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Taking the ad plunge


This caught my eye:

Web Display Ads Attract Fewer Clicks

in last Monday’s New York Times. It was just a little article but it contained an important message: “Internet users are increasingly reluctant to click” on display ads. “That is bad news for the hosting Web sites,” including blogs, the article said.

Advertising has, of course, been the Holy Grail of blogs that hope to generate revenue, since the vast majority of them cannot hope to persuade enough people to pay for subscriptions. And between subscriptions and ads, how else can a blog make money?

The article cited as its source of information an Oct. 1 press release from a company, comScore, which describes itself as “a global leader in measuring the digital world and the preferred source of digital marketing intelligence.” comScore conducted a survey and found that “the number of people who click on display ads in a month has fallen from 32 percent of Internet users in July 2007 to only 16 percent in March 2009.” (Speaking for myself, my click-through score is a perfect zero.) “The act of clicking on a display ad is experiencing rapid attrition in the current digital marketplace,” said a comScore VP.

Well, I can understand that. I do my best to ignore ads online, the same way that, when I watch TV, I switch the remote as soon as a commercial comes on. Hate that stuff.

The comScore study made some assumptions. It may be that a display ad works even if nobody bothers to click on it, because just seeing the brand name or logo registers in the mind, making it more likely that the viewer will eventually buy the product. This is, indeed, “the manner in which traditional advertising has been measured for decades using reach and frequency metrics.” Which explains why there are so many billboards on major roads.

I guess that generations of Mad Men have proof that exposure to a visual icon works, but I wonder, if the click rate continues to decline — and why wouldn’t it? –will companies continue to place ads on blogs? The argument in favor is that it’s so cheap to do so, they might as well. And there is no argument against. On the other hand, with the click rate so low, then so will the ad rates be that bloggers are able to charge. And if the bloggers are depending on money from click-through sales, they’re bound to be disappointed.

I could put lots of ads up on my blog. The number of viewers I get is quite high. I’ve considered it, and I sure could use the extra money. The reason I don’t is because (a) the rates are so low that it’s hardly worth the effort, and (b) my blog has a certain credibility that might get eroded if I were to take ads. I haven’t entirely ruled it out, though. If I could make thousands a month in ads, I’d probably take my chances, and write a passionate apologia to readers, explaining that an ad for, say, a wine club whose wines I review for Wine Enthusiast has no influence on my ratings for those wines, which would be the truth. Some people might not believe it; others would. That’s life.

Anyhow, with clicks nose-diving and rates mired in the basement, I have no reason to consider making any changes. But I wonder how people would react if I took the ad plunge. After all, just about every other blog has.


  1. Steve,

    I love to see (or imagine) connections between things that seem unrelated. This post made me think of the post about how things are changing in the wine industry. Well, things are changing all around us as we try to cope with the Tsunami of data now thrust uppon us by this digital age. I remember the outrage in the wine industry when distributors and big chains insisted on UPC barcodes on bottles. “Sacrilige” we all screamed… a wine label is ART (we insisted)… a short 5 years later our visin learned to ignore those damn vertical black bars and we go on with life. Pop up ads are the same. we’ve learned to ignore them.

  2. The other thing to consider, concerning click ads, is target market.

    If your ad is for a product that sells through the distribution network–nationally–like wine, you may benefit from the number of “sights.”

    On the other hand, if your ad is for an item that you sell online only, the sights are relatively meaningless–you need the clicks.

    I’m learning this lesson as we speak, with a poster series that I was sure would have an online audience. Oh, well.

  3. Oi, Oded, you’re turning into a philosopher!

  4. “It may be that a display ad works even if nobody bothers to click on it, because just seeing the brand name or logo registers in the mind,”

    That is called building brand awareness.
    For instance, consider those commercials for GE locomotives, CSX trains or Cargill (I hate those patronizing, Disneyfied spots, btw). How many of those watching the spots actually 1. want to or can buy a locomotive, 2. need to utilize railroad shipping or 3) have a need for rock salt to preserve fish or want to utilize some unique logistics for a goods distribution system?

    IN the 80s SNL (when it was actually funny) spoofed a General Dynamics spot. It looked like sultry Guess Jeans commercial until the very end.

    I miss Dana Carvey, John Lovitz, Phil Harman et al.

  5. Arthur, by sheer coincidence I just bought a locomotive today to haul my 3 million tons of rock salt!

  6. Arthur,

    I agree, but as I said in an earlier post, those eyes need to land on a nationally available product, not on something that relies on the keyboard for a purchase. In the case of the latter, if the click isn’t immediate, it likely isn’t going to come days later.


    Send the rock salt our way–we just experienced the first snowfall, and it’s way too early…

  7. You flaunt your opulence and wealth, you elitist, bourgeois salt magnate!


  8. No ads on my site! No income either. There’s the rub. BTW, can I borrow a cup of rock salt?

  9. The line between commerce and content in winewriting was blurred long ago. Your own magazine, Wine Enthusiast, blurs it even further by deliberately and purposely selling ad space to the very wineries whose wines are being featured.

    So, if you are asking your faithful how we will react to the blending of content with advertising, you already know the answer because you live in a world in which there no longer seem to be limits on behavior that would have seemed inappropriate in earlier times.

  10. Charlie, I am surprised and disappointed by your comment. Everybody knows that magazines, like every other company on earth, need to maximize income. Wine Enthusiast has sources of income aside and apart from the Buying Guide and editorial articles, and I’m glad they do, since it pays my salary. But there is a distinction between advertising and editorial and there always has been, and most people understand it. To suggest that a wine magazine, with its huge overhead expenses, should not sell ad space is insane. To suggest that readers don’t understand the difference between an ad and a review of mine is bizarre. And to question my veracity — however indirectly, as you have done — is a personal affront.

  11. Hey, Steve, total misreading of what I have said. There is zero question of veracity here. What there is, instead, is a clear statement of fact. The day when wine magazines that took ads and did not review wine and newsletters that reviewed wine did nto take ads is gone. At least, that is true in the first instance. The old-fashioned newsletters still do not take advertising, but they no longer buy the wine they taste, some do not even bother to hide the fact that they do not taste blind. It is a new world.

    Those are facts, plain and simple.

    The blogosphere is loaded with well-known and respected bloggists who take advertising. That ship has also sailed. Again, plain fact.

    So, no personal affront meant. Just telling you that the issue is no longer an issue. And by the way, I often mention you as one of the reviewers whose standards for blind tasting I appreciate.

    And, as long as you are asking, I think your blog looks a lot better without advertising.

  12. Charlie, well I’m not going to take advertising so no worries. But does that call into question those who do that review wines? And who’s the policeman?

  13. Steve, I guess that the readers are the ultimate policeman, but that role is one that is slow to take hold and thus is no policeman in the short run save for the savory revelations of which we have seen one or two lately.

    It has been interesting to see how the blogosphere has “policed” issues like the Parker kids not following the old man’s leadership and “papa” saying nothing about it. Or the revelations that one can literally buy attention on A. Dias Bleu’s venues.

    The conversations we have had here about what the best ethical procedures might be have been quite good, and some of the conversations about the same topic on Dr. Vino have been instructive. I don’t see anybody changing course save for a slight tightening up on the Parker kids.

    I suppose there will be the possibilities of future revelations that will force some folks to further tighten their own standards. And, the kind of self-examination that has gone on in the blogospere is also useful.

    At this point, however, your question has no organized answer. For my part, I would like to see a set of ethical standards agreed to by winewriters. We could then say that we follow the voluntary code if such a thing were to come into existence. Those that did not follow it might make themselves subject to further examination. But, ultimately, Parker has not been greatly hurt financially by the flap, and big money magazines like WS and WE probably can do what they please. I don’t see any deep challenges to those seats of power in the short run. Whether Snooth and those other consumer agglomeration sites will gain in power over time is still anybody’s guess—Tom Merle’s predictions notwithstanding.

  14. Steve,

    If the lines are blurred, which they are, then yes–wherever a review appears alongside advertising at least raises suspicion.

    You don’t need a cop to be suspicious and, as we used to say in journalism: the appearance of…etc.

    I don’t review wine on my blog, but even if I did, the Google Ads on my blog are independent of me. I don’t even know which ones will show up and when.

    The ads haven’t earned me a dime, really, and that’s probably because nobody reads my blog, but I still haven’t an ounce of contact with them. But do you think the general reader knows that?

  15. Ads are not good, and they’re not evil. Anyone who says differently is trying to impose their narrow view on you.

    If you have ads, it’s up to your readers to decide whether or not they influence you.

    What readers need to realize to help make this determination is that ad revenue is tiny – so small that I can’t imagine it’s a factor influencing the tastes of any blogger unless their website is enormously popular, or the blogger is ridiculously poor.

  16. There does seem to be a pervasive suspicion of wine mags that they bend their scores and other forms of coverage based on wineries taking out adds. Actually, most just state the influence as a given, end of discussion. I’m always taking the other side–insisting that the skeptics point to an example of an obvious conflict. Of course, the ~perception~ as noted of this quid pro quo situation is far different from informing a winery that they pulled, independently, a high score or scores, and might they not want to reinforce this positive result with an ad. This is done in every kind of consumer publication, and seems innocent, indeed sensible to me.

    But as Charlie notes, ubiquitous user comments will dominate the rating and ranking game in wine reviewing as it will and does in every field. When retailers allow viewers to knock products they sell–I think here of Verizon Wireless–then you know that this mode of evaluation has triumped.

  17. Correction: post should read “as Charlie notes about my perspective”

  18. Tom, I have never, ever bent a score for an advertiser. What’s more, if my employer thought I was doing so, he would be very upset, and rightfully so. My highest scores tend to be for wineries that never advertise anywhere because they’re too small. And I’ve given some horrible scores to some of our major advertisers.

  19. There’s actually an ad industry term for what’s happening, and it’s been happening for quite a while, it’s called “banner blindness.” We aren’t ignoring them as much as we have developed a visual capacity for exploring the web in which the action of ignoring is not active, but subconscious. There are some good banner ads, I won’t say I don’t notice a few of them, but those always seem to have an emphasis on brand personality/awareness than their desire for me to click on something.

  20. Steve – as I am about to re-launch our company blog I had the same thoughts cross my mind – (whether to build in space available for potential ads). But, as you mentioned you have credibility to uphold and I have to agree.

    On the point that one writer wrote above, targeted advertising is not seen as much of a nuisance as being bombarded by unwanted ads. I believe that the future of advertising will take two directions: One will continue like TV always has i.e. people will get entertainment for free but be forced to endure advertising. Figuring out the right mix of content versus revenue will be the challenge. The second direction will see the rise of advertorial content. It is this direction that, if I were to recommend any revenue generating option for you, that I could see you offering in a way that actually benefited a lot of people.

    I could see a column or blog where you wrote about products and the experience with them. Everything would be upfront and people would know what they were getting into. The trick here would be doing it in a way that the people knew they were being sold to were overwhelmed by the benefit they got out of reading it. In concept this is nothing new of course, people part with their time and money every day to purchase experiences because of the implied or direct benefit. By weaving everything into an editorial form it just takes a different form. The closest example that comes to mind right now is a shopping magazine called Lucky.

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