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(IMAGE: El País homepage, January 2020)

Advertising and the normalization of the abnormal

Enrique Dans
Feb 2, 2020 · 3 min read

Look at the picture that illustrates this entry. Take a good look, please. In fact, click the next link to see it in its full glory and with no red layer: it is the home page of El País, long considered Spain’s newspaper of record, from a couple of days ago. But it is so crammed with advertising that reading the news is practically impossible: an advertising campaign occupies both margins of the page, a banner dominates the bottom, another additional module has been placed on the right but without reaching the margin… A quick pixel count reveals that non-advertising content, the news that is supposed to be the newspaper’s raison d’être, occupies only 40% of the page’s surface, while advertising for different brands occupies the remaining 60%. If we discount the space occupied by the bar with the masthead at the top, content takes up even less.

A 60/40 ratio. How is it that one of the country’s leading newspapers can fill 60% of its front page with content its readers have not requested and, moreover, do not want to see? We visit El País’s website to find out what’s going on in the world by reading articles written by journalists who bring their prestige and influence to the medium, and instead we find that the paper’s management has dedicated 60% of the available screen space with garbage that makes it all but impossible to read those articles. One might be forgiven for thinking that the news is just stuff to fill in the space that can’t be sold for advertising. In short, somebody high up at El País thought that such an imbalance acceptable, and that its readers wouldn’t care.

Hasn’t anybody on El País’s management team stopped to calculate that simple percentage? Don’t they think a 60–40 ratio of advertising to content worrying? Have they stopped to think about what readers might say if every page were divided up along those lines? Is there a limit here? Why prostitute this supposedly prestigious medium?

At what point do we begin to accept these types of practices as normal or acceptable? How can the people who run this prestigious medium normalize the practice of giving more space to advertising than to information? How can they not be ashamed? Is it any wonder that so more than a third of users in Europe have now installed advertising blockers on their devices? With a page designed like this, how can people like El País blame us?

What about other brands? Do any marketing managers in their right mind believe that this kind of advertising is anything other than an annoyance, an obstacle to reading content? Or are they so irresponsible that they simply waste their budget by handing advertising over to automated systems that simply shoot ads at available spaces like monkeys armed with machine guns?

If you run a newspaper, or any other kind of content site, and you’re normalizing these kinds of practices, regardless of the financial pressure you’re under, you should find another way to earn a living, for example, on a porn site, an online casino. Don’t tell your mother you work at a newspaper, tell her you’re a pianist in a brothel. Not because of what that old quote about journalists that some people attribute to Tom Wolfe, but because you’re part of the problem.

Online advertising has lost its way. And now it appears that some media outlets have as well.

(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School, blogger at enriquedans.com and Senior Contributor at Forbes

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School, blogger at enriquedans.com and Senior Contributor at Forbes

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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