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Attack of the Unbearable Ad

Luca Scagliarini - 9 October 2013

It’s something I think we have all experienced: We visit the website of our newspaper of choice, but before we even have a chance to scan the headlines, we are bombarded with the worst of online offenses: the popup ad.

Here, we are the victim of a very coordinated attack that manifests itself in several forms—the explosion of popup windows, loud videos or other creative attempts to get our attention for products or services that we don’t care about.

Believe it or not, this is getting worse over time. If you happen to access a site from abroad you can have the unpleasant experience of “being” one the site’s “remnant” impressions, sold at wholesale prices on infamous real-time bidding platforms. This is where you see ads for what are surely green card scams and pills for reducing belly fat (an image I still can’t forget!), among other irrelevant things.

It’s hard to understand why publishers, after having invested time and money to select the best graphics for the home page, the highest performing CMS and a solid architecture to ensure the fastest page loading, are so willing to compromise user experience with aggressive tactics, or off-target and offensive ads.

After having accepted a de facto standard of providing free access to content, I understand that publishers need to find other ways to support their expensive operations. However, I question whether the incremental revenue from adding one more ad is really worth degrading the user experience.

I think that things could be done differently. The selection of ads to be published should be considered against their impact on the user experience. This includes, but is not limited to, avoiding delivering messages that are in contrast with page content.

In a nutshell, I think that publishers should consider advertising part of the product they deliver and not an afterthought. They may even discover, (pure speculation on my side), that brands would be more willing to pay a premium to be part of a high quality user experience. And what if the overall economics of considering ads as part of the product could turn out to be a positive for the publisher?

In some ways, this reminds me of what has happened in other sectors where the incumbents underestimated the importance of the user experience. The first example that comes to mind is Apple, which completely revolutionized the concept of electronic devices by investing not only in the interface, but on product design (not to mention the box itself) in order to maximize and diversify the user experience.

I’m sure that sooner or later, someone will think about this, maybe pushed by a further decline of online advertising prices. When this happens, the publisher will have found a new reader: Me.


Author: Luca Scagliarini