> Perhaps no issue has generated more bird-brained prattle,
> nor ruffled more feathers, than the specter of
> netvertising filters. For example, _PrivNet_'s Internet
> Fast Forward - which for US$10 promises to screen out
> any and all webvertising and neutralize Netscape's cookie
> - has generated the sort of analytical squawks and squeals
> that make every bird in the joint look like a turkey.
* Graphical advertisement filtering: IFF keeps your browser from downloading
advertisements, saving you time and money.
* _AnySearch Utility:_ Instant access to major search sites via a new button
on Netscape's directory bar.
* Personal Image Blocking: right-click on any image you no longer wish to
see, select "Block this Image", and you won't see or download it again unless
you want to!
* Image blocking based on size: you can configure IFF to only show you
graphics smaller than a certain size that YOU specify.
* Automatic network Filter updating
* Blink tag filtering
* _"Cookie"_ Filtering
Fear of Filtering
PrivNet promises to break banners and munch cookies, which is great news for
After months of careful observation, digital ornithologists have identified
the three birds currently dominating the commercial ecologies of the Web.
The obnoxious Chicken Littles run around shrieking, "The Web is falling! The
Web is falling!" each time an innovation threatens their idea of the status
quo. The Ostriches plunge their heads immediately into the sand when any
innovation materializes that doesn't match their myopic views of the Net.
And, of course, the Dodo Birds, for whom extinction is simply a matter of
time, and, umm, intelligence.... For the moment, we'll spare you the markings
of that increasingly common fourth bird: the Virtual Vulture.
Perhaps no issue has generated more bird-brained prattle, nor ruffled more
feathers, than the specter of netvertising filters. For example, _PrivNet_'s
Internet Fast Forward - which for US$10 promises to screen out any and all
webvertising and neutralize Netscape's cookie - has generated the sort of
analytical squawks and squeals that make every bird in the joint look like a
turkey. Apparently, these turkeys believe software agents, filters, and
screens to block out advertisements from the Net will either:
a) kill webvertising and strangle this nascent global marketplace in its nest, or
b) prove irrelevant because - don't you know? - people love commercials.
The correct answer, of course is:
c) This is all silly nonsense.
Get with the program. Advertising agents and filters like Fast Forward and
_Firefly_ are good things. Really. They can add far more value to the Net than
the "ignore it or fear it" flocks apparently understand. That's because if
webvertising is truly going to be an integral part of the Web business model,
then it's not going to be the same as radio/television/print advertising.
_Would you pay $10 to never see an ad banner again?
60 percent voted Yes, 40 percent voted No (of the 10 people who responded)
_One of the oldest cliches in the ad biz is, "50 percent of my advertising
dollar is wasted - the problem is, I don't know which 50 percent." Advertisers
hate paying money to reach people who don't want to see their ads. Well,
guess what? People with certain netfilters don't want to see their ads. What
does that mean? It means that the people who do receive them become that much
more valuable, because they are more likely to be receptive to your message.
What else does this mean? It means that advertising and sponsorship need to
be _cleverly woven into content_. It means that advertisers are more heavily
obligated to target and tailor their messages in ways that make people feel
like idiots for screening out their ads. In journalism, we have a joke:
"What's the difference between trade media and general interest media?"
Answer: "In trade media, the ads are more interesting than the editorial."
Indeed, most people subscribe to a PC Computing or Field and Stream, or even
a Cosmopolitan magazine as much for the advertisements as for the editorial
content. Would the rise of filtering software threaten, say, an automobile
advertising banner on a site's front door? Of course! But that only means that
webfolks will have to stop being so lazy in relying on the easy and
convenient advertising conventions of the past.
Would you hire an ad agency that told you it didn't care about how easy it
was for readers to turn magazine pages, or about how remote controls made it
easier to zap TV ads? (Why do you think 15-second TV ads dominate TV these
days? Solely because they're cheaper? Nope. If the ad is any good, it's too
late to zap it in 15 seconds.) Why shouldn't webvertisers be at least as
demanding? Indeed, any webvertiser that isn't planning for an environment of
filters, screens, and blockers really shouldn't invest too much in this
That's why I'm stunned when I see industry analysts criticizing PrivNet's
product. To wit, one _Jupiter Communications_ veepee described Fast Forward
as: "only for the crankiest among us. I see it as an interesting novelty
product, but not much of a threat. To install software that blocks ads is
really further than most people want to go."
Oh, really? I bet the man doesn't own a remote control, either.
And Tim DiScipio, president of Easton Media Group, an Internet advertising
and marketing company in Easton, Connecticut wrote to the Raleigh
News-Observer, "My feeling is that there really hasn't been an outcry from
online users to rid Web sites of advertising. Maybe it's because, as
consumers, we're fascinated by advertising."
And, maybe, if we all clap our hands, Tinkerbell will live forever.
Get real! If Fast Forward fails, there will be other advertising agents and
filtering products that will succeed in its place. Filters will do exactly
what they should do. They'll make advertisers think hard about how and where
they want to _blend their messages_ into Web sites, and they will make
consumers think about what kind of ads they want to receive, and which ones
they want to obliterate.
The result? Filters make webvertising an even more integral part of the Web
experience and Web business model. If that kills the banner, who cares? Other
forms will take wing and fly. And this columnist will write about them.
Send mail to Michael Schrage at firstname.lastname@example.org_
Illustration by Dave Plunkert