Have you heard of Ghostery? A friend pointed it out to me over a quaint Sunday brunch. It logs a metastasizing list of groups tracking you across the web, one page at a time. Takota, eyeReturn Marketing, RevenueScience, TargusInfo… Some of these groups you can’t even Google, but they are the ones that note consumer behavior and which ads to serve you across Websites.
Yesterday during our Tow-Knight sessions, Jeff Jarvis was explaining a rough but complex formula to determine cost per thousand impressions (CPM) and also explaining why it is an outdated measurement. Stephen Morse asked where ad blockers fall in the ethics scale for content consumers. Ads may bring in significantly less revenue than in an over-exaggerated print world, but I, too, agree that using ad blockers is a conscious decision to exclude participation from the economy that sustains our outlets of choice—ads subsidize free and reduced-fee news content. Of course, that isn’t enough of an argument to compel consumers; there has been such poor support for media literacy that we have never even accounted for the economics of news. And honestly, news could probably layer on a more compelling value proposition than a matter of ethics.
I began to deconstruct my own visceral reaction to advertising. I’ve internalized over the years that our generation is especially allergic to advertising. It’s a gut reaction to mute the computer during adverts, and I’d much rather see masterpieces in the masthead than a monkey chucking bananas for god knows what product. In fact, if you get to know designers who work for online ad agencies, they are just like us: No one clicks on ads. It’s that rare once-in-a-year exception, and in a bogglingly huge target population, that’s enough.
Regardless of whether ad firms harvest it, my browsing info is somewhere in the ether. If I have to watch ads, I’d rather watch those that are relevant to me. However, what dawned on me yesterday is that my intense aversion to ads, and probably many of my generation, comes from packaging more than a disgust with consumerism. Advertisers blueprint what we should look like in every possible role—as a parent, as a runner, as a woman, as an adult, as an occasional lush, as a flirt—and how we can attain status. Take a magazine to a developing country, try to explain it and then listen to the observations about American lifestyle. If you didn’t already, you’ll really think ads are insidious now. We come from diverse backgrounds of class, race, ethnicity and much more, and ads work in spite of that as the common American experience. As aware as we are of the twisted ideals we’re served, I and many of my peers will struggle with issues of beauty, body image, social cues and what it means to be good for the rest of our lives.
So when the choice comes between suffering an ad or subverting the advertiser, my generation chooses the latter. I believe that’s the choice we see in front of us, and news economics doesn’t even begin to figure into it.
I swear! Every single commercial break for The Colbert Report!