Boom Town Rats

Jim Meskauskas’s column on Intrusiveness in the Online Spin last Thursday got me thinking about putting my own “spin” on the whole advertising intrusive/annoyance/disruptive debate that will probably rage on forever. I’ve always been on the side that Jim falls on: (to paraphrase) advertising is intrusive by nature, and that is a good thing. If you want the content, you’ve got to pay the piper.

But lately, something has happened to make me re-visit that opinion. There are some subtleties afoot and some dangers that just don’t exist in other mediums. Quite frankly, some unspoken rules between advertiser and viewer have been broken which threaten the entire industry. What I mean is that some people are not playing the old intrusive game the way it is supposed to be played. Maybe this will make sense if I tell you that last week I did something online that I never thought I would.

I downloaded a pop-up killer. In fact, the program is called PopUp Killer.

I just got to the stage where I just couldn’t stand pop-ups and pop-unders anymore. For one thing there is this mind-numbing sameness to the creative and a lack of variety in the types of advertisers. And with no frequency caps in sight, my days had become a Sisyphean nightmare: batting down window after window of Orbitz and X-10 ads. Like the body of some Greek monster, I’d chop one head off, only to see two more grow in its place.



To these advertisers, let me tell you this: Yes, I now know your name. If that was your goal, boy did it work. But I will also never use any of your products. I not only know your name, I also know (to paraphrase Sally Field) that I really, really don’t like you. And everyday you invade my desktop, I’m reminded how much I don’t like you. And it’s because you are not playing the game right.

So now I have a program that wipes these ads out by automatically closing them as soon as they open. And, in an added bit of perversity, I have configured the program so that it makes an “explosion” sound every time it closes one of these pesky critters. Now, when I go to my Yahoo Groups discussion list, I hear BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! and it somehow brightens my day.

This has nothing to do with intrusiveness. I have no problem with intrusiveness. Intrusiveness implies that you are intruding on something that I want. Let’s say I’m watching my favorite TV show (which we all know is Trading Spaces). I expect to see TV commercials between pieces of content. That’s playing the game.

But what I don’t expect, or want, is that once I turn my TV set off - once the content to be intruded upon is over - that my TV refuses to let me turn it off until it plays a few more commercials. That is not intrusion. That is high jacking. And it goes against the rules of the game.

This is exactly what I get with pop-unders. Once my experience is over and I’m moving on, I am forced (and forced here is a key word) to clean up the detritus that has been slopped on top of my desktop. Interrupt my experience if you want, but don’t force me to clean up your messes afterwards.

If the advertiser is momentarily interrupting my content experience, kind of like a toll on a turnpike, I’m willing to put up with that. But keep invading me once that experience is over? That’s where we head off into annoyance territory.

And there is a big danger in all of this, which I’ll address in a second, but first let me state that I’ve always been the first to say that very few people, outside of techies, would be willing to download so-called ad-killer programs. I’m not so sure of that statement anymore. Once advertisers stop playing by the rules and start floating, like the Heart of Darkness, past intrusive towards annoyance and into abuse, we threaten everything we’ve tried to build.

And so here is the danger: I can’t kill my TV commercials without a lot of fancy equipment. But to kill all the ads on my Internet experience? Why that is just a simple click away: a click-through number that just may increase if we keep thinking short-term gains rather than long-term growth.

And then its: Boom! Boom! Boom!

Ask not for whom the software booms. It booms for thee.

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