Ray Ozzie has been pushing his agenda atMicrosoft, one of his suggestions being that Microsoft shouldpursue more of an advertisement-supportedrevenue model (Google is doing it, so everyone should.Right?). Apparently some at Microsoft arebuying this line, which is incrediblysad: Microsoft has been one of the few remainingcustomer-focused technology companies out there.
Advertisement supported content is wrong on so manylevels.
First is the fact that you’re still paying forit (unless you’re a hermit. I wrote about this inregards to content on the web about 4 years ago), but insteadof directly paying fair value, you’re indirectly paying farmore through countless middlemen and vested interests,grossly inflating the actual cost.
Whether it’s sneakers that are made by a company that spendstwice the amount on marketing than they spend on their products, orcars that have thousands of dollars hidden in the price to sponsorthe next outing of Survivor: Advertising costs to supportsupposedly-free content are coming from someone, and that someoneis you.
Of course, some awareness campaigns are necessary toeducate the public about the advantages of certain products, yet asa consumer there is tremendous danger in utilizing advertisementsto make purchasing choices. For instance, we often hear about howadvantageous Google ads are because they’re context specific (e.g.”They’re good because they’re actually useful to me! I’mlooking for X, and what do you know – Google is showing me an adabout X!“), but really they’re terrible: They aren’t placedbased upon merit and applicability for your purpose, but ratherbased upon how much they paid to appear there. If you buy aproduct, or even give it more attention than itscompetitors, because it “conveniently” appeared in a Googlead, you’re buying based upon nothing more than the marketing budgetof the source company – It may be the absolute worst product in itsgenre, but it got a little namespace in your head because of anadvertising budget. This sort of market supports the continuationand success of mediocrity, where marketing trumpsmerit.
In an era of instant communications and endless online resourcesand communities to learn about products and solutions, obviouslybiased advertisements shouldn’t be a credible source of purchasinginformation.
Second is the fact that when something (a magazine, a newspaper,a television program, a website) is substantially funded byadvertisements, it answers to a different master.An obvious example would be the network television channels (e.g.NBC, CBS, ABC). These networks have been spitting out the samemiddle-of-the-road tripe for years, building their programs aroundample opportunities for product placements, and for content soinoffensive that their break-away sponsors won’t demand changes.Their programs are made for their sponsors as much as they’re madefor their audience, which is why you see the terriblechallenges on shows like the Apprentice, with each episodefeaturing 15 minutes of overt commercials to pound home the messageof the other 44 minutes of covert commercials. Contrast this withsome of the innovative, award-winning programming that have comefrom the subscriber-sponsored channels like HBO (where the viewerreally is the master). Compare the incredible documentaries of PBSto the latest pander-to-the-sponsors regurgitation of the samesitcom script that has been playing for decades that you see on”the networks”. In the print medium, how likely is it that thenewspaper or the magazine are going to slam a dud product fromtheir primary sponsors?
Thirdly, haven’t we been through this during the first .COMbubble Did no one learn Really – does no one remember?
During that bubble it seemed that every business model was basedupon advertisement supported content (even “free” PCs if yousubjected yourself to continuous advertisements), until the final,ridiculous climax when there were software products that actuallyoutright paid you (or at least your macro-engine) to “watch”advertisements. Of course we know how that turned out, but here wego again.