The past few weeks, I have been spending considerable time thinking about web advertising. Banner advertising is not a strong focus here at DevShed, but I'd like to open up discussion on a few issues. Before I get into a serious discussion, there is one point I must clarify.Al Gore did not invent the Internet.Then why, you may ask, did DevShed create a banner claiming that Al Goreinvented the Internet?
We've had a few emails today from concerned readers. Sorry if we seemed too serious about it. ;-)
Are Banners Dead?
Earlier this week, Rasmus Lerdorf, the original author of PHP, posted the following message to the PHP list in reply to a discussion about blocking banner ads.
I know this is completely off-topic, but I couldn't resist this one. If a service has to rely solely on banner ads to survive it probably isn't a big loss if they don't. How many banner ads do you see on www.php.net, for example? I realize PHP's web site is a beast of a different nature. We are not out to make money. We are just out to provide tools for everyone else to make money. Hrm...
But, in general, if somebody has a service people are interested in, they will find it. And people can be very creative when it comes to marketing their services. If banner ads end up disappearing, people will come up with other ways to get their word out there. Perhaps by sponsoring free software projects instead? How about if a large company were to pay $10 for each useful reply to a question on this mailing list for example? If people on this mailing list were their consumer target audience, this sort of promotion would definitely draw some attention. Or what if another company paid $100 for each bug report that was resolved? Stuff like this may sound a bit radical, but I think there are much better ways to promote a product than to simply plaster banner ads somewhere. Use the money in a way that will draw attention from the desired audience and try to come up with a way for that money to help expand that audience. I am using the PHP project as an example here, but it could be anything. The Internet is not like other traditional mediums and treating it just like magazines, radio or television will ultimately fail.
So, for all you people choosing to block banner ads. Keep up the good work. It will help to eventually weed out the companies that don't get it.
Rasmus does make some good points. While I don't believe the banner is dead yet, webmasters must look for new perspectives to accomplish their advertising goals.
I'm particularly interested in the concept of using advertising dollars to actually expand an audience. The idea challenges some of the tried-and-true media rules. Is the new web media different enough that these rules are obsolete?
In traditional media, there is a constant battle to maintain a separation between advertising and editorial. With traditional products, this makes sense. What would happen if DevShed wrote a review praising a product in exchange for the product manufacturer buying banners on the review page? I've seen this happen, and I will refrain from naming names for now. Do the rules apply when the product is free, like PHP or Linux? If DevShed contributes to those projects directly, does it cross the line? Will we offend the Roxen and FreeBSD groups, or will they do things to make their products more enticing to advertiser support? Would that be a good thing?
What Rasmus proposes can turn the whole advertising model backwards. Instead of the advertiser trying to get the attention of an audience, he helps create one. What do you think?
I'm sick of the tasteless advertising on the web. Banners with half-naked women selling routers and switches don't work for me. I don't fall for the banners with the "error messages" on them.
I want to hear your ideas for tasty (as opposed to tasteless) advertising on the web. I believe there are new models for advertising that haven't been discovered. Can advertisers add value to products and technologies?
I'll probably use some of the better ideas to promote DevShed. Of course, I hope you'll use them on your sites, then share the results. Please take a minute to add your comments below.