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One more self-destructive act by the media

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In an attempt to increase advertising revenue, media organizations have pretty much declared that they’ll put ads anywhere.

Last year, the New York Times began putting ads on the front page – which raised eyebrows among media purists, but was a non-event when it comes to changing the reader experience one way or the other.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is in-text advertising (click for an example) –  contextual links embedded in news articles online, which unleash a pop-up ad when the cursor simply passes over them. The pop-up appears exactly where you happen to be reading, and it doesn’t go away until you click on the ad or on the little X in the top-right corner.

It’s the online equivalent of a squirting flower on the lapel. Or a kick in the groin.

A number of companies offer this, though Vibrant Media seems to be the market leader at dragging advertisers into this very bad place.

I don’t know why websites or advertisers want anything to do with something that is certain to tick off the very people they’re trying to woo.

In any case, somewhere in the middle of the range between the Times’ front page ads and Vibrant Media’s stick in the eye is a new effort from Hearst and Format Dynamics, to impose ads on printouts of online articles.

This isn’t as disruptive as in-text advertising; it doesn’t literally get in your way of seeing the very words you’re trying to read. But consumers won’t say ‘thank you’ when printing out a one-page article requires burning through an extra two or three pages of color ink just for the ads.

OK, I can hear the publishers’ response: People don’t pay for the content and we have to monetize it somehow.

I get that. But let’s face a few realities:

  1. Advertisers aren’t begging for this capability. It’s been developed by a technology vendor, and is being sold to media companies as a means of bolstering declining ad revenue. This capability is being pushed through the market, not pulled from the advertiser.
  2. It’s still the old-fashioned approach of forcing ads in front of a target audience – an approach that is more part of advertising’s past than its future. (If you disagree, just look at the trend in traditional ad spending vs. the trend in spending on social media/inbound marketing/content marketing).
  3. It’s of dubious value. If readers don’t avail themselves of an advertiser’s information online when it’s the most convenient to respond, why are they going to respond offline – especially after being forced to provide the resources to print the ad in the first place?
  4. If publishers keep pushing instrusive advertising to cover the cost of generating content, they’ll never succeed at getting consumers to pay for the content directly. Who would pay for something that is already underwritten through such a visible and somewhat objectionable method?

Eventually, consumers will come to understand that content costs money.

Smart publishers are building revenue from their readers now. They aren’t trying to figure out ways to nurse a few extra shekels out of a declining line of business at the expense of alienating the readers on which their very futures depend.

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About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

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