Online advertising is coming up at an impasse. A revolution has already started to kill online advertising as we know it, and it is actually being led by some major players – Google, Apple, Netflix, Spotify, to name a few. Those companies are leading a revolution to remove advertising or at least offer consumers the choice to remove advertising from their online experience. They are empowering consumers to raise their expectations of what they want to experience online. Imagine, no more banner ads, pop ups, promoted posts, sponsored segments cluttering up your newsfeeds, websites, and playlists. Sounds like a no-brainer, but is it too good to be true?
Giving the people what they want
Giving people control over what they consumer online is the ideal. An ideal that is not far off. The Internet appears to be on that trajectory, primarily on the back of the Internet emperor Google. Either actively or passively, Google seems to have given it’s blessing that Internet advertising, as we know it, needs to die. Ad blocking and Google Contributor are prime examples of users being given the choice of whether they want to be exposed to advertising or not.
But is it not just Google. Apple and Spotify are also leading the anti-advertising vanguard by successfully transitioning their customers over to their ad-free paid subscription services. A similar movement is also happening in podcasts that offer the option for their listeners to donate whatever they can to keep their content ad-free. The transition that is happening online mirrors the same movement in TV with the rise of cord cutting, and also with increase in ad-free content that people are choosing to pay for through premium channels like HBO and Netflix.
The cost of going ad-free
While there certainly is an appetite for going ad-free, for the most part this choice does not come free-of-charge. The choice will certainly be there for people to enjoy their favourite content online without any disruptions, but that choice will be a luxury for those that are able to afford it.
Brands that want to be visible to these new consumers will have to adapt in this new world in order to remain relevant. Essentially, any brand that does not want to fall into Internet obscurity will need to vastly improve its consumer experience. As consumer’s online expectation rise, online publishers would not want their content to be tarnished by unwanted advertising that would detract their audience. The standards for how brands advertise online will have to meet a higher standard of quality in this new world, if any advertising is allowed at all.
Are we heading towards an online social hierarchy?
On the other hand, consumers that are unable to pay for the luxury of going ad-free will experience a completely different world when they go online. Their experience online will fall under the free-mium model, one that already is quite pervasive online. However, the consequence of the free-mium model is that the best experience is dependent on much money a consumer is willing to fork over. This may feel innocuous when we’re talking about a game of Angry Birds, but what about reading an article on the current election or even staying in touch with friends. Will the New York Times and Facebook start to provide only the best content to those who can afford it?
When I think about it, I’m not sure if it sounds controversial or not. Companies already offer the best experience to their customers who pay the most – whether it be stating in a 5 star hotel to buying a car. But when it comes to access to information, shouldn’t everyone have access to the same information, regardless of how important or trivial?
Maintaining the balance
In a weird way, advertising has actually helped maintain the unseen balance happening online. By providing publishers with the money to keep their content available to anyone, it has kept the Internet relatively accessible…mind the annoying pop-up ad or unwanted solicitation. But this experience may no longer be the norm as more people choose to go ad-free. On the surface this choice appears entirely reasonable, but it is important to imagine what unforeseen consequences could arise by the death of online advertising.
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