Urban spam, coming soon to a space near you

In the post 'design engaged the second', Russell Davies discusses 'urban spam' (my emphasis in bold):

The dataspace of the well-tempered environment will soon be invaded by logos, credits, banners and offers. The financial temptations will, I suspect, be too hard to resist.

…in recent years the declining efficacy of regular 'broadcast advertising' has created the largely horrible ambient and guerilla media industries – a huge marketing arms race aiming to squeeze every drop of attention from unwilling eyeballs.

I think we object to this so much for a number of reasons:

a. Because it doesn't feel like a societally negotiated deal. We're basically OK with the notion of ads in newspapers on in the middle of Coronation Street. That's a deal we've done. We'll swap that much attention for that much subsidised media. But every new bit of spam forces us to examine that deal again; is it worth doing? Are we willing to swap this bit of attention for that bit of fun or utility or free stuff?

b. The deal isn't that clear. What do I get out of Coffee Republic selling space on their tables? Is their coffee noticeably cheaper or better? Are the staff better paid and more cheerful? What do I get out of the way you've brokered my attention?

Particularly b. What do I, the customer, get in return for the slice of my soul you're stealing?

And further:

4. We need to stop describing ad-supported things as 'free'. There might be no exchange of cash but there's an exchange of attention and cognition. The marketing business justifies a lot of crap on the basis that it's giving things away for free. If we paused and recognised that they're not actually free then we might think harder about whether it's the right thing to do. We might do smarter, better things if we recognise the cost we're imposing on people without their permission.

Go read the whole thing, the pictures are also very useful and it summarises lots of the things that have been bothering me about the ads that are popping up in any spare space.

So why am I posting this here? Partly because the commercialisation of previously ad-free space annoys me, but partly I think it's a discussion worth having while the field is relatively new and norms are being erm, normalised.

'Annoying adverts affect website traffic'

Via the BCS:

Nearly three quarters – 73 per cent – of internet users clicked away from a favourite website because of an annoying advert, according to research.

The survey, carried out by Opinion Matters for HowTo.tv, also revealed that 59 per cent no longer visited a particular website because of its advertising.

I use AdBlock for a serene and calm web experience, so when I use someone else's computer I'm always amazed at the sheer level of noise on the web and the crappiness of pages plastered with ads.

I was using Add-Art in conjunction with AdBlock, and will again when it support Firefox 3 because it's a lovely idea. If you haven't heard of Add-Art before, check out this Webmonkey article until you can install it on Firefox 3.

A recent Alertbox talked about Banner Blindness: Old and New Findings:

The most prominent result from the new eyetracking studies is not actually new. We simply confirmed for the umpteenth time that banner blindness is real. Users almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement, whether or not it's actually an ad.

The heatmaps also show how users don't fixate within design elements that resemble ads, even if they aren't ads

I guess the most interesting thing about the post is that it acknowledges that unethical methods attract the most eyeballs:

In addition to the three main design elements that occasionally attract fixations in online ads, we discovered a fourth approach that breaks one of publishing's main ethical principles by making the ad look like content:

  • The more an ad looks like a native site component, the more users will look at it.
  • Not only should the ad look like the site's other design elements, it should appear to be part of the specific page section in which it's displayed.

This overtly violates publishing's principle of separating "church and state" — that is, the distinction between editorial content and paid advertisements should always be clear. Reputable newspapers don't allow advertisers to mimic their branded typefaces or other layout elements.

I think it's particularly important that we don't allow commercial considerations to damage our users' trust in cultural heritage institutions as repositories of impartial* knowledge. We've developed models for differentiating user- and museum-generated content and hopefully quelled fears about user-generated content somehow damaging or diluting museum content; it would be a shame if we lost that trust over funding agreements.

* insert acknowledgement of the impossibility of truly impartial cultural content.