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Web marketing. The great Internet advertising debate.

(originally published in 2001)

What happened to the World Wide Web?

The answer is at the end of the article.

One of the most passionate debates around is over advertising on the web. Have web marketers gone too far? 

Some sites  have so many animated banners that it looks like a shooting gallery! Others will throw up 20 windows of ads when you try to exit the site. Some users have been so discouraged by this kind of marketing, they simply refuse to surf any more. 

Many believe that the World Wide Web should be free of flashing banners, pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials and other annoyances.

.... I beg to differ.

The very nature of life on this planet is dependant on advertising and marketing. A pretty big statement for me to make, so here's a simplified justification:

In the animal world, the strongest survive. The most aggressive, the most brash of the species will have the tendency to be most successful in reproduction.

In the plant world, some plants use elaborate ornamentation to assist in their reproduction. Some flower perfumes are so strong that they can be detected from miles away; which attracts insects to assist in pollination - floral marketing.

In the world of business, those organizations who attract the most paying customers grow. The ones that hide their candle under a bushel, no matter how good the product or service is, will die. 

Successful businesses advertise and use marketing strategies aggressively . They utilize the Internet and World Wide Web as an integral part of their marketing plan. They pay others to display their ads on web sites and in email that creates income for thousands of web masters. The ads also generate competition amongst businesses. The victor in the competition gains sales. The sales generate employment. The competition generally leads to lower pricing and refinement of product.

OK, so the comparison of web marketing to the natural world is probably taking it to the extreme; but we are living in a society based on rampant consumerism. We want everything for nothing if we can, and we want it now. If it wasn't for online advertising:

  • my computer would have cost more and I probably wouldn't have it

  • the commercial software on my computer - as above

  • my internet connection - as above

  • freeware would not exist in the levels available today

  • I may not be able to afford to offer as much information as I do to others - for free.

Without advertising on our sites, the World Wide Web would be elitist - available to only the rich, the government and academia. The Internet and the World Wide Web, while having it's pitfalls as any human system does, is probably the best thing to happen to our species in a very long time. And it has been on the back of advertising and aggressive marketing that the WWW has grown at the phenomenal rate it has.

The Internet has also brought to the forefront the dark side of our species - if you spend time online, there's no way to avoid it. In a way, the World Wide Web is providing humanity with a huge warning.

In stark contrast, my dreams of the perfect world dictate there would be no need for advertising as money would not exist - but in my perfect world there would also be no need for computers. I love the Internet and computing in general, but I would trade it in any day for a world without crime, pollution and crowding. But that's a pipe dream for the time being.

The Internet has provided me with a living, with marketing forming the basis of my career. Computers helped me to emerge from the gutter and to learn to exist in our society, somewhat on my own terms. I now not just survive, I thrive. It has allowed me to communicate my message to an audience of thousands, and to learn many valuable lessons in life from others.

The World Wide Web is slowed down by advertising you say? Yes, that's correct. But not as slow as needing to leave my premises to go to the library to carry out research. It's not anywhere as near as slow as using the postal service to deliver documents.

Internet connections are too expensive - yes, there is still more room for improvement. But it's not as expensive as calling long distance via the telephone to get technical information for products. Connectivity equipment, telecommunications services and Internet access has dropped incredibly in price over the last 5 years. How have these price drops occurred? As a direct result of the billions of dollars poured into web marketing every year.

There's too much clutter on the 'Net and it's hard to find anything - I agree totally. I believe we will see web sites cleaning up in the years to come - not through government intervention, but through market forces; that is, if the Internet somehow survives the onslaught of spam. 

When you first drove a car, did you know how to drive it? No, you had to learn. The Internet is the same deal, learn how to use it properly and it will serve you well. Like in driving, the Internet is full of obstacles. As we learn to drive, we acquire the knowledge of avoiding those obstacles to assist us in arriving at our destination safely.

Our inboxes are full of spam - Go check your letter box, or turn on the TV. Much the same there. We have free-to-air TV because of advertising. Public T.V. is usually paid for from the pockets of taxpayers. 

While I condone aggressive marketing strategies, I do believe we need to become more responsible in how we advertise. Scumvertising is out - responsible marketing and representation is in. Consumers are not stupid, and while they may be bitten once or twice, they learn.. and they remember!

I have heard many misquote about the original intentions of the Internet. The fact is that it was a cold war initiative - a computer network designed to survive a nuclear attack. The World Wide Web which sits on top of the Internet was not designed to be a free show. In the words of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, from his book entitled "Weaving the Web":

"Buying books from Amazon.com and stocks from E-trade is not all there is to the Web. Neither is the Web some idealized space where we must remove our shoes, eat only fallen fruit, and eschew commercialism."

The intention of the Web was never intended (as some have romanticized and I originally thought myself) to be a free ride. The fact that I can obtain the information I need and communicate with others 24/7, partially subsidized by me viewing annoying ads, is a small price to pay for the world it has opened up. 

Remember, governments don't run countries - big business does.

So, in answer to "What happened to the World Wide Web?

We happened..

We are all willing consumers of the products of this money driven world and it is up to us to change the face of the Internet.. but first we'll need to change the very essence of human behavior - greed for things we really do not need. We have the intelligence to do this; it's just a shame we don't seem to be able to use it.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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