I hate ads. I have 'Ad-Blocker' on my computers, I have an ad blocking web browser for my iOS devices, and I have a DVR to fast forward through ads on TV. They are just annoyances that I completely ignore (at a conscious level). In the last 5 years there is exactly one ad that persuaded me to buy something that I normally wouldn't, a Klondike bar with mint chocolate ice-cream. That is not a good success rate. I have been thinking about ads and the nature of advertising and have come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t mind ads if they were for things that I actually wanted.
Current advertising has a few different goals:
- Persuade you to buy something you normally wouldn’t.
- Persuade you to switch brands.
- Re-affirm that their brand is superior to others.
- Instil brand awareness to increase the chance you will purchase their product
- To evoke envy and thus make a product more exclusive and premium.
However, I consciously choose to buy products that don’t have annoying ads. In this aspect I am obviously in the minority or companies wouldn’t have such huge advertising budgets. Advertising is incredibly successful in its current form from the perspective of established players: large companies, TV channels, magazines, Google, etc. What I am suggesting is we flip this model on its head and empower smaller companies to reach the people that would buy their products. I should note that while I think smaller companies would benefit the most from this it wouldn’t stop big companies from benefiting too. If you’re thinking, ‘This writer is a hippy and a socialist. Larger companies have more money to advertise because they were successful.’ To which I say, “Shouldn’t you want more companies able to reach their potential customers? Wouldn’t we all benefit from more competition?” So enough pre-amble here is my idea.
Ads I Want But Am Not Shown
There are products I would like to see ads for but I never do. Things like new applications, video games, TV shows, and indie movies are all things that I would consider buying but these products advertising budgets are dwarfed by companies that sell things like toilet paper. (I seriously hate those bears and their toilet paper covered asses.) I am constantly shown ads for things I don't care about or wouldn't buy. I understand why I see these ads but they are actually instilling hate rather than encouraging me to purchase anything. The problem with ads is that people are changing, technology is changing and us millennials (I am at the older, crotchety end) live in a world where we can escape from ads. Making ads so obnoxious or ubiquitous that they get attention is one way of getting brand awareness but can’t they do better? Why can’t they target my needs, wants, interests, likes and dislikes? Google, Facebook, and others are trying to do this right now but they aren’t doing a very good job at targeting me. What they need is more data about me. While many people may not be comfortable with the amount of data collection it would take to enact that vision I am all for it as long as it benefits me. I already assume I have 0 privacy online anyways.
(Bear with me, I know this sounds like what is being done today the (hopefully) innovative stuff is coming next.)
Google collects your data so it can better target ads towards you but I want it to go much further. If I buy a graphic novel, say ‘Chew Vol. 1’, and the next volume comes out I’d like to know about it. I liked the first one so I will probably buy the second one. So how could I get an ad that tells me?
- I bought 'Chew Vol. 1' online.
- I positively reviewed it on the web.
- I searched for 'Chew Vol. 2'
I think Google is in the supreme position to create this. Their ad-words service already targets me with ads, it just isn't specific enough. What about a graphic novel that I would like but have no idea exists? Google looks at my search history, credit card purchases, etc and notices I buy a lot of graphic novels. It also notes that I am also on a sci-fi kick with the novels I am reading. Google takes this information along with things from the web like positive reviews, reviews from people I like, trending on Twitter, etc and deduces that I would really enjoy the Saga series and shows me ads for that.
How I Get Targeted By Small Companies
Obviously a smaller company isn't going to have the cash that a larger one does. So how do I see ads from them? Simple, just completely change how advertising works. Right now a company pays an advertising agency to create an ad for them, or they do it themselves with a tool like ad-words, and they pay to have that ad shown in various places. The more money they have, the better ad and better exposure they get. I propose that we have an alternative model, one based on personalized interest not marketing budget. For internet ads:
- A company makes products.
- A second company makes some ads up for those products.
- A third company (like Google) distributes them across the web targeting you specifically.
When you click the ad and make a purchase a small portion of the sale goes to the advertising company and the distributor. (It would be higher than traditional ad-click payments though.) The creator of the product pays no money upfront. How are rates decided? Creators can browse between different ad agencies to see who will make a cool ad for them or who has the lowest rates. They then sign up and enter into an agreement for price and possibly agree on a template that the agency with use. This could be very disruptive to the current model if enough companies go onboard.
Click-Throughs Go Where You Choose
You could further customize your online shopping experience by choosing default companies you would like to buy from. For example, Amazon is currently trying to extort more money out of the publisher Hachette, so I stopped buying things from them. If I could choose the default store I go to when I click the ad it would be a better experience for me and another very disruptive idea (that has almost no chance of happening).
What's The Point If You Are Only Shown Ads For Things You Want
The key here is that it is for things I want but don't know about. These ads will become a sort of recommendation engine that over time you start to trust. People hate ads because they are (usually) terrible. If you were told about things like a sequel to a book you liked you would start to look forward to ads. Changing the entire dynamic from trying to brainwash you into buying a different brand toilet paper into letting you know about something new you are probably interested in.
To start, a company would have to be big enough to get all of your data to target you but with smaller companies paying smaller fees profitability may be hard to achieve. Google or Facebook could do this but would they want to? If they only got paid when people bought things, even if they got more money, it would probably be a huge drop in revenue. Their current goal of getting to know you so they can personalize ads. Which is pointless if they can’t make money serving ads. Giving you what you want may not pay as well as giving you what big companies want you to want.
It would be almost impossible for a start-up to implement a system like this. The hardest thing would be getting the data they needed for hyper focused ads. A company that isn’t Google or Facebook would have to build a service that could learn a users needs and wants without the user worrying about data collection and privacy. The next challenge is getting these ads to where customers will see them. If no one is being paid until a customer buy’s something there is little incentive for websites to show these types of ads. Plus they would be fighting traditional advertisers every step of the way and competing against Google is not easy.
How I Could See It Working
The only way I could see this working is to get users to do most of the work. Start with a trendy new app that helps people find new things they want. Let users supply data but inputing likes and dislikes to improve algorithms. It could even be a community based recommendation service. Collect all the data and then start advertising on smaller sites. The sites would have to be able to see if a user is logged into the ad website to be able to serve personalized ads. The problem is making any money doing it this way. You would have to get an enormous amount of active users, you would have to have iron-clad trust, and you would have to be able to go years without making any money. You also have to create something people actually want to see so you couldn’t use pop-ups, videos, ugly graphics and the like.
Or instead of trying to display ads on the web browser why not just use an app to let users know about new products? You could have a daily digest with 5 things that users can quickly scan. To keep users engaged award points for looking at the daily digest and clicking on products. The points could have to have some sort of monetary value to make it worth it for the user to check in every day. To make money whenever someone clicks on a product in the app and buys something the app gets a little money for the referral. It could both let you know about the release of new products that you have expressed interest in and pepper 3rd party ads relevant to your likes and dislikes.
Would It Even Be Worth It?
Could anyone make money with a system like this? I have no idea, I just know that I hate the current system. The current system is working very well so why go against the grain? I’d argue that it would increase exposure for smaller companies, which is always a good thing to me. It is good to disrupt established business models from time to time especially because from where I am sitting everyone has the same model on the web. Get to know you as well as possible to target you better. (Or be terrible and advertise everywhere.) Let’s shake things up a bit and try something new.
If ads were made better maybe less people would use Ad-Block which could increase sales. Less trickery and subtle brain washing and more recommendations for things you actually want. It might even be a real win for because more companies could reach the people who would buy their products. Better ads for customers and increased sales sounds like a win win to me.