Thoughts on Ad Blocking

post by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-05-06T02:50:04.606Z · LW · GW · 24 comments

Disclosure: I work on ads at Google; this is a personal post.

In the discussion of why I work on ads people asked whether I use an ad blocker (no) and what I think of them (it's complicated). So, what about ad blockers?

It should be up to you what you see. If you don't want your computer displaying ads, or any other sort of content, you shouldn't have to. At the same time, most sites are offering a trade: you're welcome to our content if you also view our ads.

These are in conflict, but I feel like the resolution could be simple:

  1. You are free to block any ads you want.
  2. Sites can know when ads are blocked.

Sites could choose to respond to ad blocking by showing a message explaining that ads are what fund the site and requiring users to either subscribe or allow ads if they want to proceed. Or not: the marginal cost of serving a page is trivial and perhaps some visitors will share articles they enjoy. Still others might implement something like the first-n-free approach you see with paywalls, or progressively more obnoxious nagging.

This isn't what we have today:

I don't have any sort of proposal here; I'm not proposing a browser feature or government regulation. But in thinking about how future decisions might affect ads, I'm going to be most excited about ones that support (1) and (2).


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by localdeity · 2021-05-08T02:25:15.042Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably most of the below is not new, but I feel like going through the exercise of laying it out:

The absolute best ad is one that tells a user about a product they didn't know about, which is superior in some way (features, cost, whatever), and leads the user to go buy the product and be satisfied with that decision.  That is win-win for all involved.  (This extends to "products" that are free, like "go join this website or club".)  If every single ad exposure went like this, then I don't think anyone would have a problem with ads.

If ad targeting were perfect, then that might be possible.  However, it's unlikely that ad targeting will ever be perfect.  In fact, I imagine it'll always be very far from perfect.  So we then consider the impact on those who don't buy the product.  (We'll also later consider other kinds of ads.)

An ad that doesn't lead to a purchase (or other direct action, probably a click at the very least) is, for the user, a waste.  How onerous the waste is, depends on the characteristics of the ad.  If it's a loud autoplaying video that takes over the entire webpage and can't be closed (without closing the tab) until the ad finishes, that's pretty damn annoying.  If it's a blob of text or a static image on the side or top of the page, that is roughly the least obtrusive that an ad on a webpage can be.  An animated banner is more distracting (and therefore more irritating), although if it can be scrolled away from, that reduces the impact.

There is the "banner blindness" thing, where users learn to ignore things that look like ad banners without looking at them (sometimes leading them to ignore actual website content).  It's not complete blindness, but it does reduce exposure.  There is, of course, a tradeoff between how hard an ad is to ignore and how much exposure the ad gets.  Of course, there's also presumably a correlation between how much a user wants to ignore ads and how unlikely it is that they'd want whatever the ad gives them.

In other media... Video commercials in TV are often unskippable (though at least originally this was a technological limitation).  On video sites, they often can be skipped, or skipped after the first 5 seconds; this seems like a very good thing.

So that's the aspect of how quickly and easily the user can ignore the ad.  Then there's the content of the ad.  A non-interested user can still find an ad funny (e.g. some Geico ads), nice to look at, or otherwise derive value from it.  Or it can be aversive, in many ways.

For sensory reasons (roughly all my senses are hypersensitive), I find most ads offensive.  TV ads are always unpleasantly louder than the TV shows; when I watched actual TV, I would always have to hit the down-volume button a few times, or just hit the mute button—I developed the habit of doing the latter whenever ads came on.  I also find rapid light-flashing and scene-changing (the types of things that, when more intense, yield warnings about epilepsy) unpleasant, yet this tends to happen a lot in ads as well (particularly movie trailers); for an extreme example of what I mean, cover your eyes and check out the Youtube of "SELFIE (Official Music Video)"; for a real example, I just checked out the first movie trailer I found, the "Loki" trailer from Apr 5, and in most of it there are scene changes literally every 1-3 seconds, and yes, this is unpleasant.  Ads that take over a webpage, I find infuriating, doubly so if the ESC key doesn't dismiss it.  Animated banner and video ads—the more movement in my peripheral vision I can't avoid, the more irritating it is, and sometimes I resort to using the browser inspector tool to delete the object.  Also my internet bandwidth isn't too high, and I hate it when my laptop slows down or when the fans spin up (especially when it's due to a tab I'm not even viewing), so animated and video ads tend to bother me from a resources perspective too.

Then there are the informational aspects of the content of the ad.  From prior experiences, in video commercials, I expect a bunch of manipulative bullshit (in the Harry Frankfurt sense): the facts will be cherry-picked and distorted, it'll try to promote some social norms (all admirable people do x and y and z, which our product helps with) that I'll have to reflexively oppose; and it may try to hurt me emotionally (not that I've seen these examples in particular, but imagine an ad for a dating service deliberately making the viewer feel lonely, or an ad for life insurance making the viewer think about death).  (And political ads can define their own category of harmful-if-believed, though thankfully I've seen very few of them.)  I imagine I can resist it all, by thinking to myself about the ways it's wrong or manipulative, but that takes work, and certainly distracts me from whatever else I wanted to do; it's more efficient to mute the audio and pay half-attention to doing something else until my peripheral vision tells me the ad is finishing, which is what I usually do when adblockers aren't applicable.  It's certainly a lose-lose: I get annoyed and waste time, and the company doesn't make any progress.

The history of ads seems to be a history of advertisers defecting as hard as they can, and occasionally getting reined in by powerful platforms.  Remember pop-up ads, and autoplaying loud videos?  It took intervention by browser vendors to stop that.  Not all advertisers were doing it, but the incentives pointed in that direction, and it has soured me (and, I'm sure, many others) toward broad categories of ads.

So my reaction to many ads is "fuck you, I consider this defecting against me and I'd like to retaliate somehow if I could".  Like, if I could spend $1 to cause $1 of economic damage to whoever was responsible for putting it in my face, I'd probably do that.  And, of course, on principle I try to avoid letting my brain acquire or retain any of the informational content of the ad (like the name of the product).  For game-theoretic purposes, I would be happy to take an Unbreakable Vow that I would never let these ads affect my purchasing or other behavior.  If I didn't have adblockers... Well, I'd probably spend a lot of effort to help create them.

I'm sure my opinions are not universal (especially the sensory issues).  (Though that adds another layer of insult: "Yeah, we agree showing you this ad is certainly lose-lose, but we'll do it anyway because it works on enough other people and we can't be bothered to distinguish you from the average.")  But I'm also sure that some others feel the same way.  And probably lots of people (the majority?) have categories of ads that it's never worth showing to them.

So now let's talk about the possibility of ads being benign—for me, at least (I imagine I'm one of the toughest customers).

For me, text and static-image ads (ones that you can scroll away from) on most webpages are benign.  On video sites, video ads that I can skip after a couple of seconds are tolerable, but showing them to me is still lose-lose unless I start watching them, which will only happen if I start finding them reliably pleasant; that could happen if I see them being reliably funny and non-manipulative (and if they don't repeat the same ones too many times) and otherwise not offensive to my sensibilities.  The way things are, I doubt this will happen, but if it did, that would be nice.  (Come to think of it, I generally find music in the ad manipulative; this alone probably rules out >90% of video ads.)

A radio ad that I would love to encounter if it were for a real product (even though I probably wouldn't buy it): 

SlateStarCodex had a few ads that were static images.  A nice example is the MealSquares ad (disclosure: MealSquares customer).  It's a static PNG image (hence easy to ignore), and mildly humorous:  Stack Overflow is another site that uses text and static-image ads; those are fine.

I know advertisers probably pay less for unobtrusive ads (i.e. static text/images) than for invasive ones.  That is fine; if they were priced efficiently, showing me the invasive ads would pay zero, because of my "fuck you I want to make you regret this" response.  If that means some things I use would start charging me, would have to set up a Patreon-like model, or would go out of business, that is fine; I would deal with that one way or another.

Now, generalizing.  It is possible that tracking and targeting could be used to make ads benign and profitable.  The ideal system would know about my sensory and other issues and would know to only serve me static ads on most websites, and benign videos on video sites; it might even strip the music from videos that it showed me.  It would probably have a "fuck you" button I could use on stuff I hated, which would give me an interface that let me configure away the types of ads I didn't want (as I've described the categories above).  (I believe Google Ads has some ability for a user to say "Don't show me this ad"; I haven't used it, but my guess is that it's an opaque whack-a-mole process, and I would expect to still be seeing crap I disliked after marking 20 things.)  It would know I'm an ascetic who rarely buys physical goods anyway (and who usually searches for comparison review articles when I do buy them).  It would have some notion of the value I place on my time.  It would know that I get annoyed by repetition more quickly than most people (at least for video ads, I probably wouldn't want to see them more than twice).  Likely it would often conclude that there was no ad worth showing me.

This would probably require massive changes.  At the moment, as I say, I think the advertisers are defecting as hard as they can.  They're in a tragedy-of-the-commons game: whenever one of them puts a more-manipulative or more-intrusive ad into an allowed place, it makes people resent all ads from that place and want to ignore them, but for the individual advertiser, the extra benefit from that ad probably exceeds the damage to them.  To resolve this, it seems that one entity needs to own each "channel that distributes the ads", so all the damage is experienced by them (possibly with some kind of future contracts or insurance to try to bring the "long-term" damage into the present) and gives them an incentive to reject bad ads, and to give the user a "fuck you" button and interface to help them serve only ads that the user actually likes.

Google is probably in a position to make that happen; AIUI they pretty much own the ad distribution channels.  They have the resources to implement things like "multiple versions of ads, for those who hate xyz" (the "strip out the music" option).  And, of course, if anyone has the data to get the targeting right, they do (though I've heard it can be fairly crude anyway).  On the other hand, they likely don't have short-term incentives to implement this stuff, and I don't know if they have the right kind of people with political capital in the organization who would want to implement this (if it even would be business-sensible).

Right now my "fuck you" button is my adblocker, which has very wide collateral damage.  (Sometimes I view the internet on my phone (which has no adblocker), and I see "Oh, right, this is how the other half lives", and generally don't stay too long.)  It is under my control, which is important, and I think I will always want to have it as a fallback; I don't think any organization can be trusted in this domain unless the user has them by the balls (i.e. can kick them away and find an alternative easily).  (As far back as cable TV, people have introduced new things with the selling point "these are ad-free!", and then, once enough customers have switched over and developed inertia, the advertisers have offered a big enough pile of cash to get the new platform to betray its promise.)

I suppose it's possible that some random-ass people could implement a fine-grained adblocker with the customizability that I would like.  At the moment, I wouldn't have an incentive to switch to it from my blunter adblocker, but perhaps I and others eventually would.  If that happened, the next thing would be "advertisers bribe the authors", but as long as it's an open-source thing, there'd likely be at least one competent developer who'd maintain a noncorrupted fork.  Such people likely wouldn't have the resources to do things like "use machine learning to detect emotional manipulation", but they could at least "outlaw all but text and static image ads".  If enough users switched to it, then maybe that would incentivize ad platforms to duplicate the functionality and always deliver ads that the user won't want to block.

Meh.  At the moment it seems the most likely way for the best stuff to happen is some visionary at Google doing stuff that turns out good enough.  Maybe Brave will do something.  I guess we'll see.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-05-08T10:53:22.297Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

> To resolve this, it seems that one entity needs to own each "channel that distributes the ads", so all the damage is experienced by them

Where "channel" here is the internet? This sounds illegal, since the whole idea is removing competition

Replies from: Viliam, localdeity
comment by Viliam · 2021-05-08T16:02:22.982Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where "channel" here is the internet?

I believe it refers to e.g. YouTube.

Advertisers play a zero-sum game against each other. If company X makes a more invasive ad than their competitor company Y, it will result in more sales for X and less sales for Y. Therefore it makes sense for them to make their ads as invasive as possible.

But if both companies advertise on YouTube, then Google can specify rules about what is allowed and what is not, and both companies X and Y would have to follow the rules. A good example was Slate Star Codex, where you either advertised in the specified unobtrusive way, or not at all.

Imagine that Google would make rules such as "ads are not allowed to be louder than X" or "each ad can be skipped after one second of playing". Do you believe it would result in companies taking their ads away from YouTube (to where exactly)? Because it would be definitely more pleasant for the user.

Problem is, Google allows users to pay for removing the ads, therefore it is their incentive to make the experience unpleasant for the unpaying user. The goal is to find the optimal level of unpleasantness -- not too low, because the users would not pay for reducing it, but not high enough to make the non-paying users leave YouTube en masse.

comment by localdeity · 2021-05-08T17:44:36.777Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Each individual website's advertising space is its own channel.

Upon reflection, individual management of each website's channel kind of works: I can imagine knowing and trusting some websites and their ad systems, and having bad behavior on other websites not sour me against the first set.  However, it doesn't work for the undifferentiated mass of websites I've rarely or never seen before.  The no-name websites would have an incentive to defect, because the negative impact is spread among the many others (also, a no-name website likely has a shorter expected lifetime, and therefore a shorter planning horizon).

Now, if those websites mostly outsource their advertisement to one big long-lived monopolistic company—say, if 90% of the market farms it out to Google—then that company does absorb most of the damage from bad ads, and thus has a decent incentive to have policies against bad ads (and to maintain a good "fuck you" button).  (Well, due to corporate dysfunction, the actual planning horizon of the decisionmakers in the company may be disappointingly short.  Perhaps betting markets—who knows.)  It's possible that economies of scale and network effects will mean that, even if bad ads are more effective (in the short term), the other advantages of using Google outweigh those of the bad ads.

Still, if we figure Google has a few competitors (in the "farm out your ads" space) that are nearly as effective and that allow worse ads, it's possible the competitors would start gaining ground.  If they gain enough ground, they might end up in a similar position as Google and start finding it in their interest to cut out more bad ads, but that could take a while.  And if you end up with an oligopoly of, say, four companies, the smallest of which has 10% of the market, it's possible that the difference between "absorbs all the damage from bad ads" and "absorbs 1/10 the damage from bad ads" is significant.

Perhaps the oligopolies would be able to make deals of some kind?  Each one agrees to stop its bad ads in exchange for the rest giving them some fraction of the expected benefit to them.  I've heard that this category of agreement might get declared "anticompetitive behavior" and run afoul of antitrust laws, which is unfortunate.  Don't know if that's true, though.

It's also conceivable that it could all happen from the bottom from negotiation with the user-controlled adblockers.  It seems that Adblock Plus made some forays in this direction, where its makers started letting "acceptable ads" through (allegedly with criteria like "only static advertisements with a maximum of one script will be permitted as "acceptable", with a preference towards text-only content"), in exchange for getting paid by the advertisers.  From the outside this is hard to distinguish from "getting bribed to betray their users", and a bunch of people complained.  It's possible they implemented it badly (and, conceivably, that finding a way to share that revenue with the users is a better model (I think Brave is doing something that sounds like this?)), but that things like it are a good direction to go in.

(My impression is that a bunch of people switched from ABP to uBlock, and then to uBlock Origin for possibly similar reasons.  (I was one such person; I didn't look closely into what ABP was no longer blocking; but apparently uBlock has various other technical advantages as well.)  At the very least, the fact that users can switch like this is important to disincentivize betrayal.)

If we do reach a place where many/most users are running something resembling ABP, which blocks the bad ads, then advertisers are incentivized to make sure they can serve ok ads.  (They might also try to detect adblocking and, in its absence, serve the bad ads; this might be considered an incentive for users to install ABP.)  That would be decent, although we then reach the question of individuality.

Suppose that the average concept of "ok ads", which ABP-likes end up with, includes things I hate.  Modern adblockers do have "lists" you can subscribe to, so it does seem likely that someone would have added ways for me to disable some set of ads that fairly closely resembles what I want (I suspect I would end up disabling all video ads).  Then... would sites lock me out?  From an "optimal price discrimination" perspective, the static ads really are all they can get from me, so they should settle for that (for all the good it'll do, see "ascetic" and "family subscribes to Consumer Reports").  From an "in practice" perspective... Well, consider that only 1/4 of web users block ads (as of a 2019 survey) and those are a self-selected subset that hate (some) ads and wouldn't be good targets anyway.  Of those who do, probably the vast majority use the defaults; even I didn't bother changing the settings on my adblocker (which I've used for years) until yesterday (to turn off the damn "cookie permissions" nags).  I suspect it's not really worth it for the sites to bother excluding those who block videos (although I would also have expected it's not really worth it for them to bother excluding those who block all ads, and apparently some do; I suspect that was implemented by an ad platform that lots of sites farm out to).  Likely some would try.  And that would be fine.

comment by Raven · 2021-05-06T03:15:09.944Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Advertisers and consumers are fundamentally opposed. Your ideal scenario is unstable because consumers will prefer true adblockers, and advertisers will prefer unblockable ads. Nobody has any reason to cooperate and whoever does so first will get eaten by the competition.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-05-06T12:32:23.670Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that consumers and publishers (not advertisers) are opposed here, but there are also many participants who are not: browsers, regulators, industry groups. Having some people who are opposed doesn't make solving a coordination problem impossible.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-05-08T00:29:13.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a consumer, I'd prefer the browser to be fully on my side. As a general rule, any software that runs on my computer should be fully on my side.

Which is why I avoid using Chrome (obviously, it's going to be on Google's side). But I am also disappointed with all the stupid things that Brave is doing instead of fully focusing on being the most safe, the most private, the least fingerprintable web browser.

Let's go even further: I wish I had a web browser that recognizes articles with paywalls, and does not allow me to click on links to them; there should be a "lock" icon displayed above the hyperlink.

  1. You are free to block any ads you want.
  2. Sites can know when ads are blocked.

I like this, but I would go further: I want to precommit to never see an ad or a paywalled article, and to make this precommitment known to the website. So the website can only choose to show me the article, or show me a standard error message "this content is not free". (That is, my browser would either show me the article without ads, or the error message. The website would know that these are ultimately the only possible outcomes.) Best case, I'd like to know which one of these outcomes it is even before clicking the link. If the link would result in the error message, I want to see the hyperlink as unclickable.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-05-08T01:05:29.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

> I am also disappointed with all the stupid things that Brave is doing instead of fully focusing on being the most safe, the most private, the least fingerprintable web browser.

If they did that, how would they fund their engineers?

comment by noggin-scratcher · 2021-05-06T16:50:28.376Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really despise being advertised to, and I reserve every right to have my own hardware do whatever I want in the way of changing the data a site sends me before displaying it (as you say, it should be up to me what I see). 

If the site wants to run some intrusive thing that monitors whether there are ads being displayed and refuses to send any more data if they aren't, then fair play and I'll take my eyeballs elsewhere. If they want to paywall their content so that they don't need to run ads, then I'll consider the cost of a subscription (although I'm even more likely to look favourably on the "pay what you want/voluntary support from the keenest for free content for everyone" Patreon type model). 

But whatever the case, I feel no compunction about blocking every ad I'm technologically capable of blocking; and I can't say I have a great depth of respect for nag screens that are so easily circumvented. If you don't want to serve me content, then actually don't, but sending a combination of [content + nag screen] is a blob of data that's easily transformed into just [content].

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2021-05-06T21:14:43.006Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I find fascinating about this post and the last one is how much hate there is for ads and how much this seems to be blinding people. The comments and votes seem to suggest Jeff is claiming to be a baby-eater [LW · GW] and folks don't seem to be engaging deeply with the content, instead reacting against what they feel is the wrong of advertising.

As always, disappointed when LW readers yay/boo things rather than engage with them.

comment by deluks917 · 2021-05-06T04:21:47.485Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The people who make ad blockers have improved my life enormously. It's worth noting Facebook timeline ads are not particularly annoying. Maybe forcing sites to mask their ads as content is a good thing.

Replies from: meedstrom
comment by meedstrom · 2021-05-06T08:47:18.402Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The people who make ad blockers have improved my life enormously.

Compare with a world where an omnipresent virus has been eating all adblockers since the beginning. Perhaps some of us would be in a better place, using the internet less. Perhaps it'd actually have become a norm to pay for ad-free content and many of us would stay on the parts of the web we paid for.

If that's the alternative, I believe they have harmed your life. Remember that bending backwards for ads is not just making your site uglier -- it's doing everything to maximize pageviews and clicks, which affects everything, down to selecting the very kinds of content that get posted. The web as a whole is less honest.

Maybe forcing sites to mask their ads as content is a good thing.

Are "ads" just visual clutter to you? To me it's a low signal-to-noise ratio, demonstrated by the filler content on a cooking recipe or how a 10-minute YouTube video is carved into 3 minutes of introduction, 3 minutes of pointless digressions, 1 minute of information, 3 minutes on why the information was great, and "please like and share and don't forget to hit that subscribe button". Masked ads are in the same vein, you have to realize you're reading "nutritionally empty" content and filter it out. It's immensely tiresome and I'd rather have simple visual clutter.

comment by lejuletre · 2021-05-07T17:23:37.885Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would use an adblocker that compromised by only blocking ads (and "you're supposed to be seeing an ad here :(" notifications) that move and/or cover text. I said this in a comment on the last post, but I wasn't kidding when I said ads make some websites truly unusable (or slow them down to that point). Just last night I was using Chrome with no adblocker (I usually use Firefox with ublock origin), and was so slow and cluttered that I ended up switching back to Firefox to make my single citation and copy it back to my document in Chrome. in Chrome with no adblocker; there are 4 ad slots visible including 1 video. All of the ads are moving and the actual content of the website is below all of the ads. 
The same website in Firefox with ublock origin. There is a large blank space where ads would normally go, so I still have to scroll down to the content, but nothing is covering said content.

I would be happy with an adblocker that froze these moving ads and removed the "Ace hardware" ad which is covering the content as well as the HBO Max video (which plays sound). The CVS/Paypal ad is duplicated in this screenshot, but as the ads refresh they are usually not duplicated.

If all ads looked like ads on slatestarcodex used to, I would be fine with them. I've bought things from facebook ads before and I don't mind being shown content I'm likely to buy (and I find facebook's strategy of disguising its ads like posts to be misleading, but minimally disruptive). But I cannot navigate around an internet that shows 4+ ads on any page I visit. It's excessive.

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-05-07T22:54:54.081Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Slatestarcodex did a really god job with it. Like, I actually visited the page with 'these are approved ads', because I was curious and wanted to learn more (even about stuff I hadn't seen). (I remember liking what was done with the Jane Street ad/puzzles, but everything did a really great job of looking good, and also a surprising amount of time, matching with the color scheme of the page.)

comment by Sigurd · 2021-05-06T06:17:35.153Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This assumes users are well informed as to the cost/benefit of seeing ads. Whatever you think about ads, that assumption has proven false I believe. We can dive into how to prove that if you want to contest it. With that assumption gone, however, your position has to be reevaluated.

comment by tinyanon (aaron-teetor) · 2021-05-06T03:10:47.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't those types of ads usually pay per click? I've never purposefully clicked an ad* on a site so it's really no different to them if I use an ad blocker

*Not counting things like the front page of steam where I'm coming for the ads specifically

Replies from: Raven
comment by Raven · 2021-05-06T03:15:56.867Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think most ads these days are pay per view (they're trying to manipulate you via exposure, not by trying to get you to buy right away).

Replies from: gworley
comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2021-05-06T21:09:16.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends how you count and where you are. It's true that most of the time you're mostly going to see CPM ads, but CPC and CPA ads are quite popular on some networks (I'm pretty sure, for example, that most ads on Facebook are CPC or CPA, not CPM).

However we should be clear on why CPM is popular: it's predictable. If you're trying to spend $10k on ads, buying CPM ads is simpler because it works exactly how you think. Yes, you might serve ads to bad inventory, but at least you served the ads and the money was spent (why might the money being spent matter? if you're an agency spending on behalf of a client and need to hit a spend minimum; principal-agent problems abound here). CPC and CPA make it much harder to ensure all the money gets spent: maybe your ad sucks or there's not enough inventory of people who would click your ads to meet your desired spend. So CPM still fills the gap.

As I hope this makes clear, lots of ad spending is wasted. In many cases you can't really get more results from spending more than, say, $10k/month unless you're in a zero-sum battle for brand awareness: at that point you'll have already saturated all the inventory that will generate results for you, and additional spending has close to 0 marginal return. Of course, marketers want to spend money they can plausibly claim produced results, so more money gets spent, often in ways that are decreasingly easy to trace effectiveness of. But now we're getting way off topic.

comment by js290 · 2021-05-06T14:12:31.031Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Asymmetric bandwidth my primary motivation for blocking ads: "For example, there isn't enough incentive for advertisers to limit their use of bandwidth..."

Go back to the sites serving both ads & content (like newspapers), and I'd be more tolerant of online ads.

comment by TruePath · 2021-05-06T06:22:13.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is a big problem.. The people who use ad blockers are both a small fraction of internet users and the most sophisticated ones so I doubt they are a major issue for website profit. I mean sure, Facebook is eventually going to try to squeeze out the last few percent of users if they can do so with an easy countermeasure but if this was really a big concern websites would be pushing to get that info back from the company they use to host ads. Admittedly when I was working on ads for Google (I'm not cut out to be out of academia so I went back to it) I never really got into this part of the system so I can't comment on how it would work out but I think if this mattered enough companies serving ads would figure out how to report back to the page about ad blockers.

I'm sure some sites resent ad blockers and take some easy countermeasures but at an economic level I'm skeptical this really matters.

What this means for how you should feel about using ad blockers is more tricky but since I kinda like well targeted ads I don't have much advice on this point.

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-05-07T01:02:36.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
so I doubt they are a major issue for website profit.

Ads decrease consumption drastically, and (patreon user) Gwen found it to be a massive loss. Important to know if there are other ways of making money or that's not your (only) goal.

I've found targeting ads to be, at best, 'selling pizza right in front of the pizza store - right after the customers have left with the pizza they bought*'. Arguably some small (rare) theoretical benefits even if doing almost no work (though in a world filled with badly targeted ads, they'll get mowed down like all the rest) via followup, but it's not pre-emptive and I have to keep track of what I want (to consume), and when it's coming out.

Ads aren't some service where I subscribe (ooh, that Batman-/Christopher Nolan-movie/TV Show was really good, I want to see trailers for it automatically when the the next one comes out). Instead they're trying to serve old left overs. (Fill in the blank) advertises that show I've already finished watching* because it's popular and on their streaming service which ?? they know I use but don't know I've already seen it ??. Ads for the new phone I have on the very same phone... Either someone has gone mad with greed, or people actually have multiple phones that are the same phone?

*It wasn't that great. I'm not going back for more of the same, again.

It seems bizarre for me to say 'ask me what ads I want to see', but like...wouldn't that be more effective? I know what I want, I know what I'd buy.* (Everyone tweeting #SnyderCut since forever, everyone following that doesn't take rocket science to know what they want. For all I know they paid for it in advance (kickstarter style).)

*The next level thing would be budgeting. That's too much to ask for. (But might interface better with deals, in some way beyond 'a pre-order the book and it's cheaper' deal.)

I'd say the weaknesses include not knowing about new products, or new categories of products. But honestly? That's a problem right now that might be fixed this way: If people are 'wasting time on social media'...a website based around watching cool ads might work.

I have ways of finding new things and they work. Often I don't need trailers for movies. Ads aren't good at discovering right now. The myth of 'you didn't know you needed it' remains disappointingly absent.

I didn't find out about TurboTax from ads - but I got those after I used it.

Replies from: TruePath
comment by TruePath · 2021-05-07T15:46:26.742Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I absolutely think that the future of online marketing g involves more asking ppl for their prefs. I know I go into my settings on good to active curate what they show me.

Indeed, I think Google is leaving a fucking pile of cash on the table by not adding a "I dislike" button and a little survey on their ads.

Replies from: jkaufman
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-05-07T20:57:22.643Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

> not adding a "I dislike" button and a little survey on their ads

Have you tried clicking the little "ad choices" button in the upper right hand corner?

comment by Pattern · 2021-05-07T00:33:32.745Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
1. You are free to block any ads you want.
2. Sites can know when ads are blocked.

Do you see how those are in conflict?

Some sort of micropayment solution seems more viable.