Ever more intrusive advertising

In the world of online advertising, a “new” phenomenon has recently started to rear its ugly head. Generally, for larger sites to keep themselves in business, some space needs to be set aside in the site to put little adverts up. Then the nice companies give the nice people a certain amount of nice money, and everyone is happy.

Well, except the users who have to trawl through advertising to read content.

It would be nice to have a world where no advertising was needed, where websites could just publish their content and we could read it, and no advertising would be needed. That would be nice. Very nice. However, the world doesn’t work like that, and I reckon most of us can accept that advertising is a necessary evil online.

However, as such advertising gets more widespread, people get more used to it and are thus less likely to click on it. So then more advertising is needed to generate revenue, and so the vicious circle continues. This has caused ever more intrusive techniques to be used, from pop-up adverts to inter-paragraph adverts to interstitials (pages that display an advert instead of the page you actually wanted) and more recently those annoying Flash adverts which pop up in front of the page you’re reading, and you have to search around for the elusive “close this” button which will let you get rid of it.

Unfortunately, the newest technique, known as IntelliTXT is even more insidious and annoying. For the detailed story, I’d encourage readers to study this Wired.com article (although you may want to be cautious of the fact that loading that page apparently causes Firefox to consume about 60% of one’s CPU resources – this seems to be caused, ironically enough, by a Flash advert). The basic story is that, instead of keeping the adverts clearly separate from the actual content, particular words (such as “developer”, “worm” or “sound card”) are converted into links which look just like “real” links, except they cause a little box to pop up linking to a sponsored site.

This technique claims to be 24 times more effective than other advertising methods, and I can tell you why in a second – it’s because it essentially revolves around tricking the user into thinking an advert is actually a legitimate link to something which might actually be of interest. While I do appreciate that websites need to make money to keep going, this seems to be taking it a little too far, such that it is pretty much deceiving people to do so.

Addendum: you may or may not remember that Microsoft tried to implement something a little similar into Internet Explorer 6, although that was on the side of the client rather than the server. That got dropped like a hot brick after people started screaming – hopefully IntelliTXT will go the same way.

7 Responses to “Ever more intrusive advertising”

    •  Gravatar for Ben
    • From Ben
    • Thursday 19 August 2004 at 22:11

    Hmmm, did MS try to implement Smart Tags in IE? I know it was rumoured but I can’t believe they’d implement and then leave it out, even if they were just to add an option to make it used only by businesses.

    Smart Tags in business are pretty useful (you know, the pink underlines in Word that make a bad job of recognising names and addresses). Imagine if you could set your browser to enable specific Smart Tags (as you can in Office) and write one to recognise names and match them against your corperate directory? You could have access to contact details instantly.

    That, I think, was the ‘dream’ when they designed Smart Tags.

    •  Gravatar for Jonty
    • From Jonty
    • Thursday 19 August 2004 at 22:18

    <meta content="true" name="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" />

    This line of code features on all my pages, and disables SmartTags whilst not breaking any standards compliance. I think SmartTags is one of those ‘good idea, bad idea’ concepts, but I have to say I’m personally not a fan, despite its potential usefulness for research and education.

    As for adverts, my personal pet hates include:

    • The aforementioned Flash adverts, with often deceptive close buttons.
    • The ‘link’ adverts which highlight certain terms in a page and display adverts onmouseover.
    • The, again previously mentioned, full-page adverts which block content (at least Gamespy’s seem to disappear instantly rather than having to click through to the desired page, but still, very annoying) (OT – have you noticed Firefox bypasses this type of advert on Blue’s News’, unlike IE?).

    I suppose in many ways advertising revenue was/is used to encourage major players to produce online content and keep it, if not profitable, hopefully not a loss-making project.

    Now having an Internet presence is seen more as a must for many major firms, and advertising effectiveness is dwindling, a diversification seems to have occured whereby other methods are trialed (be it ‘innovative’ adverts or subscription services). However, none of these seem to be particularly effective (Google’s cache service and Bug Me Not undermining the latter in some instances, utilities like AdBlock helping with the former).

    If I had to choose any one method of advertising, Google’s service may well be it. At least the text adverts are generally: relevant, non-obtrusive, and do not employ resource hogging scripting. That said, given the adverse reaction to Google’s GMail advertising, the implications to the wider service may not be too rosy.

    •  Gravatar for Ben
    • From Ben
    • Thursday 19 August 2004 at 22:52

    I agree, Google’s adverts are the most favourable, and their ability to be relevent is also a huge plus.

    •  Gravatar for Fatty
    • From Fatty
    • Friday 20 August 2004 at 10:00

    Even if they do occasionally attempt to offer one bull semen…

  1. Interesting. I’ve been trying out a non-intrusive ad on my own blog, well at least I hope it’s non-intrusive.

    •  Gravatar for Jonty
    • From Jonty
    • Sunday 22 August 2004 at 11:18

    One thing which is rather annoying are pop-up adverts which are employed on sites where pop-ups are utilised (e.g. the Radio Times listings page utilises Javascript pop-ups to display detailed programme info, but also features an annoying ‘onload’ pop-up advert. Whilst AdBlock et al. may be able to handle this, standard pop-up blocking cannot).

    •  Gravatar for Ben
    • From Ben
    • Sunday 22 August 2004 at 13:48

    Strange Jonty. Can you link to the actual Radio Times page in question? The FX pop-up blocker (and the new IE one, too) are both set to disallowed “automatic” pop-ups, while allowing user initiated ones (which I believe is now limited soley to “onclick”. “onmouseover” was allowed for a while, but later disallowed as well iirc).

    The only way to ‘beat’ the popup blockers is to have onclick events attached to regular <a /> tags. Blocking those is neigh on impossible, without blocking all valid js-popups too.