Why Online Advertising Need Not Die (And Could Just Get Better)

While explaining why, as of February 1st, the Dish won't be taking advertising, I wrote how "distracting and intrusive" online ads can be and "how online ads have created incentives for pageviews over quality content." Mike Masnick pushes back:

[I]t's absolutely true that an awful lot of advertising sucks in exactly the manner described above. But that doesn't mean it needs to be that way. There's a growing recognition in the industry that intrusive and annoying advertising is not the way to go for exactly the reasons that Sullivan explains above. But as we've discussed, when you do advertising right, it's simply good content itself that people want. That's why a month from now, the most popular thing on Superbowl Sunday won't be the football game, but the commercials. There are times that peopleseek out advertising and are happy to see it. And compelling ad/sponsorship campaigns need to be about that. 

Now, it's reasonable to admit that many marketers haven't full grasped this concept, and dragging them, kicking and screaming, into this new era is not something that Sullivan and his team wants to take on. And that's a reasonable argument (and, as someone who's spent way too much time trying to convince marketers of this thing, only to see them default back to silly, pointless, misleading ad metrics, I can completely respect such a decision). But, it seems wrong to slam "all advertising" into a single bucket, just because some (or even a lot of) advertising is done really poorly. 

Agreed. And we have emphatically not ruled out advertizing for ever. It's just that, right now, it's more trouble for a site like ours than it's worth. But if the industry begins to smarten up and find a way to bring creative advertizing that does not impede but enriches the reader experience, we have no philosophical objections to it. Just not yet. In the same vein, Derek Thompson assesses Buzzfeed's business model:

It's probable that the Dish can live a year on subs alone. It's plausible that the Dish can live for two years on subs alone, or three, or 30. But practically everything else — the vast majority of journalism, from the New York Times to the pop culture blogs that specialize in bikini shots — cannot survive on the good will and generosity of their readership, and there is no expectation that they will. Advertising is what makes news and entertainment — first in 19th-century newspapers, then on early 20th-century radio, then on late-20th-century television, and now on early-21st-century Web and mobile — affordable at a mass scale. The news needs successful advertising to breathe.

That's why BuzzFeed's story matters. It's commonly understood that Web advertising stinks, quarantined as it is in miserable banners and squares around article pages. BuzzFeed's approach is different: It designs ads for companies that aim to be as funny and sharable as their other stories. Jonah Peretti, the CEO of BuzzFeed, told the Guardian's Heidi Moore that he attributed nearly all the company's revenues to this sort of "social" advertising. "We work with brands to help them speak the language of the web," Peretti said. "I think there's an opportunity to create a golden age of advertising, like another Mad Men age of advertising, where people are really creative and take it seriously."