Advertising and apocalypse

The great Doc Searls has rightly called the growing use of ad blockers “the biggest boycott in human history.” However, the Spanish division of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), classifies them as “robbery: simple and plain”, and this is perhaps the clearest example of the mentality that is at the root of this problem.

According to the IAB, all internet users are obliged, by entering a website, to accept the terms of a draconian contract in which they must pay for content, which means submitting to any type of torture decided by the owner of said page. If we do not agree to submit to such tortures, we’re, “stealing”, which makes us “thieves.” It’s the same absurd mentality that condemned the record companies to several years of crisis: us against the users. The user is responsible for all evil and responsible even for “the disappearance of the internet.” There will be no free content on the internet, and just to make sure, we’ll have lots of laws.

Dear IAB: I’ve been using ad blockers for a long time. Not only that, but I tell my students and anybody else I meet to do so as well. Ad blockers are the only way to prevent a shortsighted industry from ruining the internet by making it unsustainable. It’s the same old story: industries discover a new medium, and the tragedy of the commons does the rest. They start to exploit it as if there were no tomorrow and end up destroying it. The advertising industry has done the same with every medium, and it has been necessary to create rules for all of them: there was a time when door-to-door selling was seen as normal. Today, if a salesperson knocks on our door we do not open under any circumstances: he or she could be anything from a psychopath to a professional con artist. The same with the phone: today, if a caller starts by asking our name and surname, we hang up immediately: aside from wasting our time, we’ll likely end up buying something we don’t need or want. The same thing has happened with e-mail: more than twenty years ago, e-mail was a useful tool for communicating with other people; now it’s filled with spam. The internet? The same: the advertising industry applies the same mindset: we are going to exploit a resource until it becomes completely unsustainable, and if someone tries to go around us, we’ll call it’s stealing. The pattern is so utterly repetitive, you’d have to be from another planet to not see it. But on they continue, protesting and insulting anyone who dares to think differently.

Because of the IAB, some advertisers and many advertising agencies, I use a VPN, an ad blocker and anti-tracking software. Compared to when I started using the internet, today it feels like a war zone, and the main responsibility for that is the advertising industry and its mentality that we have no rights and must accept whatever is shoved in front of us: “I worked hard to create this content, so you have to accept my terms if you want to read it.” Possibly the stupidest mentality in the world after: “I do not provide my product in a logical and reasonable way, but if you want to get them on your own using the tools that technology gives you, you’re stealing.”

Soon, advertising blockers will be supplied not just by companies like Eye/O and others: Google will incorporate them by default in its tools. On the one hand, this approach reveals a clear conflict of interests: “I’ll block the bad publicity, but not mine because I have decided it is good.” But on the other, this is the same Google which, a few years ago, heavy handedly took on the frightful pop-up ads, which the advertising industry and the IAB considered at the time as acceptable, just another format.

The fact that a company that makes a large amount of its money from advertising that sets up a standards association to try to deal with the problem (and obviously contradict the standards set by the IAB) and that has to install advertising blockers in our browsers proves, once again, my point: many advertisers, media, agencies, and above all, the IAB, have completely lost their way.

Relax everyone: the internet isn’t going to die because we all install ad blockers. Smart companies will look for ways to finance their activities that do not involve unsustainable contracts. Advertisers who understand the internet will stop obsessing about the wrong metrics, will abandon the stupid idea that only intrusive advertising works, and will choose, albeit under pressure, to take a more respectful approach. The media will understand that its value is not only in providing information but in caring for users, pampering, respecting and working with us, not against us.

Let’s be clear, we’re not the bad guys for installing an advertising blocker; the industry, which can’t see beyond its nose, is to blame. Advertisers, agencies and media do not own the internet. The internet is much more than a bunch of shortsighted idiots determined to make us endure torment to access their content. Those idiots have two options: to change their mentality and opt for psychological contracts with users that make sense, or they can die. And if they will not change, then let’s hope they die off as soon as possible.

(En español, aquí)