Wanted: Online Pubs Doing Real (and therefore GDPR-compliant) Advertising

This is what greets me when I go to the Washington Post site from here in Germany:

Washington Post greeting for Europeans

So you can see it too, wherever you are, here’s the URL I’m redirected to on Chrome, on Firefox, on Safari and on Brave. All look the same except for Brave, which shows a blank page.

Note that last item in the Premium EU Subscription column: “No on-site advertising or third-party tracking.”

Ponder for a moment how the Sunday (or any) edition of the Post‘s print edition would look with no on-paper advertising. It would be woefully thin and kind of worthless-looking. Two more value-adds for advertising in the print edition:

  1. It doesn’t track readers, which is the sad and broken norm for newspapers and magazines in the online world—a norm now essentially outlawed by the GDPR, and surely the reason the Post is running this offer.
  2. It sponsors the Post. Tracking-based advertising, known in the trade as adtech, doesn’t sponsor anything. Instead it hunts down eyeballs its spyware already knows about, no matter where they go. In other words, if adtech can shoot a Washington Post reader between the eyes at the Skeevy Lake Tribune, and the Skeevy is cheaper, it might rather hit the reader over there.

So here’s the message I want the Post to hear from me, and from every reader who values what they do:

That’s what I get from the print edition, and that’s what I want from the online edition as well.

So I want two things here.

One is an answer to this question: Are ANY publishers in the online world selling old-fashioned ads that aren’t based on tracking and therefore worth more than the tracking kind? (And are GDPR-compliant as well, since the ads aren’t aimed by collected personal data.)

The other is to subscribe to the Post as soon as they show me they’re willing to do what I ask: give me those real ads again. And stop assuming that all ads need to be the tracking-based kind.

Thanks in advance.

18 responses to “Wanted: Online Pubs Doing Real (and therefore GDPR-compliant) Advertising”

  1. […] Wanted: Online Pubs Doing Real (and Therefore GDPR-Compliant) Advertising 4 by rinze | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  2. No. Don’t give me ads based on not tracking me. I’ll gladly pay that $9/mo to support the Post to remove the mind-manipulation consumerist self-feeding orgy that is advertisement.

  3. Nick Toumpelis Avatar
    Nick Toumpelis

    There are possibilities to deliver advertising that is smart, but not based on profiling users. What if e.g. the ad is directly relevant to the content, and has no user profiling? (Groundbreaking, right???) In most cases, they would actually be more relevant. If I accidentally click on e.g. a tinnitus medication ad on Bored Panda, that ad will follow me everywhere for some time, incl. e.g. when reading about Crete on Lonely Planet. Wouldn’t it be better to get ads about hotels in Crete instead?

    To answer your question, I think the FT delivers non-targeted ads on or above their online masthead from time to time.

  4. Podcast advertising is a good model. Midroll is an interesting company that delivers advertising on some of the biggest podcasts. Their site has a lot of good info on their advertising products. I see no reason why their model can’t be replicated in online text publishing.

  5. Daring Fireball, an Apple/Mac/Technology news site/microblog run by John Gruber, (daringfireball.net) does advertising in-house and without tracking. He does some sponsored posts that show up in the RSS feed and non-intrusive sidebar ads. The only thing that could be construed as tracking is that if you click on the sidebar link there are typically analytics markers in the url so they know if you came from DF.

  6. The reason nobody uses non-contextual ads anymore is that they aren’t worth anything because the click rate is too low. Saying “I don’t want targeted ads, show me old fashioned ones instead” is like going to a store and saying that you don’t want to pay with US currency but rather some old Italian Lira.

    1. Then why, Jim, do print ads still sell? Or TV? Or radio? Why are fashion, wedding and other specialty magazines still thick with ads nobody can click on?

  7. Very interesting points, thank you!

    As to your question, though, might it not make more sense to ask if there are any advertisers willing to pay for static/non-tracking ads?

    From my days in publishing I think the only time we ever ran non-tracking banners was as a kind of freebie, to say “and we’ll give you the same visibility online as in the magazine”.

    .I don’t recall anybody actually willing to pay for it.

    1. Matt, I put the question to publishers because they are the ones busy asking for consent for tracking right now, thanks to the GDPR. Publishers also have direct connections with readers, while advertisers do not — at least not through publishers, “interactive” though some ads would like to be. Still, it’s the essential question.

  8. Take a look at QZ.com (division of Atlantic Media).

  9. If it was a mistake for the EU to pass the GDPR time will tell but so will the lose of openness and the billions of dollars Euros and dollars in free trade!Take care.

  10. I’m a publisher using Google Adsense and other Ad Networks since 2003 to help support my publications. GDPR is a nightmare and it appears Google is pushing compliance down to publishers to tackle the coding to employ consent mechanisms.

    I wouldn’t mind a return to contextual and non-personalized ad environment. My impression is I earned more from ad impressions in the era prior to personalized ads.

    Wonder if there is a middle ground where data could be collected to generate a general profile of the users of a website which can be shared with prospective advertisers but prevent the use of data to target individual website users?

    1. Thanks, Ross.

      No doubt the GDPR is a nightmare for publishers who have become dependent on adtech, which means approximately all of them.

      But the nightmare for readers has been adtech from the start. Without adtech, we probably wouldn’t have ad blocking, and certainly wouldn’t have seen ad blocking take off in the early teens (when the adtech industry, led by the IAB, stomped on Do Not Track, which was never more than a polite request, like Gozilla flattening Bambi), and also wouldn’t have the GDPR, which is aimed squarely at the sins of adtech). (BTW & FWIW, I’ve been covering all of this since 2008, and you can see the full roster of posts and articles here.)

      Some among us are are working on the middle ground you mention. I think the best answers will be clear and standardized ways for readers to signal what they want and don’t, and for agreements between readers and publishers to be recorded in ways that can be audited later. Customer Commons has been working on this for some time, and so have developers such as JLINC Labs, whose open source work is at JLINC.org. Without that work, there won’t be a standard way for readers and publishers to work together and align their interests, and we’ll continue with the disorganized mess of unclear and conflicting solutions that are currently giving us as many different ways to issue cookie notifications and obtain consent to tracking as there are websites and third party “solution” providers to those sites.

  11. The Economist has ads in their various apps (Economist, Economist Classic, Economist Espresso) which appear to be “real” according to your definition, and often also appear in prominent locations in the printed newspaper (inside front cover, e.g.). I am not sure what they do on their website.

  12. Doc,

    Thanks for the references to customercommons.org and jlinc.org. I’ll have to follow developments there.

    I am hoping there will be a solution that protects user privacy but does not kill advertising revenue for smaller publishers who do not have sufficient Internet traffic to attract direct advertisers outside of the adtech universe.

    1. Thanks, Ross.

      We (in the large sense of multiple participants) are working on it. So stay tuned.

  13. Maybe we could start a Bad Adtech Hall of Fame.

    I buy duct tape once per decade. I bought duct tape. That night on youtube was an ad for the duct tape I just bought.

    Why do I keep getting shown the ad for those two young lesbians getting married in Vegas – do they think I’m a young lesbian or some straight guy who likes looking at them.

    I watched a documentary on Philip Roth. For four weeks after that were tourism ads to Israel featuring some bikini babe on a surfboard.

    I bought pancake mix. The first ad I saw at home after that was “figure out why you’re overweight.” Message received – I made one batch and threw out the pancake mix.

    Bring back real ads. Real ads are fun, they make you feel connected to the culture. Real ads make me feel less self-conscious less paranoid and they sometimes even work! Yes I am a Geico customer.

    1. Good points, AJ. It’s amazing to me that the cognitive and operational overhead in spying-based advertising doesn’t seem to have any place in the adtech system. The more the better, they seem to think.

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