The ramblings of a giant squid…
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Dear Advertisers… here’s something to think about.

Current Events, Entertainment, Friends-Romans-Countrymen, Rules, Security, Technology

Over at Tech Life Post today, they have a couple of articles regarding Google Ad Sense. If you don’t deliberately block ads, you’ve probably seen it in action and don’t even realize it. Google makes its money, if you didn’t know this, by selling advertising. They use their search engine technology first and foremost to target advertising to web users. So if you use the free GMail service, for example, look at your ads (or turn them on if you have them blocked) and you’ll see that the ads you get often are vaguely related to keywords in the mail you are reading. And you don’t think for a second that the Chrome browser isn’t feeding information regarding your surfing habits, do you?

Personally, I find that a bit creepy, so no important mail of mine goes to GMail. In fact, my GMail address is used for internet subscriptions and such, so it is the primary recipient of the bulk of the spam that I receive. GMail has top-notch spam filters to deal with that (unlike, say, Hotmail). I don’t use Chrome.

But it’s easy to take shots at Google because they’re big. Google isn’t the problem. The problem is advertising in general.

Advertising does serve a purpose in society. Without advertising it would be nearly impossible to sell a product in anything but a very small local market. That’s a simple fact. However, it is my opinion that the original purpose of advertising has been perverted. It’s not just about selling product any more… advertising has become an Orwellian parody of its former self. Advertisers are going out of their way to insinuate themselves into every aspect of your life. We are literally inundated with advertising, and it’s getting worse as technology advances.

Sure, Google kibo-izes* the entire internet to serve up ad content that is, for the most part, generally relevant on web pages. That’s creepy. They want to expand that empire to uniquely track web users and serve up ads based on the interests of that web user no matter where they are. That’s creepy and intrusive.

But it’s more than just Google. Advertisers want to gain access to your cellular phone – not just the number so they can telemarket, but also to your 3G networking package and your SMS package so they can hit you with their begs at their convenience and YOUR expense.

Advertising has made its way into movie theatres. You pay $12-ish for a ticket, and what do you get besides a (usually bad) movie and a bunch of (usually worse) previews? 10 minutes of advertising. DVD and Blu-ray disks are coming with advertising on them as well, often made unskippable.

The percentage of advertising on television has grown markedly. An episode of Star Trek from 1968 is 48 minutes long when you count the credits. That meant 12 minutes of advertising. A modern 1-hour time slot in Canada has only has 45 minutes of actual programming, and that limit is set to be removed on 1 September, 2009 – so expect advertising on Canadian TV to climb to US levels (often over 20 minutes of ads per hour, or more).

We see ads on every flat surface when we’re out in public. Every web site flings ads at us. People even sell their own bodies for advertising. Some places even put ads on barf bags… oddly appropriate I guess.

In fact, we’re so inundated with advertising, that I’m pretty sure it’s having an effect. The effect is that we don’t pay attention to it. It’s like the air – we ignore it unless it’s disgusting, and then we cough and complain and move away. That’s what over-advertising has done. I think advertisers even know this, although they probably won’t admit it. It is the failure of advertising to be highly effective that is causing advertisers to be more inventive in getting more ads in front of people. Unfortunately, this causes people to become more inventive in ignoring the ads, which causes the advertisers to be still more aggressive.

It’s time we, the public, put advertisers in their place. Not only will doing this reduce the amount of advertising we all see, but it makes sense from a personal finance point of view. It costs nothing and only takes a bit of personal discipline: Stop buying shit just because you see it advertised.

That’s right, grow a spine and don’t buy something just because you see it advertised. Did you really need an iPhone – there are lots of better telephones on the market? Is a ShamWow really better than a rag from your husband’s old shirt and did you need one? Are you really cooler because you drink Coor’s Light? Advertisers win every time you cave in and buy something that you didn’t need just because you saw it on TV or the web or wherever. This, incidentally, is exactly what keeps spam email going. Every time a person buys something from a spammer, it effectively generates about 12.5 million more spam emails. Think about that the next time you put in your order for herbal viagra, or christian singles or whatever-the-hell-else they’re flogging today. Restricting your impulse purchases is difficult, but it’s something that all of us could probably stand to do, and not just to stick it to advertisers.

There are other things you can do as well.

  1. Complain every time you buy a DVD or Blu-Ray that comes with advertising. This one REALLY pisses me off. I’ve already dropped $15-$35 for a disk, and STILL it comes with ads. I’ve paid the damn price, do I really need unskippable previews, advertisements and general bollocks? Just give me the menu so I can watch the video I paid for. Paying to see advertisements makes me furious. I complain in writing, and I go out of my way not to buy things I see in this intrusive type of advertising… although I see very little because when I encounter an unskippable ad, I hit mute and leave the room – I know the disk will eventually stop at the menu.
  2. Complain loudly every time you see non-movie-related ads at the theatre. I can understand previews at a theatre, even though I don’t tend to pay attention to them. But Asuna, Coca Cola, and other ads for various products are an insult. I’ve just paid $25 for tickets for me and my wife and another $25 for a chocolate bar, a beverage, and a popcorn… haven’t I earned the right to sit there and not have some slimy salesman crawl over me like some kind of gigantic gastropod? If movies were cheaper, I’d walk out, but when I’m already $25 to $50 downrange, I feel trapped – imprisoned might be a betterword. Advertisers take note: these kinds of ads really do piss people off. Theatre operators take note: Ads at the beginning are part of the reason less people are coming to your theatre. Making people pay top dollar to see advertising means they take their dollars elsewhere (which leads to the previous situation).
  3. Block cookies and advertising when you surf the net. Install a cookie manager, or use a browser like Firefox that allows you a modicum of control over the cookies you accept (IE does to if you dig around in the internet options). And by “a modicum of control over” I mean “to block”. Cookies can be useful. If you’re doing some kind of online exam or survey, or maybe visit a site regularly and set some preferences, you may need or want to have information remembered from one visit or page to the next. Fine – that’s what cookies were originally intended for. Accept the cookie and be happy. But most sites set cookies so they can track what you do and feed that information to advertisers. You should never accept third-party cookies, for example. If you visit XYZ.com, and it tries to set a doubleclick.net cookie, who do you think is using the information? You can bet it’s not XYZ.com. I’ve blocked nearly all cookies for the last 7 years and I have to say, the number of sites I’ve been prevented from viewing is vanishingly small, and those few that did tell me to take a cookie or take a hike didn’t have information that I couldn’t get elsewhere. In that same vein, you can use tools like Ad Block Plus to block advertisements in your web surfing. They won’t even come up. When you do this, you will notice how little content a lot of web sites have. You may be shocked.
  4. Don’t install those stupid toolbars: Yahoo, Google, whatever. Those toolbars are almost always spyware that sends information about your surfing habits to advertisers. You don’t need a Google toolbar: IE and Firefox allow you to set a default search engine anyway, if you’re really too lazy to type www.google.com into the URL bar.
  5. Don’t click through ads. If, off the odd chance, you do see something that interests you in an ad, go directly to their site by typing it into the URL bar. The site you’re coming from will still get a “referrer” link, but won’t have to pay for an ad click-through, AND you won’t be encouraging banner and other ads.
  6. Make sure your government and your telephone providers know you won’t tolerate advertising on your telephone, and certainly won’t PAY to receive telemarketing calls, advertising SMS, and other bollocks. File complaints when you get junk fax (you’re paying for the faxer to give you that advertising). Folks, this one is an issue right now. Jump on it while you still can.
  7. Don’t sign up for free crap. Whether it’s a free Senators jersey for taking a credit card, or a free laptop if you’ll just accept ads all around the outside, anywhere you sign up for something free means you’re handing over your personal information to advertisers to use and abuse. You are contributing to the problem.

Accept that the places you’re going to want to be, and the things you want to do are going to cost money. That money can be paid by advertisers to clutter up your life and waste your time, or it can be paid by you the consumer. You have to decide which you prefer. Me, I’d rather pay for the stuff I like and tell advertisers to hit the road. I don’t want to live in a carnival of hawkers flogging their snake-oil on my toilet paper and barf bags. It’s time to take a stand now before it gets worse.

As an aside, I can put ads on this blog, and I’ve had a number of offers to buy advertising space on this blog over the years – for a blog by a nobody, I have a decent Google page ranking and I (barely) get enough hits to justify it. But I put my money where my mouth is – I don’t put commercial ads here.

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