Information’s dependence on advertising

Ezra Klein points out that in the 19th century the different newspapers were tied to and funded by political parties.  The news was slanted accordingly.  But then newspaper revenue switched to advertising. This led to a greater degree of objectivity–as well as blandness–since newspapers didn’t want to alienate any particular audience, the advertisers wanting to sell to everybody.

After that interesting discussion, Klein segues into a larger discussion based on this observation:

One of the most mind-bending facts of our information culture is that almost every major medium of information supports itself by advertising.

Radio? Advertisers. Magazines? Advertisers. Television? Advertisers. Google? Advertisers. Facebook? Advertisers. Twitter? Advertisers. Perhaps the only major exceptions to this rule are books, which are supported by sales, and Wikipedia, which is supported largely through donations.

From an economic standpoint, most information is simply a vehicle for advertising. We see the advertising as a distraction. But so far as the media company’s bottom line goes, the advertising is the point. Without the advertising, the information wouldn’t exist. So the history of information, in the United States at least, is the history of platforms that could support advertising.

via Human knowledge, brought to you by . . . – The Washington Post.

Thus free market capitalism shapes the online world and makes it available for nothing!  Of course, in exchange it gets information about us, so as to make marketing to us more effective.

Do you see anything nefarious or potentially nefarious in this?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    In a pure context, advertising is also information. The information may be selective, but it also involves comparisons, or announcements of new features, new models or sales and specials. The advertising also often provides information on where the goods or services can be examined and/or purchased in person. Leaving the continual charges of deceptive practices aside, advertising is the means by which people are made aware of the fruits of the labor of their neighbors. Moreover, for all of our disparagement of advertising, 1) it would not be done if it was not in some measure successful in achieving its aims of making us aware of goods and services, and 2) many of the advertisements become social and cultural memes and we truly appreciate the best advertisments as their own micro-medium; almost everyone of a certain age can probably sing along to “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” or “I’m a Pepper, You’re a Pepper” or remembers the ubiquity of “Where’s the Beef?” or “Tastes Great! v. Less Filling!”

    Many of you are also probably aware of what was determined to be the best advertisement of 2011: the VW Darth Vader ad, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n6hf3adNqk which generated a 229% increase in inquiries about the Passat. Not to be outdone, the Eminem (meh) ad for the Chrysler 200 generated a whopping 1,013%! increase in inquiries (probably working from a low to nil base, but you can’t argue with success).

  • SKPeterson

    In a pure context, advertising is also information. The information may be selective, but it also involves comparisons, or announcements of new features, new models or sales and specials. The advertising also often provides information on where the goods or services can be examined and/or purchased in person. Leaving the continual charges of deceptive practices aside, advertising is the means by which people are made aware of the fruits of the labor of their neighbors. Moreover, for all of our disparagement of advertising, 1) it would not be done if it was not in some measure successful in achieving its aims of making us aware of goods and services, and 2) many of the advertisements become social and cultural memes and we truly appreciate the best advertisments as their own micro-medium; almost everyone of a certain age can probably sing along to “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” or “I’m a Pepper, You’re a Pepper” or remembers the ubiquity of “Where’s the Beef?” or “Tastes Great! v. Less Filling!”

    Many of you are also probably aware of what was determined to be the best advertisement of 2011: the VW Darth Vader ad, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n6hf3adNqk which generated a 229% increase in inquiries about the Passat. Not to be outdone, the Eminem (meh) ad for the Chrysler 200 generated a whopping 1,013%! increase in inquiries (probably working from a low to nil base, but you can’t argue with success).

  • Pete

    “Do you see anything nefarious or potentially nefarious in this?”

    “nefarious |niˈfe(ə)rēəs|
    adjective
    (typically of an action or activity) wicked or criminal : the nefarious activities of the organized-crime syndicates.
    DERIVATIVES
    nefariously adverb
    nefariousness noun
    ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin nefarius, from nefas, nefar- ‘wrong’ (from ne- ‘not’ + fas ‘divine law’ ) + -ous . ” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

    No.

  • Pete

    “Do you see anything nefarious or potentially nefarious in this?”

    “nefarious |niˈfe(ə)rēəs|
    adjective
    (typically of an action or activity) wicked or criminal : the nefarious activities of the organized-crime syndicates.
    DERIVATIVES
    nefariously adverb
    nefariousness noun
    ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin nefarius, from nefas, nefar- ‘wrong’ (from ne- ‘not’ + fas ‘divine law’ ) + -ous . ” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

    No.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Someone has to pay for the information to be disseminated. So either you are going to pay through your neck for news, which means that informed decisions will be really difficult to make, or you are going to fund news with taxpayer money (oh yes, thats’s going to be popular :) ), or it is going to be the domain of the rich and powerful.

    Someone has to pay. It costs money to disseminate information. It costs money to gather information.

    So the answer is no.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Someone has to pay for the information to be disseminated. So either you are going to pay through your neck for news, which means that informed decisions will be really difficult to make, or you are going to fund news with taxpayer money (oh yes, thats’s going to be popular :) ), or it is going to be the domain of the rich and powerful.

    Someone has to pay. It costs money to disseminate information. It costs money to gather information.

    So the answer is no.

  • Tom Hering

    “Perhaps the only major exceptions to this rule are books … and Wikipedia …”

    … and public radio and television. And grass-roots political organizations. And the classrooms of schools and universities. And the correspondence between scientific and other researchers. And all the distribution of information done by civilian and military intelligence agencies – not to mention federal, state, and local governments agencies of all kinds. And conversations between friends, co-workers, church members, and family members. And …

    So I’m skeptical that most information in our society, or the most important information in our society, is moved around in advertiser-supported ways.

  • Tom Hering

    “Perhaps the only major exceptions to this rule are books … and Wikipedia …”

    … and public radio and television. And grass-roots political organizations. And the classrooms of schools and universities. And the correspondence between scientific and other researchers. And all the distribution of information done by civilian and military intelligence agencies – not to mention federal, state, and local governments agencies of all kinds. And conversations between friends, co-workers, church members, and family members. And …

    So I’m skeptical that most information in our society, or the most important information in our society, is moved around in advertiser-supported ways.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Hmm…

    Coming from the Washington Post, this information that “information is supported by advertising” seems to be supported by advertising…

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Hmm…

    Coming from the Washington Post, this information that “information is supported by advertising” seems to be supported by advertising…

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith said:

    But then newspaper revenue switched to advertising. This led to a greater degree of objectivity–as well as blandness–since newspapers didn’t want to alienate any particular audience, the advertisers wanting to sell to everybody.

    And yet, in spite of all this, so many “conservatives” continue to insist that advertising-supported media is consistently and monolithically slanted ideologically.

    I mean, it is, but in favor of the advertisers, not any particular political party. Which often means choosing to not make waves.

    Reminds me a bit of how economic activity between countries typically prevents them from going to war. Money keeps the peace, even as it muddies the waters.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith said:

    But then newspaper revenue switched to advertising. This led to a greater degree of objectivity–as well as blandness–since newspapers didn’t want to alienate any particular audience, the advertisers wanting to sell to everybody.

    And yet, in spite of all this, so many “conservatives” continue to insist that advertising-supported media is consistently and monolithically slanted ideologically.

    I mean, it is, but in favor of the advertisers, not any particular political party. Which often means choosing to not make waves.

    Reminds me a bit of how economic activity between countries typically prevents them from going to war. Money keeps the peace, even as it muddies the waters.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Tom mentioned (@4) “public radio and television” as another counter-example. Except that it’s not hard at all to find advertisers on either. Just because they ask the public for money doesn’t mean they don’t also take money from “corporate sponsors”.

    As for “the classrooms of schools and universities”, surely you have read of the many attempts (sometimes successful) by advertisers to support educational media or even lesson plans?

    “And the correspondence between scientific and other researchers.” Which is also not completely free from corporate influence.

    And while conversations are not, as such, ad-sponsored, nor are they anywhere near as influential as cable news in shaping the public discourse. I guess it all depends on how you define “information”.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Tom mentioned (@4) “public radio and television” as another counter-example. Except that it’s not hard at all to find advertisers on either. Just because they ask the public for money doesn’t mean they don’t also take money from “corporate sponsors”.

    As for “the classrooms of schools and universities”, surely you have read of the many attempts (sometimes successful) by advertisers to support educational media or even lesson plans?

    “And the correspondence between scientific and other researchers.” Which is also not completely free from corporate influence.

    And while conversations are not, as such, ad-sponsored, nor are they anywhere near as influential as cable news in shaping the public discourse. I guess it all depends on how you define “information”.

  • Tom Hering

    Or on how you define “advertiser.”

  • Tom Hering

    Or on how you define “advertiser.”

  • JunkerGeorg

    If I may recommend a great book on the potential effects of the Internet on our minds/way of thinking/behaving, look for the book called, “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains”, by Nicholas Carr. Any who buy into the assumption that technology is neutral, just a tool (i.e., “The medium doesn’t matter, just how you use it.”), would do well to read this book.

  • JunkerGeorg

    If I may recommend a great book on the potential effects of the Internet on our minds/way of thinking/behaving, look for the book called, “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains”, by Nicholas Carr. Any who buy into the assumption that technology is neutral, just a tool (i.e., “The medium doesn’t matter, just how you use it.”), would do well to read this book.

  • Jonathan

    I’m no economist, but the one thing I always wondered about is the sheer weight of advertising on the Internet. I understand its general necessity to most things, but sometimes, I question the value being assigned to it in certain contexts. Based on my own personal experience, I see a massive gap between my assumed returns on the ads I see and what said ads actually cost. First, 100% of Internet ads can be blocked with no effort at all. Second, unless I’m just a really strange abnormal person, most ads are hardly ever seen, let alone clicked on. Probably 90% of the ads I’ve ever clicked on have been as a DIRECT gesture of support toward the site, NOT interest in the ad. Most ads I see online are also trash. Only companies like Facebook have enough personal information to mine for effective targetted ads, and they are hardly targetted to me.

    Television and print ads are far more effective than anything less than intrusive full screen web ads. Pandora’s obligatory radio ads are also effective. But just browsing the web the last few years, I see a massive increase in the value of ads, yet no increase in their effectiveness.

    I just see this as a potential problem for our economy.

  • Jonathan

    I’m no economist, but the one thing I always wondered about is the sheer weight of advertising on the Internet. I understand its general necessity to most things, but sometimes, I question the value being assigned to it in certain contexts. Based on my own personal experience, I see a massive gap between my assumed returns on the ads I see and what said ads actually cost. First, 100% of Internet ads can be blocked with no effort at all. Second, unless I’m just a really strange abnormal person, most ads are hardly ever seen, let alone clicked on. Probably 90% of the ads I’ve ever clicked on have been as a DIRECT gesture of support toward the site, NOT interest in the ad. Most ads I see online are also trash. Only companies like Facebook have enough personal information to mine for effective targetted ads, and they are hardly targetted to me.

    Television and print ads are far more effective than anything less than intrusive full screen web ads. Pandora’s obligatory radio ads are also effective. But just browsing the web the last few years, I see a massive increase in the value of ads, yet no increase in their effectiveness.

    I just see this as a potential problem for our economy.


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