mnmlist: the future of advertising

One of the biggest reasons people buy so much, and are so discontent with their lives, is advertising. Advertising creates false needs — all of a sudden we need an iPhone or a new car or a diamond ring, just because an advertiser put the need in our heads.

What is advertising? It’s a company (or political candidate, etc.) paying a publishing platform (TV, newspaper, website, billboard, etc.) to get its message/brand in front of people. Companies are paying for our attention, and trying to get us to buy what they’re selling. And the publisher makes money by selling the attention of its readers/watchers/users.

Of course, for us, the users … it sucks. Ads make the watching experience much worse. Ads make the reading experience much worse (imagine reading this article with 10 ads surrounding it).

Ads make our lives worse.

Isn’t that amazing? Companies build entire businesses around *actively making our lives worse*. And they do it because it works. Because we buy what they’re selling, so advertisers make more money through this model, and publishers also win.

But we lose.

Many people, of course, would rather not have ads if given the choice. I prefer to watch a TV show on iTunes (where I might pay a dollar or two for the show) rather than pay for cable TV where I might get many more shows for the same dollar or two, but also have to put up with advertising. Honestly, I don’t need that many shows, and I’m not willing to pay less in order to make my life worse.

Lots of people will put up with ads to get content for free. But it’s not free, because:

  1. Your life is worse for having to watch the ads.
  2. You are paying for the ads, and thus the content, by buying more. If you weren’t, advertising wouldn’t exist.
  3. The time you spend watching ads is worth something.

This is becoming more important than ever because of the amount of time our lives are spent online and in front of screens, and thus potentially in front of ads. There are two directions I see advertising going in the future:

1. All pervasiveness. This is the direction it seems to be going. We spend so much time on things like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and other websites, and they’re all covered in invasive advertising. And with iPhones and Google Glass, that’s expanding to fill almost every moment of our waking lives. Advertising will be everywhere, tailored specifically to you now that advertisers and publishers have so much data about who you are.

However, I submit that there will be more and more services in the coming years that help us to block out ads. Obviously in the browser there are ad-blocking plugins/extensions, and people use things like Tivo to skip ads on television. We can pay to have no ads on some services. This is a worthwhile service, to pay to make your life less crappy, though of course not everyone will be able to afford this kind of service. So some will pay to have zero ads, and others will not afford it and have ads everywhere, all the time. The difference between these two kinds of lives will be huge.

2. Choose no ads. Some smart publishers will choose to have no ads. I have no ads here on mnmlist, nor on Zen Habits. How do I support myself, if not with ads? By selling my own services. This obviously is like advertising, but I think it’s better. I don’t have ads ruining your experience, and the only thing I sell is what I already have for free on my site (help for improving your life). And because you already know me and come to my site for this, you’re more likely to trust me than some random advertiser. If I violate that trust, you will stop going to my site. I have a strong incentive to keep your trust by being trustworthy.

I’m just one publisher on the Internet, but there are others. We are the exceptions, but I think we’re important exceptions. Readers/users/viewers can choose publishers who don’t have advertising, and avoid/block those who do. Opt out. Be conscious about who you go to, who you trust. If enough people do this, *having no ads will become a competitive advantage*. That will then encourage others to do the same, and then we will be able to choose a life without crappy ads, without having to pay extra.

Which future happens is up to you. You can opt to not read/watch/use sites and services with ads (and if you’re a publisher, you can create an ad-free business model), or you can put up with crappy ads and let the all-pervasiveness win.