No Free Lunch—Even on the Web

Posted on June 8, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I was surprised to discover recently that, according to a 2010 study by Performics, only two-thirds of Internet users are aware that some of the results you get from a Google search are actually paid advertisements. (Psst…for those in the other one-third, the ads are the ones in the shaded box at the top, as well as along the right side of the screen.) Because I hear so much grumbling about all of the advertising on the Web, I assumed everyone knew about these ads.

Google sponsored ads

People tend to dislike advertising in general, but some get especially testy when it invades their cyber turf. These folks might agree with the idea that “your Facebook page is your personal space,” as is proclaimed on a website offering an application to block Facebook ads. I, on the other hand, would say that Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg’s space, which he allows me to use, so he can make money from advertisers. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. We live in a capitalistic society—this kind of give-and-take is what makes it all work.

Facebook cash

The Web may have changed a lot of things, but one constant is the sentiment captured in the old adage, “You can’t get something for nothing.” You may not pay cash each time you look up useful or entertaining content on the Web, but you make a contribution with your time and attention, and maybe even a click or two. These actions, along with lots of online purchases, satisfy the advertisers who pay for prime real estate on search engines, Web-based publications, blogs, Facebook, and more.

Way back in 2002, a Wall Street Journal article warned that, without advertising, the Web would turn into a “pay-per-view world,” in which users would be charged for content. We actually have begun paying the piper to some extent, with some online publications, including The New York Times, introducing some form of a paid subscription. Just a few months ago, Ran Cohen issued a warning similar to the Wall Street Journal’s, reminding “Web freeloaders” that both advertising and data collection through cookies are what pay the bills for online publishers.

For those who are frustrated by Google’s “sponsored ads” and those pesky, moving banner ads, do you feel that the annoyance is worth it for the valuable content you’re accessing? If not, is there a price you’d be willing to pay for an ad-free Web?

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9 Responses to “No Free Lunch—Even on the Web”

RSS Feed for Joyce on Emerging Media Comments RSS Feed

No and you’re right, but it’s till a little creepy to talk about something and then have it suddenly show up in an ad; however, it softens the blow to have been taught that it’s just a computer picking out keywords. Who wants a little man/woman sitting in a room listening in to your conversations, after all! LOL

As a marketer, I hate to write this, but just because those pesky online ads are there doesn’t mean we as consumers have to pay attention to them. The same holds true for ads in traditional forms of media. Don’t like the TV commercial? Use that 2 1/2 minutes to go to the bathroom or grab a snack. Don’t like the direct-mail postcards you get? Toss them in the garbage without giving them a second thought.

Although I would hate to think that prospective students and their parents are grabbing a bag of chips instead of watching our university’s TV commercial or are tossing out those postcards I work so hard to develop, I realize some are.

The advantage to those Google ads is that they provide more relevance to the consumer than a TV commercial that tries to target everyone. And, I’m intrigued — and slightly creeped out — by those ads that appear on my Facebook page. Right now, there’s one asking me “Need a Geeky Friend? Click “Like” to become our Fan!. So … is Facebook saying I’m geeky?

Ann and Pat – thanks for reading and commenting! I agree, the targeted ads on Facebook can make you feel like someone is spying. But, like Pat pointed out, they’re very easy to ignore. And it can be somewhat entertaining to see what products it matches up with you!

All in all, I don’t mind the ads, I understand that people need to make money on the free things that they are offering us, facebook, google, Ipad apps, etc… However, I wish the ads were censored a bit. The kids are often around when I’m on the computer…I don’t pay attention to the ads, but sometimes my 8 year old will notice them. And of course, the ads are not always appropriate. Also, free games on the ipad often come with ads, again some innappropriate, even on the kids apps.

Interesting point, Becky. In my research, I’ve read that kids, especially those under age 8, cannot really differentiate between ads and other content. As such, the ads can unfairly influence them.

I must have anti-ad radar because I seriously never look at the Facebook ads or Google ads. I also do as your marketing friend says and literally toss anything postcardish in the recycle bin before it ever gets into my home. I am anavid Catalog Choice user too. I agree with Becky that ads are a part of free enterprise. To add something new to the convo, I really love the idea of technology utilizing key words or even purchasing data to target ads personally to me…I might read them then (Safeway and Target do that with the coupons they print out with your receipt and I really like those because they are relevant). In general I think that this treads a fine line though because people feel that ads that are personal are invading their privacy which is a super hot topic these days. Good luck with your class Joyce!

Thanks, Jenny! I agree that while the ads that target you personally can be a little creepy, they at least have a greater likelihood of being useful compared to an ad you might see on TV.

As someone who runs an internet business and pays for Google Ad Words, I will say we not only pay to be part of the sponsored ads but our payment also goes to those who have free blogs or websites that allow for advertising to occur within the info. We only pay per click so those who don’t click cost us nothing, where we “lose” is those that click and don’t buy, but then I have too clicked on several sites to compare prices. What I will also say i that is that we also get our site higher on the search as well as under the sponsored ads on the side. We pick our key words and hope that generates the business we need to stay in business and have the “advertising budget” called Google. Also, with Google Shopping we get benefits as a Google Ad word – how different is it then a commercial for Target on TV. You can choose to watch or not. Here, you can choose to click or not and if you were searching for it in the first place, what’s the harm.

That’s great info, Patricia. I didn’t realize that AdWords also gets you on blogs and other websites – a nice added benefit. Like you wrote, online ads aren’t much different from those we’ve been seeing in other places for years. And, in many ways, they’re better, as they are much more tailored to our interests and what we’re searching for at that moment.


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