Red is the new black. Part 1

               What’s wrong with this sentence? What does it really mean? Well, for one thing, it means red is red and black is black, only red now has the same function of black. They’re still different, they’re still recognizable, yet one takes over the other’s function, the meaning, the use. Now let’s use this to deconstruct a message bleeping on several places for the last few years – does the use of adblocking software destroy the internet? The VP of Content Services at Mozilla thinks so, or he’d have used a different way to write his article. If you feed it into a logic interpreter, there’s one or two things that really stand out and should be commented, which is what I’m trying to do below.

               It’s an opinion, trying hard to appear impartial but failing at it, it’s an example of how people resist change by blaming something undefined, the model. I think he better not become CEO, if that’s a reflection of his opinions because the minute he does that, Mozilla goes under. Let’s go at it step by step and see where this takes us. He argues that because 43% of users have ad blocking software installed (yes, I have them, several of them actually), “we could be a minute away from deletion of the dominant monetization currency of the web: advertising”. It’s true, we’re close to that, but not for the reasons he shares with us. Let’s start with a simple question: what does the writer want to be true?

               “It feels that now more than ever, there is a tension between advertising and users.”

               So true. There is. Everybody feels it. It’s an arms race between advertisers and consumers, every click the consumer of content doesn’t make leads to the advertiser pushing even more advertising towards the consumer. Everybody hates that, by which I mean every consumer hates it. Advertisers love this. Enter, the dragon – ad blockers, to reverse the pressure. Advertisers hate them, consumers love them. So, more advertising, more innovative ways for websites and advertisers to create more intrusive ads, by making sure that blocking them will corrupt the content the consumer is viewing and thus make sure the consumer has to choose between getting what he/she wanted or blocking them and therefore not getting what he/she wanted. Yes, it’s an arms race.

               “If this happens, we need to figure out a sustainable model for large and small content creators and publishers.”

               Bullshit. No, not the need to find a better model, the incorrect assumption that advertising is what content creators and publishers need in order to survive. Content creators need something else – to satisfy a need, to create something somebody needs and sell it to them. Writers, for instance, are doing something unthinkable just a decade or two ago – they’re self-publishing. My muse, my inspiration I’ve been telling you about a while ago, Marcia, at age 60+, is doing just that. Many are doing that. Content creators require only inspiration and the will to not give up, so … the real need for advertising is not for them, after all. You see, it’s hard to write, it’s hard to make something unique, personal, it’s like a portion of your soul goes into it. But if somebody actually makes it, do you think advertising on Wired magazine will work better than on Amazon? Advertisers take money promising not sales, but clicks. Views. A 5 second peek to determine if something’s really useless to the consumer’s needs brings cold, hard cash into the advertiser’s pocket. Does it bring any value to the maker of content or to the publisher? I doubt it. Here’s the scary thing about it all: consumers want to find what they’re looking for while advertisers don’t want the consumer finding it in 2 clicks. They’re happier the more clicks they squeeze out of the consumer.

               Kids, advertising is one thing, relevance of content is another. You see, I don’t really want to see ads for pens, toys or clothes when I’m shopping for a new printer. I don’t want to see advertisements when I’m reading a news article. I wouldn’t mind advertisements for printers if I’m looking for one, though. Here’s the catch 22 (read that bloody book, it’s brilliant): to sell you have to advertise but to advertise means you have to pay for clicks instead of sales. That’s madness and you know it. Nobody in their right mind would care if advertisements would actually be targeted, like when I’m looking for the advantages of a certain product, I wouldn’t mind if they’d tell me about similar products. It’s all about targeting, it’s all about relevance. Of course, that’s only works in a perfect world. We don’t live in one.

               Google is perfect for this, actually, I ask a question and it delivers the search results, it gives me control over what I want to see and when I want to see it. Youtube also works like a charm, with all those “related” clips. What doesn’t work, and I don’t think anybody would disagree with me, is placing advertisements inside video clips. Or those monstrosities that pop up, covering, hiding the content I’m looking for. That’s intrusive and they know it. For that, I’m using ad blockers. If ad blockers wouldn’t work, I’d stop visiting those pages and that’s the honest truth. I want control over what’s being thrown my way, not having control means frustration, anger, along with other .. less savory things. I don’t want advertisements to pop up and deny me something I need – but websites still keep that practice. Big, flashy pop-ups about cars, smartphones, vacations and other crap like that hide something I might have spent hours to find (yea, search result overload). I won’t click them except to close them and the act of closing them robs me of precious seconds. It’s my time they’re wasting. It’s the money of creators, publishers, stores and manufacturers they’re stealing. You disagree? Then show me just one man who would buy something, anything, from an intrusive ad, when he’s busy searching for chemo side-effects or the precise date D-day started.

               It’s quite true marketing exists to sell things, even things we don’t need. It’s quite true it brings money into the pockets of creators, of stores, of manufacturers. I don’t say otherwise. What I’m actually saying is we’ve got to stop thinking that if there’s no demand we have to create one even if it means tricking the customer. This hurts sales, especially if there’s nobody to teach normal, average people how to defend their pockets. Legitimate online stores get hurt when pirates clone them, when spam-emailing goes all in or when stupid greedy bastards flood every website with irrelevant ads. I need a new computer so I use a search engine to track down one that fits my criteria – technical specifications/warranty, payment methods and delivery. I wouldn’t mind tips on various components or reviews but I would bloody mind if a CNN ad would magically appear to hide my search results or if those search results become corrupted by paid ads that recommend stores from India or China, especially if I’m living in London or Budapest. Relevance is never considered, targeting the need is irrelevant – all it matters to advertisers is to have control over what the consumer sees and by that I mean to control the information and all paths to a buy decision. Really? What if I’m looking for a store in an area of maximum 300 kilometers around my home? Why would I want my search results corrupted by paid advertisers that don’t match my criteria?

               Oh, there’s more, actually. There’s more. You see, they say – and by they I mean advertisers and others – that ad blockers will result in the death of free things. Really? Lycos dying, Altavista dying, Yahoo search dying – all those ment the death of search engines? Human ingenuity is without limits, what we can’t make we’ll fake and what we can’t fake we’ll make, it won’t matter if something is impossible now, we’ll invent something to make it possible tomorrow. Only stupidity is more widespread than this, which is sometimes a blessing in disguise. How many people used Winrar without paying for a full version? How many people used Mozilla Firefox and paid nothing for it? It doesn’t matter if somebody has a great product willing to either sell or give away freely, it matters if the consumer is willing to pay for it. No advertisement will convince me to use Linux over Windows, because the tools I work with don’t have a Linux version. I use Microsoft Office because of Excel and Excel only – nothing free even comes close to it if you’re using it for more than adding 2 cells or making a table. Guess what, I paid for both. I use them at home too. Does that make me an idiot? Most people would say yes – and I couldn’t care less, I’m willing to pay for something that does what I need. I use free things too, but only if they do what I need them to do. The buck stops here, you know, they have the products and I have the choice and the money.

               You think I care about various toolbars being bundled with useful things? You think I want spyware and data miners to install alongside apps like ImgBurn? I don’t. If they start doing that, I’ll stop using them. I want more control, not less. Want a winning strategy? Ninite has one. It’s brilliant, from what I can tell. Adapt. Give free users basic controls and functionality and charge for those wanting more. Microsoft’s new way of marketing Office is exactly that – Universal Apps for free but if you want more features, pay and get Office 365 and the other versions. Somebody far up in their leadership just made the right choice. Dude, this is it, I’m telling you, this is the big one. If marketing would make relevant ads that aren’t intrusive, that target exactly the content of the webpage without compromising the security of the consumer and let the consumer choose, I’ll bet nobody’d care except for the fact that wouldn’t work to feed the advertisers that live on advertisements alone. You want ads? Include them, by all means, in your website – but make them relevant to the content and let the consumer control when they appear. Stop tracking IP-s, stop monitoring cookies, stop making holes in the security of consumers. Advertising should only exist to bring consumers and producers closer together, not to make money for the advertisers. Marketing exists to inform, to create a link between a need and something to satisfy that need. Don’t just blindly follow the herd, don’t think that “if you build it, they will come” because that only works for something truly innovative, this is actually a lesson for those wanting to create need instead of actual products that almost nobody bothered to learn.

               Free software is good, free anything is good – as long as you don’t forget that it only exists to fill a need. By all means, build a better mousetrap. Build a better Google. Just don’t think everybody needs the same thing. Take Excel for instance – the average user uses it for tasks Google Docs or Libra Office could handle in a heartbeat. Hell, for word processing even Notepad could be a contender, for some people. Why would you pay for something then, when you can get the same productivity for free? Then again, why would people assume Google Docs or Libra Office should have the same features as the not-free Microsoft Office? Because it won’t cost them a thing to demand that. It’s like having the best 4×4 vehicle there is, but only use it to go shopping, never using it somewhere it was designed to shine.

               Consumers don’t want to pay for anything, that’s also true, I’ll grant you that. It’s their money. But not wanting to pay doesn’t mean they won’t pay. I don’t want to pay for a pizza, myself. It doesn’t mean I won’t, on occasion. There’s a big difference between what people do at home and what they do at work – if they make money by using your products, you think they’d mind if you made some money? They wouldn’t, especially if what you’re selling is exactly what they need. They won’t pay, however, for something they won’t use – unless they’re not making an informed choice. So why then are we so focused on ad blockers? Will it kill the online economy? Certainly not, I’ve just told you how to make money without relying on advertisers placing your advertisement somewhere no sales will be made. Will it kill the current business model? Probably. Will it hurt content creators or manufacturers? Certainly not, if they’re willing to adapt. Otherwise, they’ll go under, just like Lycos did when Google showed up.

Post Scriptum:

               If you think a great product can survive without adapting, you’re wrong. I’ve kept mentioning Lycos, but I’ve got a good reason to do it. If they had adapted, Google could have been dead in its tracks – this article called “How Lycos almost won the internet wars” is bloody brilliant and a very good lesson to learn. If the customers tell you what they want from you, don’t give them something else and don’t assume they have to do what you tell them to do. It won’t work.

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One thought on “Red is the new black. Part 1

  1. Pingback: Use free or die poor. Part 2. – In Vino Veritas

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