Know Thy Reader

If someone exploring earth from a distant planet were to peruse the last year or so of articles related to digital advertising in preparation for her visit, she would conclude that there are three distinct species inhabiting our planet. Landing her spaceship in Manhattan, she would look around, expecting to spot the fanged carnivores known as advertisers, the laborious omnivores known as publishers, and the meek herbivores variously called readers or consumers (these terms being akin to the words cow or beef, depending on whether you are describing the grazing animal or the juicy steak you are about to consume).

Imagine her surprise when she sees instead an ocean of homogeneous creatures, who offer no visible mark by which they can be classified as belonging to any of these three antagonistic species. Perplexed, she may wander toward Madison Avenue, hoping to discover distinguishable specimens near their lairs, but to no avail.



This is how I feel sometimes when I read articles about digital advertising. Specifically, when I hear comments such as the IAB urging publishers to admonish readers to be more “equitable,” I can’t help but wonder what planet those people come from.

Maybe they don't have smartphones, instead carrying around ancient clamshell phones only usable for making calls and an occasional text message. Maybe when they want to do some fact-checking, they head to their local library. Clearly, they never do anything online, because they seem to have no clue about what they've unleashed upon those readers they berate.

If they had a clue, they might realize that no reader ever agreed to turn the Internet into a garbage heap for the sole purposes of generating revenues for “publishers” and finding target audiences for advertisers. No reader ever agreed to be subjected to novel forms of psychological torture in exchange for information, especially when most of that information has the intellectual value of a Twinkie. And no readers will willfully subject themselves to this kind of abuse, when a better experience is only a click away -- whether that click serves to close an offending site or to install an ad blocker.

Here's what really raises my heckles about this feigned ignorance: Why don’t certain publishers and industry organizations put themselves in the shoes of the readers, realize how crappy things really are, and use their collective wisdom to make things better?

Here are a few things these folks might consider before deploying anti-ad-blocking measures, and before wasting more time creating euphemistic acronyms.

First: We readers (hereafter simply “we”) do not go online for the purpose of serving as shark bait. Chances are, if we are online, we are trying to get something done -- whether it’s learning about the election results or blowing up a row of candy.

Second: We understand the value of information and entertainment. But we don’t really feel that we should be constantly bombarded with demands to acknowledge this value. How would you like it if there was a toll booth every mile on interstate highways? Would you not run for the nearest airport?

Third: We resent being the victims of greed -- real or perceived. Did any of you pause to think whether it's right to squeeze as much money as possible out of every square inch of digital real estate? How does that benefit anyone other than your shareholders?

Fourth: We resent intellectual laziness. If the best you can come up with is obnoxious retargeting and unskippable pre-roll video ads, don’t be surprised if others come up with creative workarounds.

My final piece of advice: Stop pretending that you are oblivious to the havoc you have wreaked. Stop pretending that your behavior has been entirely ethical and justified and it's “them readers” who are causing problems and being unfair.

Somewhere deep inside you there is a reader, too. Get in touch with your inner reader self. Ask it honest questions and expect honest answers. Treat it like a human being. Let it be a guide and an inspiration to work toward a better system.

Only when you get to know your reader will you be able to figure out how to make things work in a way that is truly equitable.

4 comments about "Know Thy Reader".
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  1. Geoff Hume-Cook from Transforming Images Ltd., March 11, 2016 at 11:10 a.m.

    Thank-you. Nicely put. Loved the fun at the start, agreed with each serious sentiment. Optimism that anything will change in the online world: zero. However, seeing sensible words in this space, helps restore some confidence that 'we' are not alone. Kudos.

  2. Gayle Moss from On-Mark-IT, March 11, 2016 at 11:19 a.m.

    Absolutely bang on!  I wish I had written this ;)

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 11, 2016 at 11:34 a.m.

    It's about paychecks - bigger, better, more. It's about profits - bigger, better, more. And it's about immediacy - get it now bigger, better more profits and paychecks.

  4. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., March 12, 2016 at 10:13 a.m.

    Thank you Geoff and Gayle for the kind words!

    Paula - agreed!

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