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Digital Media, The Writer's Life

The Online Advertising Invasion

There is a theory[1] that claims it is not humans who dominate the earth, but much lower forms of life: the bacteria that we carry within us. We are merely the vessel in which they travel. I am reminded of this whenever I visit the web site of a major content provider these days. The relationship between content and advertising is much the same: advertising is ascendant and ubiquitous; the content is now just the carrier.

popup1All I wanted to do was click over to theatlantic.com to read the esteemed Ta-Nehisi Coates’s take on the Charleston shootings. But an article that should have taken two minutes to read took more like ten. Here’s why:

Before I could even finish reading the headline, my screen froze, commandeered by a big gray box. I had to wait to delete it, which allowed time for the usual sidebar ads to load.

I’ve learned to ignore them, but it’s not as easy to gloss over the latest in ad-mania, the screen-freezing, expanding video ad, in this case a CG cartoon with happy kids and happy mom extolling the virtues of frozen food[2]—in the middle, let me remind you, of an article about nine people shot and killed in cold blood—nice placement, Atlantic. cartoonA trip to my frozen food section was exactly what was on my mind.Then, more in-story ads, and more sidebar ads. I’m glad The Atlantic is doing so well, I guess, but I can’t help wondering if they’re practically giving those ads away at reduced rates just to get advertisers on board—the print edition of the magazine is pretty light on ads compared to just a few years ago. Reminds me a bit of late night cable channels, where people like the Temp Tooth[3] company can afford to advertise.

Finally, for those who have persevered to the end of the article, the reward is a phalanx of minor or self-promotional ads, encouraging the visitor to spend more time on the Atlantic site and waste more time viewing ads.

The web is rapidly becoming more like TV. You can’t watch anything now without ads not only interrupting programs for 15-20 minutes each hour, but also liberally peppered throughout the shows themselves—those annoying promos for other shows that pop up in the corner of your screen while you’re trying to watch your chosen show. Even PBS has ads now, at the start and end of most programs, even if they don’t admit it.

But you know me, always looking at the positive side of things…

In a funny way, maybe the saturation of advertising in our media may be the best thing that ever happened for the book. Maybe people will become so fed up with this ever-increasing barrage of intrusion that they’ll seek refuge in the last place where one can spend quality time without an advertising assault. Then again, maybe it’s just a matter of time before the Big 5 figure out a way to implant interactive ads within the pages of a novel, ads that make it physically impossible to turn the page until you’ve stared at the ad for at least ten seconds.

I can hardly wait.



[1] See research by Justin L. Sonnenburg, Assistant Professor of Microbiology at Stanford University.

[2] I can only assume they were extolling—at least I have the foresight to mute the sound on my computer when I surf.

[3] Yes, it’s real. Who could make this shit up? (And, yes, they have a pop up video.)


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


4 thoughts on “The Online Advertising Invasion

  1. Reblogged this on xHibit Magazine.

    Posted by xhibitmagazine | June 19, 2015, 9:48 AM
  2. Dear Joe, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I used to be able to scroll through my e-mail at a fairly fast rate, deciding what to keep and what to toss, and then getting down to reading it. But for at least the last 6 months (or maybe it’s only been 3, though it seems like an eternity), the sidebar ads have to pop up in between nearly each and every item I scroll past or try to delete. That’s really infuriating! And of course, since I sometimes use Google, they keep tabs on what I show interest in and buy on the Internet, and often give excess ads for what I already have and therefore don’t want, or am not ready to receive again. I know there are supposed to be ways around this part, but I don’t feel like making all the changes to my computer that would allow me to avoid it. Big Brother is definitely with us, though it didn’t happen in 1984 to this extent. We little thought that it could get worse. And as you point out, “the thought plickens” as to what next they will do to us!

    Posted by shadowoperator | June 19, 2015, 11:30 AM
    • How about ads that are beamed into your brain while you sleep, so you wake up wanting to buy the thing? What I notice lately is that virtually every site I visit where I made a purchase continues to deal me ads, even if it’s something I wouldn’t need again. I’m still getting ads for a SoundCloud upgrade after I’ve upgraded; ads for Kirkus Reviews 3 months after I had my book reviewed. There’s still a long way to go before this gets sorted out. But what I hope is that people just get so fed up with ad overload that they stop visiting the sites that force it on us.

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | June 19, 2015, 12:57 PM

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