Requiem for a Banner Ad: Content Blockers as a Force for Good

If we want writers to make great work, vloggers to challenge our wit and then inventors to create new places for us to praise and critique them, somehow we need to pay. They need incentive because working for free is exploitative. We pay our politicians to change our countries and the immensely charitable Gates Foundation was born out of the richest businessman in the world. But in an internet-centric world, where the newspaper watches over its grave we forget this because information is free, entertainment is free and charity is easy.

Adverts paying for the web has become so normal that we believe it is the right way to pay creatives and journalists. Pre-roll YouTube ads and expanses of shiny banners over, under and on top of the news are part of our lives. And most people hate them, especially on the mobile web, where such ads can obscure most—if not all—of the content.

Unsurprisingly the publishers are the first to complain when people begin blocking such eyesores. There has been an uproar as iOS 9 brings content blockers to iPhone and iPad users, speeding up load times and making great content shine, but Nilay Patel of The Verge, in an article titled “Welcome to Hell”, claims that blocking ads means the “pace of web innovation will slow to a crawl” and at the bottom line, lead to the “death of the web”. PC Mag—within a shocking mobile web experience smothered in popovers and banners—have a similar sentiment, arguing that “users will eventually wonder why their favorite website died before finding another set of content to plunder.”

I may be no expert in web advertising and owning a monetised website—I have done neither—but I have worked on and read the business plan of a media startup, I have been paid to write on the web, and I spend so much time reading the words of the heavyweights in tech media that I feel I have a solid grasp on these recent debates. I can say with confidence that The Verge and PC Mag are wrong.

Ad blockers will force innovation. The web is here to stay; it isn’t going to die anytime soon. People need it, people live for it, and the job opportunities it has created are so invaluable our governments will not allow it to fade.

When such adverts stop making money we will be forced to imagine new ways of bringing in revenue; we will be respecting content more than ever. Ad networks like The Deck encourage minimal, informative ads and blogs from Daring Fireball to MacStories encourage sponsorship and membership with perks. I respect this, and I doubt I am alone.

The business of Content Marketing implemented by Buzzfeed and Vice to name just two, makes content become the advert. Articles and videos produced with companies pay well and are entertaining and informative. They sit alongside real content, aren’t garish, are effective, and easily avoided by the suspicious.

Crowd funding is threatening YouTube advertising, as viewers are frustrated by 30 minute pre-roll ads they always skip. Patreon encourages small time creatives to make more content by opening themselves to donations. The more someone donates, the more videos they make and the more perks particular fans can receive.

Within Snapchat, sponsored filters fund the company and are fun and engaging. They are not annoying or obstructive of the app’s core functions. Reddit Gold allows users to remove already inconspicuous adverts for a small subscription fee, and gives them perks on the site and discounts from other companies.

The best thing about the above warriors against traditional advertising: they are responsible. They treat writers and artists and users well.

Every criticism or think piece written recently have shared a trait. They ignore the fact that advertising only works if they have engaged readers. Irresponsible, ugly, intrusive adverts that slow their website down will turn away the people they need to pay their wages.

Years ago, pop-ups were the bane of working on the internet. Browsers began clamping down on such invasive ways of grabbing our attention, so much so that they are almost eradicated today. The same can and has to happen to the banner ads of 2015. Be responsible: innovate.

  • Eric

    Except for a 30% cut Apple will let you get around the blockers with iAd. So I see less of revolution ahead than you, and an increase in iAd revenue for Apple.

    • Nathan Liu

      Developers don’t have to use iAds, and Apple don’t, but yes they’re harder to block. I guess we have to put faith in the developers to avoid it.