Advertising 2: Judgment Day

If you are in advertising and you don’t understand the statement made by the fact that Google Contributor even exists, you should just quit now. Seriously.

Google Contributor is a subscription service that lets users pay to reduce the number of ads they see, and today it arrived in beta. It’s structured on a grading scale, so that if you pay more, you see fewer ads.

Today’s release of Contributor marks an extremely important day on the path towards the end of advertising as we know it. Sure, it’s a small step. Some might not even notice it. But what Google released today isn’t the ad industry destroyer, it is more that what Google released today represents what will become the ad industry destroyer. Think “Terminator.” Think John Connor and a Skynet-like manifest destiny, only no one is going to care if all that the machines are killing is ads.

Think about it. Google Contributor comes (obviously) from Google, which is the most successful company in the history of digital advertising. Google’s ad revenue in 2014 was nearly $60 billion, and it is also almost entirely dependent on advertising revenue. Yet with Contributor, Google is acknowledging that the online ad industry has a problem. People hate ads. The rates for “impressions” are so low now, and the quantity-over-quality culture of digital advertising so pronounced, that people are willing to pay to make them go away.

Watching the ad industry basically cannibalize itself in its race to the bottom (or race into oblivion, whichever metaphor you prefer), while amusing, is sad. Just imagine an ad opt-out product for video! And actually, you probably won’t have to imagine for long, because the precedent is already out there. As of January nearly 60 million people around the world pay for Netflix, which is effectively television without ads. HBO has 130 million subscribers worldwide. When we surveyed U.S. online audiences about their opinions of advertising, almost half of respondents said that they pay to get rid of ads.

Somewhere along the way, many advertisers forgot that the “thing” they just kept trying to get for lower and lower prices was someone else’s time (re: their customers). And it turns out that they have done such a good job at driving the price down, people would rather just foot the bill themselves.

We have a choice in the ad industry: Invest in quality, or disappear entirely. If you value audiences’ time and attention so little that they’re willing to pay to get rid of you, you will soon cease to exist. The challenge should be to work together to find a way to pay more — significantly more — for people’s time and real attention, but judging by the fact that Google Contributor exists, that doesn’t seem to be where things are headed.

Happy Friday!