Forty Eight Point One

Advertising Should Not Be Free

Articles Advertising Should Not Be Free

Time > money.

If it feels as though you can’t extricate politics from advertising in 2018, imagine what it was like 2,000-odd years ago.

Marketers have long since figured out that we’re inherently impressionable, which is why there’s advertising everywhere.

Digital transformation has brought advertising closer to our eyeballs – literally – and has provoked a vigorous response: Since when was it OK to steal my attention?

Adverts have always been free to consumers. They are prepared on behalf of entities that want to sell their wares and will pay for the privilege of our attention. In the midst of this exchange are third parties that, to differing degrees, sustain their business via the advertising spend: TV stations and magazines, social media companies and online games. They’re charging advertisers for a direct line to an engaged individual.

Seemingly, we’ve accepted that adverts should subtract value, rather than enhance it.

Freemium models have been prevalent since the 1980s, sponsored by software businesses looking to get their product in the hands of as many people as possible. Digital distribution enabled businesses to reach a gargantuan, global audience almost instantly.

And the model has become something of a panacea for tech start-ups in recent years, irrespective of how (or why) the application exists. It’s easier to find a few thousand people – globally, remember – that want to spend their time on a free app, then find a few advertisers – locally – to market to them, than it is to engage a few thousand people to the extent that they’re willing to pay.

Free TV. Free music. Free storage. Free file sharing. You can have anything for free now, as long as you pay with your time.

It’s a recent shift, despite the role advertising has played in our homes for generations. The difference is that we could choose to turn the TV off or close the magazine. But we keep our phones in our pockets, keep them on day and night, and use them as an entry point for entertainment, news, discovery and connection. Due to the omni-everything role that phones play in our lives, we have no escape and limited command to differentiate between which notifications are imperative, and which are definitely not.

Spotify Premium is advert free. YouTube Premium is advert free. Brands are very-well aware that we value our time and will pay for a pollution-free experience. Seemingly, we’ve accepted that adverts should subtract value, rather than enhance it.

A thought-provoking aside: What would it mean for GDP and productivity metrics if we included the presumptive values of free, open source products, like Wikipedia?

We still have a choice. There is always a choice. Consumers have begun to take notice. Numerous enterprises have already taken steps to help wean us off our tech reliance. At some point, governments will catch up and increase legislation.

In the meantime, make me pay for adverts. I just want my time back.

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