How to avoid advertising

The typical sources of advertising come in the form of TV commercials, radio commercials, billboards and online ads.

Paul Bausch wrote a review of The Consumer Trap and in his review, he described how big business marketing plays a central role in our lives, shaping our choices, thoughts, feelings, and even our culture.

JD at get rich slowly wrote, in reference to super bowl ads, “Advertising is not meant to help you make informed decisions. It’s meant to persuade you to purchase things. It’s shocking that so many people willingly expose themselves to ads, not just during the Super Bowl, but in other areas of their life too. Perhaps they believe advertising doesn’t affect them. They’re wrong. Advertising works. It doesn’t always affect us on a conscious level — it operates in our subconscious where we’re unaware of its effects.”

After hearing about the many ways advertising can sneak into your life and affect your decisions, I wondered how much it might be affecting me. I reviewed a normal day and was surprised to find that I have removed almost all of the main sources of advertising from my life. How?

1. TV – I don’t watch TV, so I don’t see any commercials. Instead, I watch DVDs where I occasionally see a movie trailer, but that’s about it.
2. Radio – I don’t listen to the radio, so I don’t hear any commercials. Instead, I listen to audio books when I’m in the car.
3. Billboards – There aren’t any on my commute, so I rarely see any.
4. Online ads – I use the Adblock Firefox extension which does a great job of filtering out ads. Some ads still get through, but it cuts out the lion’s share.

There are some types of advertising that I still see, like those at a store or restaurant, and advertisements in the mail from local businesses. I also see Google’s sponsored links when using Google services, and when I’m visiting a commercial web site, they are obviously advertising their own products. So, while I’m not able to completely avoid advertising, I’ve significantly reduced it without any negative side affects (at least that I’m aware of).

I’ve never made a conscious decision to do this, I’ve just tried to find ways to be more productive during the day. Now that I’ve learned about the subconscious affects of advertising, it’s icing on the cake.


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  1. Ads are a nuisance and it seems natural that your particular pursuits have steered you clear of most advertising. But I don’t buy the hype that ads brainwash consumers to do things against their will. Yes, ads influence, but no ad is going to make me buy a product I have no use for. Ads may convince me to try a different brand if it offers feature I value, but if I don’t like it I switch back. And if I buy a new candy bar because I saw one in an ad what’s the harm? So I don’t buy this propaganda that ads are some Boogeyman controlling consumers. Sure, they add to the background noise of our society, but I feel the bark doesn’t have much bite. Plus, the hyperbole of ads has made me a more sceptical consumer – they’re like a vaccine that strengthens my consumer immune system. :-)
    Certainly a lot of study has gone into advertising and consumers should be aware of the tactics they use, but it’s not that hard to arm yourself against their tricks. This Frontline story about the Persuaders was interesting –

    Comment by Kris on February 20, 2007 @ 7:40 pm
  2. Ah, they’re so good you don’t know it’s working :)

    In all seriousness, I still think advertising affects us more than we realize. It’s not the massive brainwashing of consumers some would have you believe, but it certainly sways people on assessments of brand quality, what’s fashionable and introduces artificial needs where no need really exists. Thanks for the link about the persuaders – I’ll take a look at it.

    Comment by dan on February 21, 2007 @ 9:09 am
  3. Perhaps I’m being affected more than I think, but to me that influence seems harmless. I only have a small amount of consumer debt (would be zero if not for Christmas – now there’s a place were marketers have succeeded with me – can’t disappoint the kids) and I just don’t buy much. For big purchases I use Consumer Reports and reviews to inform my selection. I buy Toyota or Honda cars because they last and need fewer repairs, but I do consider all makes when I begin my shopping.

    The book you mention is also a product that’s being advertised. ;-)

    I use AdBlock but disable it for websites I want to support. They make money from these ads and I’d rather have them supported by ads than have to charge a subscription or beg for donations.

    Comment by Kris on February 23, 2007 @ 8:28 am
  4. Indeed, the huge Christmas shopping season illustrates the power of marketing. Also, the idea we have that Hondas and Toyotas last longer and need fewer repairs may not be based entirely on empirical evidence (although there certainly is a lot of that) and be partially due to marketing.

    Agreed, virtually everything is sold at some point, so it’s important to realize the source of your information. I like to know how a person stands to benefit from what they’re telling me before I believe them. In the case of the book’s author vs. advertisers in general, I feel the author is looking out for me more than the commercial establishments, but I could be wrong.

    That’s very generous of you to turn Adblock off for sites you want to support. I should probably do that myself, considering I benefit from AdSense earnings. You realize that site owners only make money when ads are clicked, not just when they’re displayed, right? I’m not suggesting you start clicking ads to help them unless you’re genuinely interested in the product or service. Just as long as you know that turning off Adblock won’t help sites unless you’re also clicking on ads.

    Comment by dan on February 23, 2007 @ 8:43 am
  5. Yes, I realize that the website only makes money if I click on (thru) an ad. And while it takes a bit longer to load a page with ads, I figure it’s worth it to support my favorite sites (as long as the ads aren’t annoying or offensive). And, yes, I only click on ads that interest me. But if I blocked them all, there would be no chance for the website to get any ad revenue from me. At least with selective unblocking I’m giving websites that have earned my trust a chance.

    One note on cars, a while back Consumer Reports presented a graph of repair incidents over the last 3 decades. In the 70s US autos had more than double the number of repairs of Japanese cars (European autos were in the middle). In the 80s the US cars improved, but so did everyone else. In the 90s the US cars dropped again to be about the same as the European cars but still above the Japanese. I feel this data is reliable and fairly accurate. It tells me, Japanese cars are still more reliable, but the difference is not as pronounced as it once was. I now consider buying US cars, but feel I must be careful in selecting a quality model; whereas there is seldom a Japanese “lemon” and I feel confident buying most models.

    Comment by Kris on February 27, 2007 @ 3:50 pm
  6. I’m impressed by your willingness to support sites with ads. I should do the same.

    That’s useful data about car repairs. I was mainly playing devil’s advocate to point out that even when we think we’re making a rational decision based on facts, we’ve often been affected by marketing hype.

    It sounds like you’ve done your homework though. I too have researched cars on Consumer Reports and have come to the same conclusion (although there is quite a variance between different years of cars, even Japanese ones, so it pays to be vigilant when you’re buying).

    Comment by dan on February 27, 2007 @ 4:49 pm
  7. I agree with Kris regarding using adBlock. Regardless of whether you’re a “big site” or just a little blog, the costs of running a website are not zero.

    It should be said that there are two types of online advertisements: pay per click, and some sort of pay per impression (the latter isn’t as simple as that, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll pretend that it is).

    Pay per click ads (like I use on present information either inline with one’s content, or in an “ad block” somewhere on the page. The site owner is only paid if someone clicks through the ad (and sometimes only if the clicker actually makes a purchase — affiliate programs work this way).

    Impression ads typically pay you either by the amount of times the ad is shown on the page, or a flat rate per month (or other amount of time). Back before the dot com bubble burst, most advertising schemes worked this way, it was great for the site owner, but not so great for the advertiser.

    The tricky part is, most people don’t know which type of advertising it is and just decide to block all of it (or all that they can). Whether they use a browser plug-in, standalone application, or a custom HOSTS file (or a combination), the bottom line is that the site owner, the person that is publishing the information that you’re reading, has decided that his or her content isn’t free, and rather than making you pay for a subscription (like the New York Times does), or micro-pay for the content, they opted to put ads on their page in the hopes that they wouldn’t be doing all this for free.

    There are other site owners and content providers out there that have decided to give away their content (bandwidth, hosting costs, their own time, etc.). To these people I tip my hat; I’m not one of them. If people want to look at my information, they have to look at my ads. If they want to they can click on them so I get paid a little bit. If not, I don’t.

    In my opinion, by blocking ads, you may as well be walking in to the bookstore and pocketing that book without paying for it. You’re looking at content that the author has presented on the condition that the ads be seen, and you’re preventing that.

    Maybe there’s a way that I can have my web application look and see if a visitor is blocking ads, and if so block the contents of the site and present them with a message that they’re stealing.

    The only caveat that I can see are malicious ads (any ad that spawns a new window or attempts to launch or install an application, steal data, or modify the behavior on my computer is malicious, again, in my opinion) or ads with questionable/objectionable material (, pr0n, anything illegal in your jurisdiction, etc.). In which case you should write an email to the webmaster (and/or president, owner, moderator, administrator) and let them know that you value their content but not the ads that they’re running (include a screenshot, if possible). Tell the webmaster that you’ll check again in a week, and if the ads are still there, you’ll either discontinue visiting their site, or block their ads. At least you will have given them the opportunity to remove the offending material.


    Comment by Joe Levi on February 28, 2007 @ 4:40 pm
  8. […] reading a post from Amidst a Tangled Web (a ‘blog that I read […]

  9. Joe: I run a few sites that make money through advertising, and I’ve been doing it for years, but I don’t feel the same way as you.

    I consider blocking ads to be the same as skipping TV commercials or ignoring ads in magazines and newspapers. The ads are there to make money, but just because you don’t read them doesn’t mean you’re stealing content. Especially in the case of pay per click ads, because whether a user blocks ads or not doesn’t change your earnings, so you’re no worse off when they block them. You might be better off if the ads are too annoying because without the ad blocker, they might stop visiting the site.

    Your idea to force people to look at ads by putting up a message that they’re stealing is likely to alienate your visitors. I’m sure you’ve seen newspaper sites that load the entire page with blinking and flashing ads that make you go into epileptic fits. If I didn’t use Adblock, I wouldn’t visit those sites, so whether I use it or not, they’re not going to make money from me because I don’t like in-your-face ads.

    As I said before, I really like Kris’ idea to whitelist sites that you want to support. In the future, I plan to do that, but I feel it is well within my right to view the content how I want to view it (like using RSS feeds) if it’s on the web. There are other options to force users to pay to read your content, like requiring a subscription or by writing a book.

    Comment by dan on February 28, 2007 @ 7:52 pm
  10. Dan, your points definitely have merit, don’t get me wrong, I just have a different opinion.

    In your analogy, if you are reading a magazine and you don’t want to “read the ads” you don’t have to, you just “skip past them.” If you’re watching time shifted TV you don’t have to “watch the commercials,” you just “skip through them.” If you’re driving down the road you don’t have to “read the billboards.” BUT, the ad has made an impression on you (positive, negative, whatever). In that sense it’s done its job.

    By using AdBlocker (or another plug-in, or a custom HOSTS table, etc.) you’re not “skipping past” an advertisement, you’re blocking them entirely. And blocking definitely has its place, as I mentioned before, with malicious ads.

    Yes, you are correct, by prohibiting people from reading the content if it’s detected that the ads didn’t display, one would loose viewership. For you and I that’s a big deal, for a large website, maybe not so much so.

    Mark my words though, you’ll start seeing content providers start to detect whether their advertisements were displayed, and if they were they’ll likely block some or all of their content. (Perhaps letting you read the first paragraph and a half if they’re blocked, then telling you to un-block and return to read the rest.)

    Anyhow, not trying to argue, just offering a different opinion and possibly a prediction of things to come.

    Always good to hear your point-of-view, Dan! :)

    Comment by Joe Levi on March 9, 2007 @ 2:57 pm
  11. Joe, several website owners have tried (and failed) to stop Adblock. The bottom line is that almost all implementations use javascript to do the detection, and anyone who has Adblock installed almost certainly also has Noscript installed. Some website owners have gone as far to block Firefox… except there’s yet another plugin that will allow you to report your browsing agent as IE or anything else to get around this.

    There is no contract, implied or otherwise, that states I must allow a site’s ads to view its content. I have never clicked an ad on a website, except for sites where I seek out the advertisement (CraigsList, eBay, Froogle etc). Therefore, I block all ads except on the aforementioned sites, as I have no use for them. Advertising is disingenuous at best, and I refuse to allow some marketing shill to attempt to influence me.

    Comment by Hoq on March 17, 2008 @ 2:26 am
  12. I also use NoScript for firefox, which gets almost completely rid of the ads! There’s none on youtube or download sites like Mediafire for me. Problem is, some scripts manage to sneak through if i allow the main website. But mainly, I have no ads. AdBlock is amazing though!

    Comment by Amy on April 24, 2011 @ 3:13 pm
  13. Subscribe and or pay for ad-free TV. Things like: it does have one ad, usually), Netflix, and other ad-free tv. It not only saves brain space, but money!

    Also, ad-free radio. I’ve completely eliminated FM/AM radio: I use things like, pandora, and rather than waking up to the radio I wake up to my own music. It’s all good.

    Ad blocking add ons for your web browser.

    A blindfold for billboards…haha, just kidding :P

    Advertising is still everywhere, and hard to get rid of. I usually just block it out of my mind. Sadly, in the future it will only get worse…they will never stop coming up with new ways to brainwash us into buying products we don’t need.

    Comment by Nicolle on May 1, 2011 @ 2:05 pm
  14. I’ve been aware of advertising’s subconscious effects for a while. It wasn’t until I went to school for business and studied a bit of psychology that it finally dawned on me just how aggressive and intentional most of it really is. It’s a bit depressing. Even something as seemingly harmless as a colorful coupon is intended to trick you into spending/consuming more than you would have with out it. This realization lead me to recall many occasions of experiencing “buyer’s remorse”, which then inspired me to take an aggressive defense against all forms of advertising. The first step was to stop watching basic cable channels; that was easy. With less channels to choose from because of this decision, I often found myself on the internet as an alternative. I must not have been the only one thinking like this because advertisers quickly caught on and have effectively made the internet their own, but I suppose that was inevitable. YouTube comes to the forefront of my mind; it has gotten to the point that I automatically skip any video that begins with an ad. At least some offer the option to skip it after a few seconds (although it is likely an advertising or marketing firm that created and monitors those clicks as well, all in the effort to “get feedback from consumers to provide better customer service”). On a side note, being referred to as a “consumer” has always struck me as derogatory, even though I’m aware it is a completely accurate description. I put it in the same category as “peasant”.

    Comment by Dennis on August 24, 2011 @ 12:04 pm

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