What’s the Alternative to Lousy Online Ads?

Walt Mossberg summed up the current online ad experience succinctly:

“Last Saturday, as the New England Patriots were sloppily beating the Houston Texans 34–16 in a playoff game, I wanted to look at the highlight video of a play using the NFL app on my iPad. To watch that 14-second clip, I had to suffer through a 30-second ad for something so irrelevant to me that I can’t even recall what it was,” Mossberg writes in The Verge.

“The length and content of that video ad Saturday was, in my view, way out of proportion to the length and value of the clip itself,” he continues. “And that’s just one small example of why the advertising-supported model online is broken, and is threatening the whole online content experience with it.”

Walt, we feel your pain. And clearly, so do a lot of folks in this industry. Take Ev Williams, CEO of Medium, for example. As Mossberg notes in his article, Williams recently announced a radical change to his brand’s business model.

Williams recently wrote “…it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other ‘content’ we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.”

There’s no doubt the online ad model has gone badly awry, and more publishers are realizing they’ve been chasing the wrong model. Native ads and sponsored content – so tempting to so many brands just a couple of years ago that they created entire in-house agencies to support them – are being lumped in with all the rest of the fake news.

Mossberg makes a salient observation. Journalism in the digital age has become “nothing more than a short-term way to find target-rich readers using cookies.”

It’s so bad that even the Interactive Advertising Bureau admits something has to give.

“We lost track of the user experience,” a statement, written by Scott Cunningham, senior VP of technology and ad operations at the IAB, said. “Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty.”

For many news brands (the New York Times for one), the solution is a refocus on subscription revenue. That’s not the answer for all brands, of course, but Mossberg has some other ideas.

“One solution, whether for sites themselves or for Facebook, is for publishers and platforms to enforce tough advertising standards policies, like print newspapers did in the old days,” he writes. “That’s a step which might induce ad agencies to radically pull back on the intrusiveness of ads.”

We’ve said this all along; print ads are not demonized because they are part of the overall experience, non-intrusive and even welcome. If digital advertisers can learn from print and create ads that complement the reader experience, we’d see some radical love coming their way.