Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

A primer to blocking advertisements in Firefox

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Before I instruct you on how to block ads, I feel compelled to point out that many web site derive their revenue largely or exclusively from advertisements; if you don’t download the ads, the web site doesn’t get paid. Some see ad blocking as theft. I don’t. But I would be remiss in providing these instructions without providing enough background for you, the reader, to make your own educated choice in the matter.

I will cover two lines of defense against advertisements in Firefox: Adblock Plus and custom stylesheet creation. Each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. I believe Adblock prevents advertisements from being downloaded, which saves you bandwidth (the tubes don’t get clogged with stuff you didn’t want in the first place) and, as indicated above, the web site potentially loses revenue. With a custom stylesheet, you still download the ads, but Firefox doesn’t show them to you, so the site still makes money off you. I haven’t benchmarked it, but I’ve read that a sufficiently large custom stylesheet will slow down your browser. Slower than an equally large set of Adblock filters? I don’t know.

Once you’ve installed Adblock, you can click on the Adblock Icon. Mine appears in the bottom corner of your browser, but I’ve also seen it next to the search bar. You may have to look around. Click on the icon, wherever find it. It will give you a list of the blockable items on the page. I don’t have any idea what any of them represent, and I don’t know of a speedy way to find out, so I like to block conservatively by scrolling through the list of URLs till I find one that looks like an ad server. For example, on Facebook, the only three of the blockable items with URLs suggesting advertisements all started with

Click on the URL will make it appear in the “New filter” prompt across the bottom. Because it seemed pretty safe to assume that anything in the directory ads3 is an advertisement, I added the following new filter:*

The asterisk (*) at the end tells Adblock that it should block anything starting with the given URL.

That blocked all the advertisements’ images, but the text of the ads remained visible. I searched for how to set up a custom stylesheet and manipulate a div on an entire domain, only to find that someone else had already created a much more robust file and installation instructions. Its worth noting that this will download the ads, so the sites you visit will still get paid, and you don’t have to see the ads.

There are couple other ways to block ads, but they require more detailed configuration than I expect the average user to be comfortable with:

  • My favorite is NoScript. It prevents the browser from executing Javascript unless you explicitly tell it to on a site-by-site basis. This breaks most web sites, so it’s not for the faint of heart.
  • Both Windows and Linux (and presumably Mac) have a file listing where to look for certain servers (or hosts). If there’s a domain name you never want to reach again, you can block it in the hosts file. It requires you to add each domain name automatically, so it can be tedious. There are several pre-made hosts files available for download, but I haven’t looked into them to know if they’re any good. I believe the syntax is the same for Linux, Windows and Mac, so if you develop a hosts file you really love, you can take it with you if you change operating systems.

Confessions of an Advertising Man

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

This morning I finished reading Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy.

Early in the book, after discussing his strategy of being a publicity hound, he writes (page 32):

Gentle reader, if you are shocked by these confessions of self-advertisement, I can only plead that if I had behaved in a more professional way, it would have taken me twenty years to arrive. I had neither the time nor the money to wait. I was poor, unknown, and in a hurry.

I found this interesting because none of his “confessions” even raised an eyebrow, which is probably a testament to how influential this book was. While it was apparently shocking to buddy up with people who are influential in your industry for the sake of getting attention, it’s now called networking and people in most professions are urged to do it.

While my feelings on advertising are known, he strikes me as a decent guy.

  • He entreats advertisers to address the consumer with respect. On page 65 he writes, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”
  • “The product must be one which we would be proud to advertise.” He writes on page 46; he reiterates a similar principle on page 65, “I also resign accounts when I lose confidence in the product. It is fragrantly dishonest for an advertising agent to urge consumers to buy a product which he would not allow his own wife to buy.”
  • He uses the words “intellectual honesty” many times, both when referring to an advertiser’s dealings with their client, and that client’s potential customers

In short, he wants to tell consumers why his client’s product is the best product on the market, as opposed to just make a stack of cash on a pack of lies. I found this a little surprising. It had never occurred to me that honesty might be part of an advertisement.

I giggled along with the following passage from page 127:

As a private person, I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one which was improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard. When I retire from Madison Avenue, I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes who will travel about the world on silent motor bicycles, chopping down posters at the dark of the moon. How many juries will convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship?

I wonder how he rectifies such powerful distaste with the fact that he/his agency must surely create the occasional billboard. I wonder how he would have felt about the proliferation of advertising into more and more places. He may say so in his later books, but not having read them I am free to wonder. I wonder if, besides billboards, any other new places to advertise would have struck him as an intrusion. I suspect that, as a businessman, he would understand that finding new and novel places to advertise was a necessity of continuing to create effective advertisements, even if he hated it to the point of destruction, he would still do it, as he did with billboards.

It seems that he opposed gimmicky advertising, but only because it was ineffective. On page 151, in his final chapter, titled “Should Advertising be Abolished?”, he writes:

My own clinical experience would suggest that the kind of informative factual advertising which dons the endorse is more effective, in terms of sales results, than the “combative” or “persuasive” advertising which they condemn. Commercial self-interest and academic virtue march together.
    If all advertisers would give up flatulent puffery, and turn to the kind of factual, informative advertising which I have produced…they would not only increase their sales, but they would also place themselves on the side of the angels. The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.

This book paints a much more innocent picture of advertising than the one I hold. I don’t know if that’s because I’m especially cynical, or if the advertising industry itself has changed in this respect. I tend to believe the latter, but surely there are still some advertisers who are sincerely believe their client’s product is best just as surely as some of Ogilvy’s contemporaries’ advertisements were based on lies.

I hate advertisements

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

I consider being straightforward about what an ad’s intention is to be the foundation of basic decency in advertising. Anything less is predatory. Modern advertising is based on being fun and obfuscating who’s paying for it.

I have a certain respect for an advertisement that says, essentially, buy this product. Those that try to act like they’re just a fun game or PSA created selflessly for public good when their true intention is to manipulate your feelings for profit are truly offensive.

I know a lot of people “ignore” ads, but I don’t believe it’s as effective as they like to think. First off, you have to see something, and process enough of it to recognize that it is something to ignore. That is plenty of time to see a logo or get the gist of what it’s trying to sell you.

It’s said that the purpose of advertising is not so much to sell you on a particular product as it is to build brand awareness so that when you realize one day you need new shoes, the first thing you think is of a specific brand or store. If this is true – and I believe it is for at least some advertisements – then by the time someone has decided to “ignore” it, they’ve already absorbed enough information to accomplish the advertiser’s goal.

Everything on the Internet these days is ad-supported, and many sites are data-mining supported: by visiting, you either give them data about yourself, either implicitly by visiting the web site, or explicitly by entering your name, e-mail address or other information, identifying or not. This data can then be sold back to advertisers to let them know how effective their advertisements are. When a web site takes on advertisements, they’re effectively selling access to their visitors’ eyeballs. You, as a visitor, pay for a site by yielding your headspace to them.

While I have a special hatred for Internet advertising because of its privacy implications and the practice of selling data, I don’t have a problem with a person agreeing to yield their headspace in exchange for a free e-mail account or entertainment. The user has given their consent to be advertised to. A person walking past a bus stop, selecting produce or using a urinal has not entered into such an agreement.

Revently, the FTC declared that bloggers “must disclose the receipt of free merchandise or payment for the items they write about.”

I am unpleasantly surprised by how many voices on the Internet are expressing severe butthurt over these rules. I’m not at all surprised by advertisers’ butthurt, but I do hope companies that feel this way will identify themselves clearly so I can avoid doing business with them.

Noting the new guidelines have created a “firestorm of controversy within the ad-supported interactive-media industry,” Interactive Advertising Bureau President Randall Rothenberg suggested the FTC rescind the new guidelines.

What a great suggestion! I bet the CEO of Chrysler or GM wishes he’d thought to suggest to the EPA a loosening of environmental restrictions. I welcome this firestorm: Based on their own description, “the ad-supported interactive-media industry” seems to be based primarily on deceiving consumers. I would love nothing more than to watch it crash and burn.

Many sources have pointed out, accurately, that these rules are unfair because who write reviews in print media don’t need to declare their alliances. I don’t see why we can’t rectify this by imposing these rules on more traditional media as well. Advertisements are often embedded right in a TV show or movie, and unlike a commercial break, many viewers may not even realize they’ve seen an advertisement. There’s no reason radio time purchased to play songs alongside unpaid content should be exempt. If it makes sense for the FTC to impose rules about full-disclosure for product placement in a blog post, there’s no reason it shouldn’t also carry over to any other instance of product placement.

I rather doubt that will happen, in part because I suspect that advertising and media are already so intertwined it’s difficult to draw a line between them. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is no “unpaid content” on the radio, or, instead of movies where advertisements are snuck into the plot, movies are advertisements with a plot tacked on as an afterthought. Increasing amounts of advertisements feed the need to compete for consumers’ attention, which in turn feeds the need for more intrusive advertisements.

I don’t have an alternative for how a business should let potential customers know about their offerings. The need goes both ways: People in capitalist societies need to know where to purchase necessities as much as businesses need to sell them. I’d like to see consumers and businesses (which are made of of consumers) work together to bring about a mutually agreeable solution that doesn’t involve intrusive advertising or lies.

C Magazine is an advertisement, not a magazine

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

A couple years ago we started getting a large periodical in the mail calling itself C Magazine (subtitle: “California Style”). It tries to pass itself off as a magazine, complete with cover price and subscription page. The dead giveaway that it was junk mail is that it’s addressed to my grandfather, who doesn’t subscribe to magazines on account of having been dead for 50 years.

I imagine they got a mailing list of households who subscribe to a lot of magazines (which we do) and then picked a random male member of the household and mailed it with his name on it. I’m guessing they count on the recipient to not notice it’s not one of their regulars, or to assume they had subscribed to it on a whim. Indeed, had it been addressed to someone who was alive and resided here, I don’t think I would have had any idea it was junk mail.