Dignity and Online Advertising

The new head of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission is apparently interested in protecting consumers. This novel idea is borne out in an interesting NY Times article explaining his fundamental concerns about a key web business model, namely that we give up our privacy and allow ourselves to be tracked in exchange for “free” content. His name is David Vladeck, and he spent 26 years at a public-interest law firm, so he might actually have some bona fides regarding the protection of consumers.

The whole thing seems so odd to me. We are essentially being paid to watch ads — on TV or on the net. But we’re being paid at a rate that we have no control over, and it’s being done surreptitiously, with each advertiser secretly trying to get as much dirt about us as possible so as to figure out how they can get us to buy stuff — hopefully without us realizing that we’re being manipulated. Long term, it just doesn’t make sense in a democracy.

I vote for a simpler system — just pay me to watch ads and let me choose the ads I want to watch. Even better, auction off the ads — some advertisers would pay more for my time and some pay less. I, the consumer, can trade what I watch/earn for content. I can watch the ads whenever I want — no need to interrupt me or distract me. And if I don’t want to watch ads, well, I just pay for the internet or TV with real money.

Ads I choose to watch ought to be a whole lot more valuable to advertisers because I am actually interested in the product. Advertisers can learn about what I’m interested easily — no subliminal activities required. There’s no privacy issue — no internet tracking would be allowed, and none would be needed. Everybody is happy. I suspect that consumers would actually buy more.

But maybe I’m naive. Maybe they have to force feed us all this stuff or the world will come to an end (ie, the internet will cease to exist).

And yes, Vladeck did use the word “dignity” to talk about his goals for online advertising. What a concept.

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2 Comments on “Dignity and Online Advertising”


  1. Hmm… interesting ideas. However, I think there is one potential flaw: I’d much rather watch movie trailers and funny Budwiser ads than most of what is on TV. So, the difficulty for marketers is to try to get me to see something that I’m likely to actually buy because of their efforts (don’t like Budwiser and only go to movies I’ve looked into personally).

    But, yes, we are–at least, our information is–being bought and sold all the time.

    Very interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    ~Luke

  2. Steve Says:

    Luke,

    You make an interesting point, but I think you could set it up so it would be hard to game the system this way. For starters, I think you’d get awfully bored watching a few ads over and over. And watching only a couple of commercials wouldn’t generate enough “credits” to give you much free TV. However, if you could really watch any commercials you want, I think you’d end up watching stuff you really were interested in, like, say, commercials for the latest Seagate hard drive, or Apple’s ProRes codec. What are you planning to buy in the next month or two? Those are the ads you’d be looking for.

    And you’d end up choosing ads based on entertainment or informational content. Precisely because they had a choice (what a concept — “advertising choice”), people would end up selecting ads that were informative rather that those filled with manipulative nonsense. So the system would shape the kinds of ads created.

    It would also encourage narrow-casting of ads. As a viewer, you’d be paid regardless of what you watched, and advertisers would pay you for every play. With production costs going down, it would become economically feasible to create good quality ads for very small audiences.

    You might actually learn something — about something you were interested in — from advertising. Now there’s a new idea!

    Steve


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