by David R Worlock,
chairman of Electronic Publishing Services Ltd
We seem to invent technologies for undermining the confidence of advertisers at about the same rate as we develop new ways of linking advertisers to marketplaces. If we are not careful this will lead to a cycle of pessimism about advertising on the web, and a deeper cynicism amongst users about the motivations of advertisers. Since internet-based advertising is the only sort which is still showing a growth rate, this would be a calamity.
A recent Seybold commentary highlights current web advertising techniques for forced consumption of advertising. In the online world, the great virtue of advertising was meant to be that it was non-intrusive, but that advertisers could track its effect in ways that on-the-page or space advertising could not.
It now seems that the simple promise of a different future is being negated – by software developers who insist upon re-inventing the worst excesses of all other advertising media and deploying them online. Most users by now will have experienced the pop-under – the ad that mysteriously appears beneath the window currently in use, and which is exhibited when the user tries to move on.
If you find this rubbish offensive (and Seybold reports Yahoo!, The New York Times, Alta Vista and MSNBC as celebrated sellers of cheap-rate pop-unders), then Gator is designed to drive you to distraction. Gators are advertising reptiles with primitive appetites
Beware the Gator
Gator is downloaded with programs and utilities freely available on the web, such as file-sharing programs. Most of its recipients never know that they have acquired it, but they do come to realise what its targets may be. Gator might, for example, be retained by an insurance company to wreck its competitor’s advertising. As soon as a user who has unwittingly downloaded Gator is faced with that competitor’s site (or one of its banners), Gator launches its own client’s advertising on top of the competing brand or product.
Gator can, of course, be retained by a wide range of brands or services at any one time - and can keep changing sides in subsequent ‘Trojan Horse’ iterations. Its online advertising vehicle is now estimated to have been downloaded by eight million web users – unconsciously.
The key quality of the user experience of interactive media is the powerful feeling that the user has of being in control. Gator negates that feeling, and thus undermines the permission that users give to advertisers to intrude with their messages.
This type of development will in turn move online ever more certainly towards a closed permissive advertising environment: one in which we, as consumers, give explicit licence to an advertiser to try to sell us something in return for a gift or favour of acknowledged value – from free pop music releases to air miles.
Meanwhile if anyone were regulating the Internet, they would target Gator and send for Crocodile Dundee.