June 27, 2020

Ads as mandatory patronage markers, not attempts to persuade consumers

I won't be watching or linking to YouTube on my PC for the time being, since they've rolled out new anti-ad-blocker software. It ruins the experience, and they must know that anyone who has gone to the trouble of installing an ad-blocker is not susceptible to the effects of advertising. They'll never click on them, never buy their products, and will downgrade the reputation of the brand in their mental filing system for being annoying and invasive.

Installing an ad-blocker is simply a convenient way to let the advertisers know not to waste their time, resources, and money showing their ads to us, and to re-direct those attempts to people who either don't care or actually like ads and consumerism enough to look at them.

From a strict efficiency standard, going out of your way to circumvent ad-blockers -- all the more costly because it's an ever-evolving arms race, requiring an ongoing investment of resources, not just a one-time sum -- is the worst possible way to show ads to potential targets. You wouldn't advertise HIV tests to anyone other than gay men, and you wouldn't advertise anything at all to the minority who insist on an ad-free experience.

So why do the corporations insist that ads of their products and services be shown by the "content" distributors? It's clearly not to persuade potential customers.

They were most honest about their role back in the New Deal era, when they would say something like, "Today's program is brought to you by the good folks at the Willowby Cereal Company," or how PBS would say, "This programming is made possible by generous grants from the Stickler Foundation".

It was not about persuasion, but patronage. And it was not targeted at potential customers of the patron's products and services, but actual audience members of the program. The people who provided the funding for the program wanted its audience to know it was them, not anyone else, who made it happen. Without their largesse, you wouldn't be enjoying your entertainment. So, be grateful and think well of them, since they didn't have to fund it. It was designed to improve their status or reputation as benefactors. The ad, then, was more of a dedication to honor the patron of the "content creator".

But unlike the respectable patrons of earlier times, the new ones sought to repeatedly interrupt the audience's experience to remind them who the benefactors were. Not like a single page at the front of a book, or a logo / credit at the start of a movie, or a name above the entrance to a building. Repeated hijacking of the cultural experience oversteps the role of the patron, and naturally forces the audience to take counter-measures. In the TV and radio era, you simply muted the audio, station-surfed, or recorded it to watch / hear later while fast-forwarding through the commercials.

It was bothersome, but necessary for maintaining your dignity as an audience member, and ensuring that the corporations were not rewarded for violating the norms of the patron-client-audience relationship.

The internet patrons are even worse than for TV, and not for technical reasons, but rather things getting worse over time regardless of medium. There was no technical impediment to TV advertisers using a simultaneous overlay method, rather than a serial interruption. The emergency broadcast test did so just fine. Rather, the internet ad people's resort to pop-up ads and overlay ads on videos -- in addition to ads running before, interrupting, or after a video, a la TV -- is just a further move in the same direction. If TV were still the most important medium, they would be running overlay ads on the "content".

For that matter, there was no technical impediment to internet patrons using these methods during the heyday of Web 2.0 in the late 2000s. YouTube itself did not have content-hijacking ads back then. Nor did MySpace's super-popular music player, or early-era Facebook's imitation of it. All these media players do is retrieve digital content from some database, by the file's ID -- why not program the player to first retrieve an ad by the exact same method, and then retrieve the desired file? They could have, but they did not.

You might think the crucial difference between old and new patrons is that the old ones had loads of money, but did not amass it by making products or offering services for sale, whereas the new ones are for-profit businesses who want not only the dedication but hawking their own production to potential consumers.

But then look at all the PR these businesses are doing for the Black Lives Matter protests and related events. They're inserting their names and images into the public consciousness while the audience watches a spectacle in rapt attention. And yet, they don't try to hawk their products and services. It's just, "Capital One stands with those who demand racial justice" -- not, "If you're sick of police violence, we're offering a new credit card tailor-made for justice seekers." Or, "Starbucks supports the call for greater police accountability" -- not, "When you're gearing up for the latest anti-cop protest, make sure you fill up your energy level with a trip to Starbucks first".

The same goes for electoral endorsements. "Starbucks endorses Hillary Clinton," not "After you've saved America from Trump's fascism, at the voting booth, treat yourself with a Pumpkin Spice Latte".

Political and social actions are still treated as sacred by the business patrons -- not in a supernatural way, but in the sense that they are inviolable regarding the hawking of wares by patrons, who get some simple recognition and reputational boost, and that's it.

That means the patrons of contemporary culture -- much of it distributed over an internet connection -- view culture as an utterly profane domain of society. It's not sacrosanct from hawking wares, so shove all the ads into it that you feel like. Interrupt it, hijack it, overlay it, whatever. That is a real change from the old patrons, who treated culture with a certain level of sacredness.

This change is not because today's culture is so coarse, while the old culture was so refined. There was plenty of aesthetically questionable stuff made centuries ago, and there's great stuff being made in the past 50 years.

In fact, the question of quality is a red herring anyway. If the cultural domain is sacred, it doesn't matter whether any particular work is high or low, good or bad -- it's all supposed to be protected. That is clear regarding free speech, censorship, etc. But it extends to the matter of letting the audience know who the patron was -- high works should not be hijacked, interrupted, or overlaid with reminders of patronage, and neither should medium or low works. A reminder that takes less than 5 seconds to process -- name on the first page of a book, facade of a building, etc. -- before hours of uninterrupted cultural experience.

Nobody in the YouTube audience would mind if the website were re-named to reflect its patrons, as long as they held the cultural experience sacred from ware-hawking, as they already do for social and political activities. An unobtrusive piece of text, perhaps below the title, that you were watching music videos from within "The David Geffen Wing of YouTube". Anything but interruptions of the "content" itself.

I doubt whether any good can come of internet-mediated culture, though, because it is increasingly dominated by Silicon Valley, where the local elites have the blindest faith in techno-libertarianism. MySpace was from SoCal, and so are the Hollywood studios, while early-era Facebook was from back East. Libertarians, as free market fundamentalists, are least likely to hold some domain of society sacrosanct from ware-hawking, and that includes culture.

Whenever the next political realignment happens, it will shift the dominant coalition from the right (dominant since Reagan) to the left. Since the left coalition is controlled by the informational sectors of society -- including IT and the media-entertainment sector -- the realignment may only worsen the existing trends. The tech oligarchs have enough power as it is, let alone if their political vehicle were the dominant rather than opposition party.

Still, realignments don't happen by magic. The former opposition has to peel off large chunks of the supporters of the old dominant party, by delivering on big promises. Why else would you switch allegiances? Restoring culture to sacred, protected status would go a long way for voters who currently hold the media / entertainment / social media corporations in such low regard. Imagine a culture with no more ads, just brief dedications to the patrons.

Of course the tech companies would resist that realignment, but then they are not the senior member in the opposition party -- that would be the financial elites, headed by the central bank. They can tell the tech companies that YouTube et al. would all be broke now if it weren't for the trillions printed in quantitative easing and other bailouts from the central bank. So, if the central bank is to keep them afloat, no ad revenues for them, and no angering the general population.

If YouTube refuses, the central bank removes them from the QE program, and re-directs those newly minted dollars to some old-money WASP family from the Upper East Side -- who are probably part of the financial, rather than IT, elites themselves -- and they agree to accept the funds in order to patronize YouTube or some similar site, with no interruptions but with their name commemorated somewhere prominent.

Regardless of how, the finance elites have to find some way to discipline their coalition members who are bitterly despised by most of the population, especially the entertainment and media sectors, which now includes most of the IT companies in Silicon Valley too. Otherwise they will be in the impotent opposition begging the dominant Republicans for permission to go on a piss break for the rest of the nation's future.

That will be just like the Republican elites from the New Deal era, principally the manufacturing elites from the greater Northeast, kicking out the Bible-thumping evangelicals from positions of power and influence. They alienated too much of the society, and over the course of the Reagan revolution, they were steadily demoted to being an ignored fringe element, or even a group bitterly denounced by the party's own leaders. George H.W. Bush did not win the liberal yuppies of Montgomery County, MD, by running on a Moral Majority platform.

Now the country awaits the senior members of the Democrat coalition to stop angering and alienating the majority of the population.


  1. Hello,

    I noticed the anti-add blocker thing as well. Ad nauseam still mostly works if you adjust the settings.


  2. A great example is that Amazon just bought the naming right to the new hockey arena in Seattle and are naming it "Climate Pledge Arena". Sports facilities are an area where the inequality cylce is visible, the early were often named after Owners in mid-century they were given civic names like Veterans Stadium how the naming rights are sold.

  3. I wouldn't care if they renamed YouTube "Black Lives Matter Tube" -- with no ads. Or someone's name -- "Angela Davis Tube". Do not care at all.

    That's not the overstepping of their role as patrons, it's their constant interruption of the audience's experience to hawk wares.

    Instead, YouTube is trying to foist the worst of both worlds on its audience -- constant ware-hawking that ruins the experience, plus moralizing propaganda on the main page about BLM, Pride Month, etc.

    Re-naming to something gay is annoying, but you'd get over it if the new patrons otherwise behaved as the old patrons and kept their ware-hawking out of the cultural experience.

    And with anti-ad-blocker moves, they torch what little was left of their reputation. Most people already despise the media and entertainment cartels, and now they're being petty and vindictive like middle school girls against people who have given a clear signal will never respond to ads.

    It's treated as blasphemy, refusing to worship what they hold to be the true god. They'll make you perform twice the number of burnt offerings to their false god, then, to punish your blasphemy and to make an example to the others.

    Logging onto their website with an ad-blocker is like being a crypto -- outwardly conforming to their zealotry, but in reality performing none of their rituals, and maintaining your old ways.

    Only Silicon Valley could make a witch-hunting religion out of techno-libertarianism. "Let's just put the high-IQ atheists in charge of society" -- wow, what a wonderful world that would be!

  4. Streaming music is totally different from the file-sharing of the early 2000s. If you pirated an mp3 file, you owned it for life, and could listen to it as many times as you wanted. That was akin to ripping off a single track from a CD -- and the more you did that, the more it was like ripping off an entire record store.

    I actually rarely did that, and I was in college during the early 2000s golden age of file-sharing. I don't think I ever had more than 100 mp3s, accumulated over 5+ years of file-sharing. For owning music long-term, I'd rather buy it -- CDs mainly, though I'd consider buying from iTunes or whatever it's morphed into.

    As for short-term plays, rather than long-term ownership, no way am I paying for that. We never paid to listen to the radio, the MySpace music player, or early YouTube. I won't sit through ads either, just change the radio station to one that's playing actual music.

    Ads on streaming services are trying to make you pay something in order to enjoy a fleeting experience that you cannot replicate at will later. You don't have ownership of the song you stream. Maybe you could stream it later -- or maybe they'll delete that file from their database, or put it behind a paywall, or the platform will cease to exist altogether (MySpace music now has almost nothing available on it).

    I would sit through a brief ad in order to download a song that I could play whenever, however many times, with no ads attached to it after the first time. That's just the one-time reminder of the fact that some patron made this enjoyable cultural experience possible, without constantly interrupting it, let alone to hawk their retarded wares.

    I've never used, and will never use, other streaming services like Pandora or Spotify, for the same reason. Only use YouTube to stream songs b/c you can use an ad-blocker. If they make that impossible long-term, and defeat the ad-blocker developers for good, then why would I come back to the ruins of YouTube?

    I'd just buy tracks from iTunes or whatever, and have them forever -- with no ads ever (before, during, or after any play of the song). It's not like I browse through that many different songs on YouTube. Buying tracks wouldn't amount to that much.

    Then how do you do trial-and-error to find songs that are new (to you)? That's the problem for the musicians and their labels -- how to get the song to me, a potential buyer of an mp3 track, for free. Try before you buy. At $1 a track, there's no way people would make a "blind" buy.

    I use YouTube for little else, I'd rather the music labels just split off into their own streaming site where it's mostly free, maybe one ad per session -- not per song -- as a dedication-to-the-patrons ritual. And for the love of Jesus, NOT a site controlled by Silicon Valley -- somewhere in SoCal, perhaps led by Capitol Records. No techno-libertarian freaks!

    And then I wouldn't use an ad-blocker on that site -- the only reason is because a site is infested with ads, interrupting the experience at every possible point. If it's like the single ad that Amazon runs before a movie, big deal. Mute the volume, wait 30 seconds, and then enjoy.

  5. Re: Your point on high-IQ atheists

    It is a fact that credential inflation can make society more dysfunctional not only due to the effects of Turchin's "elite overproduction" but because highly educated/intelligent people are more likely to be highly partisan or ideological, more likely to become fanatically obsessed with a moral/political cause and more likely to use some reductionist abstraction to interpret the world:


    There is real danger IMO opinion of a society becoming "over-civilized". As "civilized" people are more likely to be sterile and rootless, they are more likely to prefer imposing forms of radical social engineering to counter-act the anomie.

  6. Thank you for your blog. I do wonder why companies don't just sponsor a movie like Apollo 13 on July Third on ABC ad free. Clean, good movie and you wouldn't think it would be that expensive compared to the money some of these companies spend by constantly making and running new 30 second commercials. Heck you could have a lawnmower company sponsor The Straight Story but I'm not sure that movie would be fast paced enough for a wide audience. You would think there would be a niche for a high end manufacturer to run higher brow stuff and not get in a ad race with Taco Bell.

  7. Dude, love the content lately, especially how properly conveying a message cannot function in social-media/YouTube/podcast land, but rather by a blog. There are some people on Twitter, e.g., Michael Tracey, who have piercing insight on what is unwinding lately, but that insight quickly gets lost in the nether of the Twattersphere. He should have an active blog to hash out his arguments that people can read and comment on constructively. Also, a post is much easier to find via websearch, whereas I don't know even know how to find all tweets.

    My one question I keep asking is: when is ag going to comment on how Turchin's prediction of extreme instability in the U.S. by 2020 is actually coming to pass? I know you generally don't like doing play-by-play analyses of a current issue in the U.S., but something analyzing Turchin's prediction and what comes next would be fascinating.


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