If You Use an Ad-Blocker, You’re a Content Thief…Or Are You?

Melissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, thinks you and I are missing out because we use ad-blockers.

According to her, it’s a “mistake” to install ad-blockers because the “experience on the web becomes a lot less rich.” When you install ad-blockers, you’re either receiving untargeted ads or no ads at all. Mayer says she tells her friends and family to remove those browser extensions because “your experience on the web will get worse.”

Digiday points out how ironic this is, given the fact that Yahoo’s own ads were exploited by hackers at one point, causing millions of Yahoo visitors’ computers to be infected.

She does make a point, however. Publishers depend on ads to earn revenue. You block ads, you’re getting something for nothing and publishers don’t make the money they need to keep offering you great information and entertainment.

So Are We Content Thieves?

lock-432450_1920To Mayer and many other businesses, native advertising may be the best bet.

Native advertising, for those who don’t know, refers to ads that are disguised as editorial content in media outlets and publications. A company will write an article that furthers its marketing objectives, then publish it on a media outlet with a tiny little grayed-out caption that says, “Sponsored Content.” The article looks real and feels real, but, as John Oliver points out, it undermines audiences’ trust and the media industry as a whole.

Sponsored Facebook posts and sponsored tweets dance a fine line between native and normal. They don’t want to push it too far, of course, because then users will get angry at the obvious deception. But users also don’t like to be blatantly advertised to, so the social networks need to dial back those obnoxious ads to make them less annoying.

So we’ve got a couple extremes when it comes to advertising.

Advertisers can either scream at you to get your attention, which people absolutely hate, which is why people install ad blockers, which supposedly make our web experience worse. Or ads can camouflage themselves and vanish into the tall grass, like a tiger stalking its prey.

Or…

They Can Go Freemium

times-square-923448You know that app you installed that offers to remove ads or add features for a few bucks?

That’s called the freemium model.

Don’t want to pay for this app, publication, or service that other humans have worked hard to create for you? You get ads.

Don’t want ads? Pay up.

Simple.

In general, people don’t want to dish out cash for anything digital, especially if they haven’t tried it yet. Hence, we have the proliferation of advertising, freemium products, free trials, and so forth.

But why don’t more companies offer us the choice?

Since only a tiny fraction of users ever opt to pay to remove ads, it wouldn’t hurt the advertisers’ income streams very much, if at all. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that people who pay to remove ads aren’t likely to click on them at all. I’m certainly not.

For most companies, however, it’s an either-or proposition. Many services are strictly ad-based and you have zero choice in the mater. Many publications force you to subscribe, then they still serve you with ads. Other publications, such as Consumer Reports, are entirely subscriber-funded.

Now that we live in a digital world, it’s actually possible to offer users the choice.

If I found a service that I really, really liked then I’d want the option to pay to remove ads.

Conclusion

Mayer’s statement was presumptuous and silly. It’s natural that a company whose revenue depends on ads would push for a digital world fueled by and funded by ads…natural but shortsighted.

In fact, she demonstrated that she wasn’t listening to her own customers. If ad blockers caused a decline in Yahoo’s revenue, then it indicated, if anything, that Yahoo wasn’t delivering a good user experience. I, for instance, never use Yahoo precisely because it’s in-your-face and obnoxious. I can only assume their ads worsen that already-poor web experience.

Instead of fighting an endless battle over how best to advertise to people who don’t like ads, why don’t companies offer ad-free versions of those same services?