December 5, 2014
Banner ads were everywhere 15 years ago. You couldn’t read a zine or surf a Web portal without seeing dozens of banner ads all vying for your attention. While some were static, others were so animated that they hurt the eyes. Then in 2003 banner ads were declared as dead as the dodo bird. Was this due to the fact that they were ineffective as a source of traffic? Or was it more the fact that over time animated ads had become annoying?
Whatever the reason, it appeared the in-your-face online ads phase was over … At least that was how it seemed. Ten years later, banner ads resurfaced with a vengeance.
For the past two years, the number and variety of animated ads, video ads, pop-up ads and other online annoyances has grown like a cancer to infect most every major purveyor of information and news. It’s gotten to the point where it’s sometimes hard to read the story you clicked on due to all the machinations occurring above, below and alongside the copy. Just like the four-minute commercial break that we have all come to loathe on TV, the owners and operators of online portals need to be told that enough is enough.
Make it Stop, Daddy!
According to the experts, including writers for the NY Times who boldly titled a recent article, “Fall of the Banner Ad: The Monster That Swallowed the Web,” you would believe that these ads were some kind of prank that was inadvertently unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. Yet during the same article the writer points out that banner ads were inevitable back in the 1990s.
“There was really no choice,” said Andrew Anker, who in the mid-1990s was the chief technology officer of Wired, charged with finding a way to pay for the print magazine’s entrance online. Mr. Anker knew that subscriptions or other direct payments for Wired’s content would not work; it was too technically difficult to accept credit card payments on the nascent web. So advertising became the only option, and the banner ad was a natural shape to fill early browsers.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/06/technology/personaltech/banner-ads-the-monsters-that-swallowed-the-web.html?_r=0
Unfortunately, once banner ads became accepted on one site, the scourge soon spread to other sites like some kind of adman-induced virus. Over time, some major players such as Yahoo embraced banner ads as one of their main sources of revenue. Lucky us. The NYT article went on to state:“Even entrepreneurs who understood the dangers of banners gave in to them. In its earliest days, ‘The Huffington Post’ built its own innovative set of tools to run its site, but Jonah Peretti, one of its founders, said it turned over much of its ad infrastructure to third-party companies serving banners. Eventually he realized that banners were hampering how users experienced the site, but it was too late. ‘When a site loads slowly, you blame the site, but it’s actually often the banner ad coming from somewhere else online,’ Mr. Peretti said.”
You would think that banner ads would have improved at the same rate as online technology. But this has not proven to be the case. Rather than making banner ads and popups less obtrusive, the past five years have seen them become ever more annoying with the switch from animated to video ads, which all vie for your attention as you try to read a blog or news feed. Some of these ads play without volume, allowing users to pause them where others do not. Some ads cleverly (or should I say annoyingly?) made the “X” that is used to close one ad spawn an entirely different ad. In fact, it’s getting so crowded on many popular sites and portals that it’s nearly impossible to read the information you came there to peruse in the first place. You’d think advertisers and portal owners would realize that the last way to increase customer loyalty would be to annoy customers. But like the admen on Mad Men, apparently ad executives don’t think like the rest of us.
Image provided by thestrategyweb.com
“I’m Mad As Hell!”
Just like the fictional TV news anchor Howard Beale leaned out of the window in the motion picture “Network” to yell these well-known words, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” we Internet users should take heart by giving these avaricious admen their what for. Unlike television where the Tivo started a trend that continues to this day that allows the public to record shows and then fast forward through the ads (maniacally laughing while you do so) being optional, the Internet has an equivalent of the DVR to help you eradicate these online pests.
Google Chrome Users
Google Chrome offers a free app in its store called Adblock Plus that all but eliminates annoying ads when you surf the Web using the world’s most popular web browser. Go to the Google Chrome Web Store at https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/apps and enter AdBlock into the dialog box. This will take you to several free apps that, once installed, will allow you to slay the adman dragon.
The publisher’s description reads as follows:
Adblock for Chrome removes Facebook ads, Flash animations, and ads from all over the Web on Google Chrome browser. Chrome is automatically updated with additions to the filter. It blocks all advertisements on all web pages, even Facebook and YouTube. Your browser is automatically updated with additions to the filter.
Adblock Plus is also available for a number of other popular browsers, including Firefox, and my browser of choice, Comodo Dragon.
Backlash from the Board Room
The owners of a number of portals were actually up in arms when AdBlock was introduced, claiming this kind of software limited their revenues.
According to Wikipedia: “While some websites such as The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph have successfully implemented subscription and membership based paywall systems for revenue,  many websites today rely on third party hosted online advertising to function. In 2007, web developer Danny Carlton described the use of ad blockers as tantamount to theft,  and called for other site owners to block the Firefox web browser from their websites to deter its use. 
“On December 5, 2011, Wladimir Palant announced that certain “acceptable” ads would be whitelisted in upcoming builds of the Adblock software, with the option to remove whitelisted ads via a custom setting in the software. According to Palant, only static advertisements with a maximum of one script will be permitted as “acceptable”, with a preference towards text-only content. The announcement created some controversy both at Adblock’s website and at social media sites like Reddit. “
Even if the powers that be manage to litigate products like Adblock out of existence, there are still other means of reducing the proliferation of online ads. Some browsers come equipped with the ability to control, at least in part, the amount of ads that appear online. Even mobile apps are available that help you winnow the rising tide of unwanted advertisement from your smartphones and tablets. The bottom line is that where there is a need, someone is sure to fill it.
While the legal war rages on, all I can say is that in the back of my mind, I can hear Howard Beale laughing to beat the band.
Carl Weiss has been working the web to win since 1995 and has helped hundreds of companies increase their online results. He is president of W Squared Media and co-host of the weekly radio show Working the Web to Win which airs Tuesdays at 4pm Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.com. Click here to get his latest book "Working The Web to Win: When it comes to online marketing, you can't win, if you don't know how to play the game!".