The problem: You are reading your favorite blog and there is an ad along the top banner or on a sidebar that seems to conflict with the contents of the blog you are reading, perhaps even disturbingly so. Why does this happen and what can be done about it?
Disclaimer: Certain ad brokers ask that those who use their services not talk about ads on their sites. In other words, if I blog at “Acme.com” and use Mooglyoogly Ad Service, Mooglyoogly does not want me to write in a blog post something like “Hey, click on the ads in my sidebar” or “Don’t click on the ads in my sidebar.” Why do they care? Because they have a plan, with the ads, and they don’t want external forces affecting that plan. They even have other rules like how many ads you can put on a page all at once. For some reason, some ad brokers don’t want you to have too many ads at once.
So, my disclaimer: In this post, I am not talking about the ads on this site. Just in case. I’ve never been asked to not do so, but if anyone is checking, it is a robot with whom it will be difficult to reason. I don’t like messing with the robots. I’m talking about ads on another site. I’ll let you guess what that site is. Don’t tell the robots.
Anyway, here’s the problem: You have a blog you like to read, like mine for instance, and you come to understand the writer of the blog has certain interests, certain proclivities, and certain political orientations or beliefs. Then, one day you are looking at that person’s site and you see an ad that makes no sense to you. For example, you are reading my site and you see a Michele Bachmann ad. I’ve written quite a bit about Michele Bachmann, and none of it is complementary, and if you are a regular reader of my site, you probably don’t like her much either. So, when you see a “Vote for Michele Bachmann” ad on my site, you may be confused, hopefully amused, and quite possibly annoyed. It seems like Michele Bachmann is sponsoring my blog, and it might even feel a little like I am somehow sponsoring her. After all, I’m “letting” an ad for her campaign be on my blog.
There is actually a guy out there on the Internet who has made the assumption that this link is two way and purposeful. When he sees an ad on a blog where what that ad is about and what the blog (or an individual blog post) is about are very much out of sync. Like a Heartland Institute or Michele Bachmann or Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian Creation Society ad on my blog. When he sees these associations, he takes a screen capture and posts it in a blog post, and then writes something that insinuates that there is some sort of conspiracy going on. Then he yells “Get off my lawn!!!”
Here’s the thing: Very few ads on any site are direct sponsorships. Most ads are brokered by a company that sells ad usage to various companies or institutions, political candidates, or any other buyer, and then uses various half-baked technologies to put those ads on blogs or other web sites. This sucks, because it does mean that certain things can’t happen. A political candidate can’t easily avoid having his or her ads placed on sites where the candidates are routinely ridiculed or criticized. The producers of perfectly good products are having their ads distributed around the Internet in a rather r-Strategic pattern, which is wasteful (fortunately they don’t really pay for this). Ad brokers and blogs or web sites that are, essentially, selling ad space are wasting the space by poorly matching ad to site to reader. And, if you get mad at some blogger (and that happens) you can’t really call up a sponsor and tell them to stop advertising on that blogger’s site.
But, pragmatically, there really isn’t a good way to address these problems.
Think of it this way. You build a multi floor public building with escalators and elevators and stairways and hallways, and line the hallways with retail outlets. People park in a nearby lot and go into the building and shop. Let’s call the building a “Mall.” The cost of running the mall is borne by fees charged to all of the retailers, so if people show up and do things that don’t involve buying stuff, and that cost you a lot of cleanup or other costs, you get annoyed and disallow them. But, on closer inspection you discover that the people who are going up and down on the escalator and elevator, which costs you money in electricity, often don’t buy things. Often, they are just walking around in the Mall for no apparent reason. Other times they are confused and they go upstairs looking for something that is actually downstairs.
You can fix this. You can interview each person on their way into the mall and estimate the likelihood that they are actually going to purchase something. You can check with people before they get on the escalator or elevator to see if they actually know where they are going, and thus minimize improper use of these people-transport devices, and get people where they really want to be more efficiently. Everyone–visitors to your Mall, the retailers, and you–would all be happier.
But you don’t do any of these things because the total cost of making it all make sense is prohibitive. It is probably one or two or even three orders of magnitude more expensive than just paying the extra electricity cost for moving people around, and paying the maintenance costs on all those doors people are passing trough needlessly, and all those floors they are walking around on, slowing wearing down and they tread upon them.
That’s what these ads are. They are numerous, any one instance of ad impression is extraordinarily cheap, the payback from a given ad being clicked on is very very low. Efforts to match ads to sites are always underway, but they are usually pretty imprecise and also slow to cause change or fine tuning because it really isn’t worth spending any more on it.
But there are some things you can do about this.
I won’t mention ad blockers because I want you to see the ads so that you occasionally see something you like and follow it somewhere. I don’t make much money on this blogging gig, but that is how I make the little I do make.
You can laugh at absurd ads. When you see a Michele Bachmann ad on my site, you can find that funny instead of annoying. In fact, that principle–finding things funny instead of annoying–can be applied generally to life. Just avoid over-applying it or people will think you are a driveling idiot. Fine tuning is important.
You can complain to the blogger about the ad and the blogger can send the complaint upstream to the network manager who can send it on to the person who checks on these things who will send it to the ad broker who will send it to the Mooglyoogly complaint department manager, Helen Waite. In other words, if you’ve got a problem with an ad, you can go to Helen Waite.
You can counter act the ad with directed and effective action that is roughly balanced in terms of energy and effort. For instance, if you see an ad favoring your state’s Right Wing Anti-Gay No-Same-Sex Marriage Law, you can do something to counter the sentiment behind that ad. You could go to testify before your state legislature in the matter, or go on a month long starvation diet, but that would be out of proportion. Instead, you could just go sign one of those online petitions against the thing you don’t like. Or even better, find a blog post on the site where you saw the annoying ad that addresses a related issue, and put a link there in a comment to one off those online petitions, or to some other web site that supports your preferred view. That will totally counteract the annoying ad!
You can ask the blogger to not have ads at all, but to blog for free. Before you do that, though, you need to find something in your life that you do which costs other people money, then start doing that for free. Then, you can ask. Otherwise, don’t ask.
The Robots that are supposed to match ads to content suck. Maybe they work better on some sites and not as well on other sites. But, I think they mostly suck and it is quite possible that they are so bad at what they do that random ad placement is better. Or, maybe we are just gearing up for the day when the ad placing services are the same as, say, search services or email services or other document managing services, so that they can figure out all the things they need to know about the user of sites (not the site itself) and thus match ads to your preferences.
If and when that day comes, be careful what you complain about. “I can’t believe I’m always seeing ads for vinyl body suits and inflatable sex dolls. Why is that!!?!”
Of course, that day will never come. Right?
And now, in closing, a friend of mine who knew I was writing this post sent me this YouTube video, and it is strangely matched to the contents of this blog post: