I am not in favor of the current advertising model for several reasons. More importantly, I feel that, with few exceptions, the Great Debate is entirely too narrow. Rather than fuel this particular fire, I would like to see a broader discussion that explores genuine alternatives. I have already given a few high-level ideas in earlier posts, but today I would like to contribute a specific, detailed idea, in the hope that someone may find it useful.
It used to be that virtually all print magazines included an advertiser directory. While details varied, typically the advertiser directory appeared toward the end of the magazine, and it provided a list of the advertisers whose ads appeared in the magazine, along with a way of contacting the advertisers. In some cases, the magazine even included a tear-out card that you could mail in, checking off the advertisers in whose product you were interested.
A superficial scan suggests that this practice is no longer common even for print magazines. And I can’t say that I have ever seen an advertiser directory in an online publication. But why not?
Regardless of your position in the Great Debate, you must realize that ads are considered annoying and intrusive by most readers. This annoyance can backfire, causing people to refuse to respond to an ad even if they might have been interested in the product. In fact, there are academic studies showing that annoying ads can lead to the formation of negative associations with the brands advertised, and with the publication where the advertising appears.
If you are a publisher, consider this idea: Dedicate a full page, or even an entire section, to your advertisers. Make it elegantly organized and easy to explore, giving your advertisers the space they need to make their creative shine. Then make this advertiser directory clearly accessible throughout your site, for example with a small element in the right rail that simply names some of the advertisers, or as a link from your main navigation menu.
To increase the probability of attracting visitors, entice your readers to visit the advertiser directory in exchange for something that shows you appreciate their time. Maybe give them access to additional content, or offer to turn off ads from the rest of the site for one week. Or have advertisers themselves offer some tangible benefit like a discount coupon.
There are many reasons why this can work. First, there's a lot of evidence that what makes advertising most annoying is the way it distracts readers from doing whatever it is that they wanted to do. If you give someone a chance to look at advertising when they actually want to, there’s a much stronger probability that they will respond favorably.
Also, although you should not expect all your visitors to go flocking to the advertiser directory, if that page actually gives the reader value -- even if that value is simply to let them view ads at their own pace when they feel like it -- people will go there.
If I am about to buy a product, I often search for “best deal on ...” or “discount code for...” Invariably, this leads to a slew of really crappy sites that do nothing but amass information of this type, and then either ask me to pay to subscribe, or bombard me with their own advertising. If a trusted publication offered me the opportunity to peruse ads from advertisers interested in me, who might offer me some value, I would probably check it out with some regularity.
As a publisher, you could be clever about how you organized the directory, giving preference to your top advertisers and charging more money for that special treatment. Furthermore, you could also encourage your advertisers to showcase their best creative (which can be quite powerful content), and to keep things fresh.
If any of you try this idea, please, don’t bombard readers with crap that you think is relevant to them, just because they made the mistake of trusting you and followed the link to your directory. Make it easy for readers to find what they want if they visit your advertiser directory. After all, your role as publisher is to generate content and make it easy for readers to find it. In many cases, that’s exactly what advertising is -- or rather, what it should be.
If you like the idea, add a comment below or drop me a line. I have been thinking about this for a long time and would love to discuss it.