use these reprehensible advertising techniques in their layouts. There are also sites whose ads can actively harm your computer – yes, OK, porn sites, but not only porn sites do this – so I do advocate keeping an ad-blocker or noscript running when generally browsing.
But for sites you visit regularly, please do disable your Adblock. Maybe even click one or two ads. By submitting to some very minor inconvenience, you are supporting the creators of content that you enjoy and ensuring that they can continue to create similar content.
It’s an uneasy compromise, sure. But as much as I’d love to see a thriving internet completely free from ads, I am no longer so naive as to think such a thing is sustainable. And if I have to choose between a wealth of content bookended by minor annoyance or an ad-free wasteland, then I’ll be leaving my Adblock off, and I can only encourage you to do the same.