The Wild And Troublesome Adventures Of Advertising Ethics

Why, despite the site's growing readership, I've decided to substitute traditional online advertising efforts with Patreon. Published on Wed, Oct 16, 2019. Written by Michael Bassili.

The principal reason I don’t attempt to advertise to the readers of this site is that I find it yucky. A more “concrete” reason is that I don’t believe that the process of third-party advertising is entirely ethical. It is ethically yucky, as well as just plain yucky. Despite the growing readership of the site (we’ve reached about 2k unique visitors per month, by the way), I find it difficult to allow banner ads to be displayed; I have no quarrels with promoting the site’s Patreon page because contributions made through Patreon mostly go directly to me rather than being funnelled through an advertiser, such as Google. Another reason is that I find Patreon to be a sort of digital tip-jar, and those are completely fine. Artists and content creators need to be supported somehow, and direct one-to-one tips allow for a pleased consumer to contribute to a said creator explicitly. Another non-explicit way would be sharing content the creator produces to their friends, family, or on social media, drawing more eyes to the creator’s work while boosting their potential for further tips.

Advertising is generally perceived as unpleasant and inconvenient for those who have the bad luck of consuming them. There’s a reason Netflix was and continues to be, so attractive to many young people: the platform does not show ads. Their competitor, Amazon Prime, on the other hand, dares to show ads (1) when you open the app, (2) between episodes of shows, and (3) after a movie ends. These ads are usually for other shows on Amazon Prime, meaning that the service you pay for is trying to get you to invest, either mentally or emotionally, in the very product you’re consuming this very second. This is perverse. For one, If I’m already on the platform, you can just show little banners for the various shows you wish to promote (which is what Netflix currently does) which avoids angering people like me who just want to watch a season of Community without interruption.

Introducing ads on the sides of articles would generate similar discontent at a time where I’m relying on the content and engagement of readers. This proves counter-intuitive despite its obvious potential for profitability. My priorities are to produce a steady amount of high-quality content. Partially upsetting the very readers I’m trying to win over would reduce their overall enjoyment of the content.

Here’s a story: I’m planning on talking about toxic business practices of Blizzard Entertainment. I take weeks to write this whole piece on their iffy complacency with foreign (to them) governments, and their poor public signalling of their official stance. It’s a juicy one, and I’m stoked to publish it. Before I do, however, I enable third-party ads through Google AdSense. I place two fixed banner ads on the sides of all articles and move on with my life. Fine, right?

A few days later, I publish the article on the site. Littered throughout the article are mentions to Blizzard’s many games: Overwatch (2016), Diablo 3 (2012), Hearthstone (2014), etc. Perhaps they’re used as examples here-and-there. Google AdSense attempts so serve “relevant” ads because showing ads viewers are potentially interested in substantially improve sales. My article, which includes many mentions of Blizzard’s many games, is now littered with ads to Blizzard: an ad for a new Hearthstone expansion, an ad for their new World of Warcraft game, and so on.

Imagine trying to engage with an article condemning a corporation for injustices while simultaneously being advertised to by the very same company? It’s a contradiction, and it’s confusing. Moreover, it undermines the message of the piece. Think I’m overreacting? YouTube’s own AdSense-run advertising does this all the time! A quick Google search shows countless advertising blunders ranging from showing Pepsi ads on videos of white supremacists, to mid-roll ads about the Nintendo Switch on videos about the poor gameplay decisions in Mario Odyssey (2017). In these cases, advertising undermines the message and impact of the content being consumed. Ads essentially hijack the personal perceptions of viewers, potentially skewing them to favour the very same entity that’s being bad-talked!

And, this isn’t some hot-take either; pretty much any YouTuber who’s serious about their work now has a Patreon page. In the past few years, we’ve seen platforms such as Patreon receiving more-and-more support due to their direct contribution methods. No confusion, no variability. Just patronage.

Consuming opinionated content changes the way your consumers think of said content. Watching a positive review about Mario Odyssey might positively impact the way you perceive the game before you even play it. If a bunch of reviewers bash a new release, and then you pick it up the next day, you might find yourself being more critical than you usually are. People affect people, and opinions affect thoughts.

Ads carry this potential too; a few positive ads about the XBOX ONE, for example, might help you forget about the disaster that is the XBOX ONE. Allowing advertising on a website such as Mike’s Gaming Trove means inviting conflicting opinions and varying points of view into a well-paced argument. In this case, maintaining tonal consistency within the site holds more value to me than the potential ad revenue I’m missing out on.

Another avenue I’m exploring is the selling of merchandise. Things like T-shirts and hats support me directly, and prevent the sort of conflicting messages ads would introduce. I’m confident that the combined revenue from Patreon and the selling of various merchandise will be enough to support the continued operation of the website. It’s unlikely that my stance on this will change.

And, just for fun, I’m making this a Patreon-exclusive article. Hopefully, a new Patron will read this and feel some sort of validation, having directly supported the operation of the site, having avoided pernicious advertisements.

Here are some relevant posts and articles on this kind of advertising. Maybe you’ll find these interesting:

I found it interesting how ads placed next to offensive content impacted brand perception in readers.

1041 Words
5 Minutes To Read
Posted on 16/10/2019

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