Let’s start with the wrong answers first. It’s not Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg. It’s not Larry Page or Sergey Brin, either. It’s not Marissa, Tim, or Satya, nor is it #Dick, #Jack, or #Biz. It’s not Rupert. It’s not Jeff Bezos or Jeff Weiner. It’s not Tim Cook or the kid who started Snapchat. It’s not any of the programattic tech stack CEOs or that Lumascape dude.
It’s not the advertiser paying for online ads, or any of the people creating, buying and selling them. The most important person in online publishing is the user who visits our sites. These CEOs we love to celebrate -- as well as ones we have never heard of -- shit on these users every day.
The user experience got dumped on the very first time a publisher agreed to sell a pop-up ad. Things have only gotten worse since then.
Every time an ad floats across a page, obfuscating the very content the user selected to read, we shit on the user.
Every time an ad extends to twice its orginal size because the user merely scrolled over it, we shit on the user.
Every time a pre-roll video ad autoplays when a user lands on a page he was interested in reading, we shit on the user.
When content that still has editorial directions in parentheses -- or typos and misspellings -- gets published online, we shit on the user.
When we help ourselves to data the user did not give us permission to take (very different from figuring out how to tell us not to), we shit on the user.
Every time we serve an ad and eupehmistically label it as a form of content, we shit on the user, who could have been served unbiased content in that space instead.
Every time a page stutters when loading because the ads we said could not weigh too much are too heavy, we shit on the user.
Every time a user sees a story of interest on a reputable brand’s site and clicks to read more, but then lands in different editorial waters much shallower in publishing quality and integrity, we shit on the user. Time is money. This is like paying to attend a Major League baseball game and then being shown a Little League game instead.
Every time we serve a pop-up survey asking for the user’s opinion, we taunt users first, then shit on them.
When we defend these publishing practices with the argument “Content is free, so ads are part of the deal,” we show our ignorance. Users spend their time and plenty of their money in order to be able to visit a website.
I attended the OMMA Premium Display conference this week, and listened to fellow MediaPost columnist Bob Garfield mix it up with Medialink’s Wenda Harris Millard, an executive formidable in our industry. Among the topics covered was native advertising. Garfield is resolute in his denouncement of the practice in any form, while Millard is a supporter, when it is done “right.”
Millard, an optimist at heart, took the position that it doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both -- meaning professionally produced content can and should co-exist with content created for an advertiser. She told Garfield, “It doesn’t have to be binary.”
Millard is wrong. It is binary. Either publishers earn more trust and credibility with each second a user spends on their sites, or they are losing it.
What I find so bizarre is that as an industry, we keep telling ourselves how great we are doing, instead of recognizing how lost we are. For example, saying we are bigger than TV spending is delusional. TV doesn’t sell search, and neither do 99% of the companies in the digital publishing space. Including Google’s revenue in this comparison is like being born on third base and telling everyone you hit a triple.
Search revenue should be a completely separate statistic. If we want to look at apples-to-apples, let’s compare digital display spending versus TV display spending. When you do that, we’re years away from a celebratory trip around the bases.
I grew up in this business on the shoulders of mentors who sold advertising with class, integrity and a passion for closing a deal, all while defending the honor of the reader. Today, we stampede the user in our chase for fool’s gold. Unlike my mentors, who left the business in shape so others can enter it, we will leave it in ruins -- because we decided it was OK to treat the most important person in publishing like shit.