An intro to Google Contribute – a more benevolent ad suppressor

I have to admit that up until now, I have not heard of Google Contribute. It’s a product that has been out in some sort of a beta form for a few months now and it allows its users to suppress some % of ads for a monthly fee ($2 – 10/month). Essentially, the amount you “contribute” is used to bid against other advertisers for the space where the ad would have ordinarily appeared. You then get an ad-free experience, while the site still does not lose out on potential revenue.

Harris Schachter of has a full review of the product, which I think is worth reading:

The problem with poor targeting

For the last several weeks, I have woken up to Sponsored Ads on Instagram that have caused my digital media marketer’s hair to frizzle up. Though the solution to my follicle conundrum was solved by the product the ad was trying to push, the larger issue remains: I’m neither a female nor someone interested in female hair products.

L'Oreal ad on my Instagram feed

L’Oreal ad on my Instagram feed

I don’t know how much L’Oreal paid to blast this ad across the vast picturesque world of Instagram, but judging by the numbers quoted in the press (and what I have heard directly), it could range from $75k upward to $1M.

Targeting – it’s the premise on which Internet advertising was built. From time to time, we have new entrants into the mix, like Insagram, who refuse to play by the rules. Their counter-argument to our request for targeting is vague and usually has something to do with their platform being aspirational, a canvas for stories and brand building. It’s not, as sales rep hasten to remind media buyers, a direct response medium.

Targeting correctly is not a requirement for DR campaigns. It’s a requirement. Period. When your digital platform has crappier targeting than a TV network, you are going to lose money to the big screen. Or you should, at least.

I don’t know if my experience with L’Oreal is work of Instagram’s targeting non-algorithm or of someone on the agency side who is not doing a good enough job of setting audience parameters, but there are thousands of dollars being wasted in the process.

Ad blocking is 21st century robbery

Ad blocking is akin to catching a free ride on the subway, skipping the chore of buying a ticket to see a movie or borrowing a book from Barnes & Noble as if it was a local library that didn’t charge late fees.

It’s theft.

Stealing digital content is like stealing a book from a store or a song from the Internet.

Stealing digital content is like stealing a book from a store or a song from the Internet.

Those consumers who think that it is their Gates (or Jobs) given right to consume content without either paying for it outright or seeing ads should be seen on par with those who pirate music and movies. Just because you can, just because the technology is there and just because it may be annoying to see ads, does not mean you can or should avoid them.

For the uninitiated, the content you read (at least on sites that don’t just blatantly steal all of it and just repackage it for the ADHD generation) is someone’s work. That someone, usually a creative type and not a hedge fund manager, needs to eat food, drink water and live in a home. Just like you and just like the rest of us. Unfortunately, the moronic attitude of digital entitlement on the part of many Internet users who seek to install software like AdBlock Plus, is making it harder for these average folks to get paid.

Of course, the problem has two sides, and the other side is equally ugly. I wrote in a previous entry how the value exchange between content providers and consumers is broken. Today, when I tried to play a video from about Boston dropping its Olympic bid, I couldn’t be bothered. My state-of-the-art ThinkPad X1 with an i7 processor and oodles of memory could not stream the video because of the 85 different ad calls that happened concurrently as the site loaded. It’s insane and publishers like this one should be chastised for degrading the consumer experience to such a point. But you know what? This content was available across a bunch of other sites and I just went there to watch it. WCVB may have gotten a fraction of a penny of revenue from my visit, but it ensured that I won’t be back. This punishment is much more long-term and fair than if I installed an ad blocker and kept visiting the site, because then the argument about who really is at fault tips in the favor of the site and not the user.

And really, in the world where clean format sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, as well as myriad of apps all promote a fast and streamlined vision for how content should be consumed, it’s no wonder that clunky and greedy publishers, who think short-term about monetization, are going to lose out very quickly.

I am, frankly, surprised that the German court delivered a verdict that did not make AdBlock Plus illegal. And it is even more surprising that some sites are partnering with, what should be seen as an enemy, to be included in its ‘white list.’ This is the media equivalent of the Moltov-Ribentropp agreement of the 1930s! And it’s going to come to bite these publishers in the ass sooner than later.

Digital content, its creation, ownership and sharing is in a crucial moment in history and those involved in making decisions about its future need to ignore the fast buck they can earn today, but rather with a vision for a prosperous (at least not loss-making) tomorrow.

The broken value exchange of consumer media

Over the years, there has been a lot of noise (I say noise, because I don’t know that it quite qualifies as “debate”) around the content publishers’ struggles to monetize their digital properties and to off-set losses they suffer in print.

I have been away from the U.S. for the last three years and because of this have largely ignored the developments in the domestic content publishing world. Maybe it is because of this large time gap that I was shocked by how much things have deteriorated, and I base this on a coupe of observations:

1. Content Quality – maybe not a total surprise to those consuming it, but it has become absolutely god-awful. It is as if the previously veritable publishers have capitulated to the 140 character onslaught from the likes of Kim, Kanye, Buzzfeed and others. This pivoting toward sensationalist publishing, which I can’t even call journalism, is doing the reverse of what I think the content owners were hoping to accomplish. It is deteriorating the lines between “newspapers/magazines of record” and the vox populi fronting as news organizations.

Blame 24 hour news cycles, dwindling attention spans of the nation, or what have you, but there is very little out there now that makes for a compelling media consumption experience. The publishers that have held out, like the Financial Times and NYT (and to some extent, WSJ), can erect and maintain pay walls because of how vastly superior their content is to the rest of the Internet.

This, by the way, is not as much of a trend in Europe, where publishers are refusing to capitulate to the trends seen in the U.S. and who fight to maintain the quality of its journalism. It’s not a sweeping statement, but the media landscape in Europe is different and is not as commercially driven as in the U.S., so the arc of content degradation is not as acute.

2. The actual user experience of many sites has become awful. Not only is the speed of rendering painfully slow because of the various ad units that need to be called and rendered, but the insane amount of third party ad technologies that have to fire up their pixels on every page load makes trying to read any piece of content nearly impossible.

CNBC really pissed me off today when I tried to read a story from a link a friend sent me. 37 individual pixels from third party ad tech companies fired. I felt like a slut at a gang bang, really.

37 pixels loaded

37 pixels loaded

I’m one of the people who actually preaches about content not being free, and the value exchange between consumers and publishers has to be in the form of advertising and data collection. But surely, when you are selling my impressions across dozens of platforms, while serving me content that has degraded significantly over time, the argument toward what is and isn’t a fair “price to pay” for a free article is going to shift toward the side of the consumer.

This race to the bottom is going to hurt the publishers and the consumers. As always, the winners will be those who played the long game, rather than dropping their pants and selling out. Content has, and will continue to be king. It has the power to shape political agendas, enlighten and educate the masses, and shift national discourse. But that’s when it is at its best. At its worst, it is senseless passing of time, which isn’t even entertainment. It’s rehashing, re-purposing and re-posting of noise and just because it gets clicks, does not mean that it should be what we are fed.

Content used to be about elevating the discussion. About presenting new ideas. The origination of what was written was not based on focus groups, who dictated what they wanted to read, but rather by highly intellectual journalists and editors who served as curators for what mattered. Now, we live in an inverted world, where micro-trends dictate what is being talked and written about, in turn perpetuating the conversation which, in essence, is about nothing. Of course, there are things that surface up that are interesting, unique and worthy of amplification to the wider masses, but at the fire hose approach that is currently being employed is fundamentally broken.