We have a rule here at Azullo. It’s pretty simple. We don’t develop products that we wouldn’t use ourselves.
When we developed the algorithm that powers Respond, we could have set it to display more or less any kind of advertisement. After all, once you’ve got something that can contextually target a message by content, location and device, as Respond can do, it’s tempting to make the most out of it.
Like a dictator drunk on power, we could have created ads that expand, float, pop-up and pop-over. We could have taken over a page, made the letters in an article fall like confetti, hidden the content under a video that played loudly and had no close button.
We could have created a product that did all those things, but of course we never would, because products that do stuff like that are annoying. And we try not to do stuff that’s annoying.
In fact, we set ourselves some ground rules from the outset about what Respond would and would not be. This came from our own experiences of browsing the web, and from the hundreds of people we spoke to throughout the development process. And so we determined that Respond would not be interruptive. It would be user initiated. And most importantly, it would respect the difference between content and advertising.
You see, when I’m not doing Respond things I’m a user of the web like everyone else. I love what the web can do. And above everything else, I love content. I love to get into the zone with a great article, blog post or feature. And what I don’t like when I’m in the zone is being interrupted. My free time is precious. Interrupt me with something unexpected online and you might as well just come and yell in my face. It’s an unwelcome jolt back to reality. Train of thought, lost. The thrill, gone.
It's Not Just Me!
I know I’m not the only person to feel this way. How else to explain the fact Ad Block Plus for Firefox is being used by 14 million Firefox users right now? Or the fact Reader is one of the most popular features of Safari? Or the fact that when you type the name of certain well known providers of in-text advertising you get very little language that’s safe for work in response?
This is not about taking the moral high ground, or creating a differentiator. It’s more pragmatic than that. Because when something is interruptive and annoying, it’s also counter-productive.
Is It Productive?
Just ask publishers that have run in-text advertising campaigns. Did they generate income? Yes, of course. Slap an ad in enough people’s faces and some will click (some even intentionally). But there’s a consequence to irritating your users. They leave in greater numbers, and they come back in fewer.
On Fleet Street in the old days the separation between editorial and commercial content was sacred. They even called it the separation between Church and State. And they were not high-minded. They were cynical. They knew how to sell. But they also knew that to lose the trust of your readers meant to lose sales. And that was fatal.
It’s still fatal. Trust is everything. Online only more so. Changing a newspaper was to change a habit. Changing a website is easy, just a click away.
In-text advertising blows holes in the author’s credibility. It makes it impossible to take the content seriously. If the article itself contains ads, then who is the writer writing for, you or the advertiser? To make you think, or to make a sale?
We don’t believe ads are a necessary evil. Done right, ads are not evil at all. Done right, they add value. They inform and entertain. And yes, they pay for the content you love.
We believe it’s possible to engage people with the right message at the right time and place. That content can create intent. That editorial and ads can complement each other perfectly. That’s why we created Respond call to action buttons, to address the problem of banner blindness and declining click-through rates, but to do so with respect for the publisher, the content, the consumer, and the advertiser’s message.
That’s why we don’t do in-text advertising.