Turning inner space into outer space

February 14, 2015

Freedom from ads poses a new challenge for marketing types

A poster for the movie Born Free.

Remember the old song Born Free? One of the lines goes like this: “Born free to follow your heart.”

Schlocky, yes, but I can’t help think of it as I move toward what is increasingly an ad-free existence. Because without advertising, I’m free to follow my own desires — as opposed to being manipulated by advertisers.

As usual, the Internet is to blame. Newspapers are overflowing with ads, but I don’t read them any more so that’s one source gone. I cut the cable and learned to be happy with Netflix, so I no longer have batches of TV ads coming at me every 10 minutes. For music, I find that apps like Songza have genres for every taste and occasion, so I no longer have to listen to pitches that ruin the mood on radio.

The Internet itself has ads, of course, but that same technology also provides ways of avoiding them. You can get ad blocking extensions for your web browser. On my iPhone, an RSS app called Reeder includes a function called Readability. Tap the icon and you get the full article in plain, ad-free text. Twitter now has advertising, but only if you use their site or app. Use a third-party app like Tweetbot and they’re gone. There are lots of tricks like this — you’ve probably picked up a few yourself.

This is great for people like me, but bad for marketing types who want us to buy their service or product. For them I have two words: “Super Bowl.” The ads during the NFL championship are so popular that people who aren’t interested in football will watch the game just to see them. Viewers vote the next day on which were the best.

So my question is this: why not make advertising this compelling year-round? I suppose it might seem less special and lose some of its impact. It would also cost more. Still, if you have ads that people actually enjoy watching, you’ve got to be further ahead.

In fact, I can imagine a time when advertising becomes a separate entity. It would no longer interrupt TV shows or squeeze newspaper articles into tiny spaces. The ads would have their own TV stations, their own publications, their own apps. People would be drawn to them by the creativity that goes into them. This happens to a certain extent now, but there may come a time when it’s expected and even appreciated.

I see a glimmer of this trend with new websites like Apple World Today. They’re asking readers to support them with a system called Patreon. Their goal is to have readers sign up as patrons so they won’t need ads.

Here’s how they put it:

We really want to avoid traditional web advertising like the plague. We will have direct sponsorships and deals, but no obtrusive and … dare we say it … annoying ads for mortgage help or feminine hygiene products. However, that’s what we may have resort to if you, gentle reader, don’t step up to the plate.

As I write this, they have 185 patrons paying $1,145.49 a month. That’s a long way from the $9,000 a month they have set as their goal, but these are still early days.

Meanwhile, I can hear the lyrics to Born Free swelling up again:

Ad-free and life is worth living
But only worth living
’Cause you’re ad-free