JANUARY 2009 IN
RICK ASTER’S WORLD

Advertising vs. Viewer Control

It’s not a new issue. Ever since televisions got remote controls with mute buttons, TV viewers have been turning the sound off during commercials. VCRs eventually let us skip through commercial breaks 30 seconds at a time. It’s estimated that half of radio listeners change the station when a commercial break comes on. As soon as popup advertisements became the next big thing in Internet advertising, Internet users started to find ways to block all popup windows. The more advertisers try to intrude on people with commercial messages, the more people block them out.

Now this battle is playing out around the TV commercials that have been appearing on web sites this winter. These advertising videos use moving pictures, sound, and highly irritating messages, and they play all by themselves, just like a commercial on television. Yet this is a battle advertisers can’t win.

It takes less than ten minutes to modify your web browsing environment to block TV commercials from specific sources. And that’s with today’s software. It’s just a matter of time before Internet users will be able to banish annoying advertisements with a single click, and to report offensive advertisements the way people now report web sites that contain security flaws. When web sites go too far to try to get around these user controls, users will flee to more friendly sites.

Advertisers are going to have to learn to be nice. It will not be an easy transition for a generation of advertising creators trained to be as intrusive and offensive as possible to get people’s attention. But it isn’t fundamentally anything new. If you’re obnoxious and disruptive on the job, you get fired. Advertisers don’t run the show anymore. They will have to start playing by the same rules.


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