Tuesday 20 July 2010

Ad Jacking

For as long as we've had adverts on the web, there have been ways to get around them - most browsers have pop-up blockers built in to stop the most annoying, and there are plenty of ad blockers out there that will save you from having to look at another ad again. You can even replace banner ads with works of art should you be so inclined.

Ad blockers have prompted some debate around the ethics of using a device which reduces the revenues that fund the content being consumed. Some regard this as equivalent to theft, with some content owners implementing technical solutions to block the ad-blockers.

Anyhow, all of this got me thinking (dangerous I know), about what else you could do with adverts. If you can block the adverts, then the same technology would easily allow you to replace the adverts with something else - say other adverts. In one fell swoop you could own all of the best ad spots across the net.

Let’s think what you’d need to do to make this work as a business. There are two sides that we need to think about - how do we get advertisers, and how do we get consumers to view the ads.

This would probably require you to set up your own ad network, since it’s likely that once the existing ad networks got wind of what you were doing, they’d been unlikely to co-operate with you and canabilise their own trade. Of course if you were successful enough they’d have little choice but to work with you.

So why on earth would consumers download an ad-blocker that just replaced adverts with other adverts. Well, possibly you could make this work if you could make the ads more relevant to them (by collecting profile data), but it’s unlikely that you could make adverts so focussed that consumers would be willing to go to all that trouble. You could offer to split the revenue from the ads with them - i.e. pay them to use your ad-blocker, but I doubt you’d get enough people to do this to make a worthwhile business out of it. Not to mention that people willing to do that would probably also be willing to install another ad-blocker over yours.

Okay, so a browser add-on probably won’t do it. We could move one step up the chain and produce our own browser, but this would then require us to produce a browser which is better than all the others which could be a little tricky.

So, no plugins, no building your own browser, well then I guess then we need to move further down that tech stack, and take a look at ISPs. If you ran an ISP (or partnered with one), you could easily catch ads at source and replace them.

Voila, all we need to do is build our own ISP and we’re done. Depending on the ad revenue, you could offer your customers free or at least discounted internet access.

Unfortunately there’s one more roadblock along the way. Google is one of the larger ad networks and also the de facto gateway to the internet. They probably won’t take too kindly to you replacing all the adwords text ads with your own and could easily retaliate by just blocking your ISP. I’m guessing an ISP without google is an ISP that won’t attract many customers. So at the very least, you’d couldn’t block their ads.

Like the ad-blocker-blockers, individual publishers could block your users from their content too, and this is probably the biggest unknown. Would enough of them bother to do so to cause you to lose customers?

I’m not sure if you’d run into legal problems with this idea. Effectively you’re making money from other people’s content, but one could argue (as Rupert Murdoch does) that google does exactly that too.

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