Fructose, Not Acetic Acid

John Gruber recently wrote about advertising on Daring Fireball. He mentions that some readers complained to Macworld about Sony Vaio ads. I no longer read Macworld because of their editor, but I complained about the appearance of those ads at Mac|Life, which I do read. He says, “I’ve also gotten a handful of complaints about the ads for Microsoft Expression Studio appearing this month … But, even if Microsoft did want to reach [Daring Fireball]’s audience specifically, so what? The idea that it’s somehow offensive makes no … sense to me”.

I find that position surprising for a Mac aficionado, especially one so passionate and vocal. Gruber, who says “an ad is an ad, and what I write is what I write”, has the same approach to advertising that Slashdot has: advertising is a revenue source, not content. It’s not coincidental that those dependent on advertising revenue have that position; it’s in their own best interest.

Yet apparently there are limits as Gruber says, “There are certainly products and services for which I wouldn’t accept a sponsorship, for various reasons”. (Since he doesn’t disclose those reasons, I think we can assume that he won’t accept advertising from hate groups, etc.) Thus what Gruber is saying is that it makes no sense to him to deny sponsorship from Apple‘s direct competitors in particular.

Given that he describes his blog as “a Mac column in the form of a weblog”, his policy makes no sense to me. While some people like Word for the Mac (I only know one who tolerates it) the majority of Mac users have an antipathy for Microsoft and Windows closer to that of the Linux community than the general populace. Advertising Microsoft products on an Apple blog makes as much sense as advertising Yugo parts on a Toyota Land Cruiser fanatic web site. Or, as Brian Ford wrote concerning Gruber’s position, “like Al Gore accepting a sponsorship from the Hummer corporation”.

Gruber is thinking like a writer, not a businessman. (Which isn’t a criticism per se, just an observation.) Writers for newspapers accept responsibility for their articles, not the advertising around it. The problem is that readers get the advertising with the content. Advertisers take pains to make their ads as much a part of the content as possible. Businesses need to think about the entire customer experience, not just the individual job tasks. By accepting advertising revenue, Gruber made Daring Fireball a business.

I doubt that either Microsoft or Sony would prefer to spend their advertising dollars on the Mac community; the return on investment is lower than advertising elsewhere. Using services like The Deck results in indiscriminate advertising spam. But beyond being ineffective for the advertisers, it’s irritating to the readers.

Advertisers want to advertise to as many potential customers as possible. Fewer readers means fewer potential customers means fewer advertising dollars in the long run. While the “an ad is an ad” mindset may work for a writer, it’s not a successful business model. Irritating publications drive away readers, whether in print or on the web.

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2 Responses

  1. I think the Sony ad is ineffective, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve followed Daring Fireball for a long time and listened to John wrestle with the issues around advertising. I remember that when he first partnered with The Deck he was bothered by the color ads (which conflicts with his carefully thought out color palette) and graphics. He held steadfast to his limit of one small ad per page, which was the biggest issue for him. I think the compromise works. I’ve even clicked on a couple of the ads. Ads I don’t care about are easily ignored.

    And, hey, I’ve been misrepresented. If you read my Blog Entry you’ll see that it says, “I can’t say that I like Word though; I’m merely highly tolerant.” Later in a comment on that post I say, “I don’t like Microsoft, but I think of them more as incompetent than evil.” I don’t “like Word for the Mac.”

  2. I don’t like Microsoft or Windows PC ads with my Mac sites because I’m a Mac user because I prefer it to Windows and those ads intrude on my sanctuary. I can also understand that some don’t mind. (The DF ads are much easier to ignore than the redirects at Mac|Life.) But I think it’s easy to predict that a non-trivial portion of Mac users would feel like me. Just stick to stuff like external drives and iPod skins, things that may irritate someone but have a much lower probability of doing so.

    I apologize if I misrepresented you. I didn’t refer to primary sources and relied on my (obviously faulty) memory of our conversations. I’ll amend my post accordingly.

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