Digital Advertising: a necessity or nuisance?

Digital Advertising is everywhere online. From sites like Facebook/ Instagram to Google and Amazon, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere safe from advertising in the digital world. Is digital advertising a fad and nuisance or necessary and here to stay? Lets find out.

Digital Advertising: The good

Digital advertising has a lot of benefits and these should not be discounted. Several steps forward in technology and lifestyle over the last decade would not be possible without digital advertising dollars. The majority of the benefits of Digital Advertising center around it’s revenue generation and funding of other initiatives.

Example of advertising queries blocked
This shows an example of technology used to block advertising on a network.
  1. Private/small content creators would not be able to produce the content that they are producing without money generated from digital adverting revenue streams. These include direct advertising/views through their published platform and ancillary sponsorships, product promotion etc. Content creators that produce Youtube media, but also bloggers / vloggers and podcasters. It has opened up an entire economy funded primarily by advertising revenue.
  2. This content has a very real benefit to the consumer in education (how-to’s/documentaries) and in entertainment.
  3. Not necessarily realized today, but there are scientific and cultural benefits funded by advertising revenue, specifically including the historical archival of recorded events. 100 years from now, provided Youtube still exists, historians will be able to look back at what life was like today. We have limited archival footage from daily life at the turn of the century (1900’s) because video and photography was just starting to become used. This will not be the case years into the future.
  4. Digital advertising is relatively environmentally friendly considering the alternative. While we may not agree on this point, imagine being inundated with the sheer volume of advertising you see online, coming to you in paper form through postal services. Showing a single digital advertisement to you, saves paper, fuel and labour costs of bringing that advertisement to your door in the mail.
  5. Digital advertising allows companies to get the word out to their customers or potential customers quickly about changes in products/services, recalls, service interruptions and other important notices. The vast majority of digital advertising is trying to sell you a service or widget, but much of the advertising is intended to be informative.
  6. Digital advertising has lead to the rise of Social Media and other free services. Service for free does not exist, someone put the time in to produce that item and companies have to pay their employees for time. Without digital advertising dollars, all those free useful apps that you enjoy would be pay apps if they existed at all.

Digital Advertising: The bad

It can be hard to find direct benefits to advertising for the audience subject to the advertising. We’re going to look at digital advertising from the point of view of the audience when we discuss the bad.

browser based add blocking plugin for Firefox, Chrome and Edge

  1. Digital advertising wastes time. This is true when you consider waiting for sites (web or streaming) to load ads before they present content, or during shows/events. We used to call these “commercial breaks”. On sites such as Google search, sometimes sifting through the ads to get to the result you’re interested in consumes time. In a world where we are concerned with how long it takes to start our computers, we strangely are not as concerned with the time we spend sifting through irrelevant information before getting to what we were looking for.
  2. Digital advertising is intrusive. Even when paying for content, advertising is present. For example, movie previews in Theatres or product placement in film. Watching a sporting event online through a streaming service such as Sportsnet or TSN. These are subscription services that generate money from your subscription, but also generate revenue by advertising to you during those events. In hockey for example advertisements on the boards, on the ice, on the players uniforms and through the commentators/announcers has made some of these events really difficult to watch.
  3. Digital advertising costs money. Where time is money it’s clear advertising is intrusive that it does have a monetary impact. But also consider networks where you pay for data. In cellular or satellite internet services where data has a value the audience ends up paying real money to be advertised to.
  4. Digital advertising networks collect a lot of data about their audience and pose a not-so-insignificant privacy risk. Cookies, site visits, anonymized data, site referrals, tracking and cross site tracking, and personalized advertising with advertising IDs create a profile of the consumer and are all mechanisms to help the advertisers generate advertisements that they believe will appeal to their audience. Their job is to generate interest for their customer (the company paying for advertising). Search for a pencil on amazon, the next advertisement you’ll see when you are reading your news site will be a pencil and amazon knows that that query came from your device.

    Is it possible to use the data that these sites collect to identify a person? I believe online behavior is like a fingerprint. I believe the major players such as Amazon/Facebook/Google are able to cross reference your online behavior profile with your account details based on the services you use. A good example is that for many people you are unable to install applications on your phone without a Google Play account – in fact I do not think you can even get an Android phone running without a Google Play account nowadays. This account provides Google with your personal information. Then perform a search. Now Google can cross reference your search behavior with your account information. This activity profile will follow you across multiple devices.
  5. It’s a numbers game and is often not very effective. Advertisers try to place relevant ads in front of you. They try to identify that you have a need based on the things you search for through your online activity. This can be effective when a timely advertisement is placed in your view for a plumber when you have a water leak for example. However, what they don’t do is cease advertising when your need is fulfilled. They continue to send ads to your screen and continue to run through their customers’ advertising budgets doing that. There are several examples of companies ceasing digital advertising spends had not perceptible impact on their actual site sales. In fact what it did was make a stronger correlation between site visits and sales.
  6. Psychologically advertising is exhausting when constantly bombarded.

    Because technology is everywhere and entrenched in our daily life it is almost an impossibility to escape it. It may be a good idea to take one day a week off from technology and see if there is an impact to your mental health.
  7. Consumer technology is designed to be a conduit for advertising to you. For example Windows 10 is provided free to you, in exchange you agree to be advertised to through your acceptance of their end user agreement. Most people would agree that getting something for free, and giving up some level of control is an acceptable compromise.

Summarizing: Digital Advertising, a necessity or a nuisance?

I believe digital advertising is a necessity for society to advance at the pace it is today. Adoption of new technology would not have proceeded at this pace without offering so much content in exchange for being subject to advertising. There is no other more cost effective way to get a message to the masses without advertising digitally.

Digital advertising helps small businesses and startups get the word out, and overall while it’s a nuisance, its a necessity.

There is no doubt that digital advertising is a nuisance and I think as a society we are bombarded with advertising at a scale never before seen. We have become numb to it. I anticipate that digital advertisers will revert to more traditional forms of advertising as the effectiveness of digital advertising wears off.

Digital Advertising: a necessity and a nuisance.

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