A Chance For Publishers To Zig While Others Zag

Consumers hate Internet advertising. To be clear, consumers do not hate advertising. When prompted, most can name their favorite ad, while many can articulate its purpose relative to the exchange for content. However, place the word "Internet" in front of "advertising" and watch the contempt "pop up."

That's because televisions do not get viruses, magazines do not crash, and ads do not appear out of nowhere to cover the article consumers are reading in their daily newspaper. These Internet-advertising-inflicted mishaps fuel consumer backlash. Factor in a healthy suspicion of cookies, the annoyance of pop-unders, sound without consent, spam from here to eternity, ads that expand beyond their boundaries and spyware practices that occur under the radar, and you have to be living under a pile of revenue not to see how poorly we as an industry treat the consumer attention we profit from.

To be clearer, search marketing is not Internet advertising. The brilliance of search is how it induces a direct marketing opportunity while simultaneously helping consumers achieve their immediate goals. That is why consumers love search/Google. Regardless of how you feel about the 800-pound baby gorilla, consumers love that big monster and the big monster loves 'em right back, consistently placing the consumer's needs above all others.



Buyers, sellers and related third parties involved in Internet advertising behave as if we are serving a similar, if not identical, experience to search because we continue to find ways to serve relevant ads to consumers. Relevance is great--but seeing relevant advertising is not a consumer goal when consuming content online. Goals vary by user (and by site visited), but an umbrella desire is to not have one's time wasted or one's privacy intruded upon without one's explicit consent. Two items we desecrate. Imagine how fast the surfing experience would be if the Internet was stripped of 50 percent of the advertising. Internet advertising actually prevents consumers from realizing their primary goal of speed and efficiency--and as far as privacy goes, well, what's a few cookies among strangers?

If you are an online publisher, and you want to continue to take in revenue at the expense of consumer trust, this column is not for you. However, if you are looking to win both users' trust and advertisers' revenue, please continue reading about an idea from the past that would work well in today's climate.

Before McCall's was laid to rest in 2001, the women's service category of magazines was commonly referred to as "the seven sisters"--named for the fierce rivalry among them. But one magazine created a concise point of differentiation. The "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" stood above the crowded field and continues to stand for quality and assurance. The seal "may be carried only by those products whose ads have been reviewed and accepted for publication."

So, what if online publishers sealed their sites, protecting their users from all predatory advertising behavior? What if a "seal of safety" appeared tactfully on every page view, which indicated no pop-ups, pop-unders, floating or expanding ads that would disrupt the user's experience. What if this "seal of safety" ensured no spam of any kind would spawn from their sites, and that any cookies would be announced and implemented based on user acceptance. What if this "seal of safety" meant sound and motion ads would not be seen or heard unless requested in that format, and that nothing would ever attach itself to a user's browser while on the protected sites without explanation and approval?

What if a group of sites formed a "sealed network" where these measures were adopted--along with a significant limit to the number and weight of the ads--so the surfing experience within the network was faster than any site outside of it?

Would a site, or network of sites, that visually announced that the interest of their users were well above the interest of advertisers, stand above the crowd? The publishers who have the courage to zig while everyone else is zagging will win back the trust of online users--and investments from traditional brands who appreciate the difference between advertising and direct marketing. These suggested measures will cost publishers the direct marketing expenditures and practices that are alienating the very attention they are meant to nourish. Not a bad deal for those who can look beyond their next quarter. So, who is up for changing how consumers feel about us?

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