Why We Should Stop Complaining About Advertising

The other evening I was watching “Jeopardy” with my parents, whom I was visiting with in New York. During one of the commercial breaks, my mother remarked about the number of ads she had to watch and how she wished she could just fast-forward through them. But, alas, we were watching live (meaning non-DVR’d) television and we had no choice but to sit and suffer.

In today’s world of multiple platforms, technological innovations and now ad-blocking software, we have become a society of ad-adverse consumers. We can record a TV show on a DVR and fast-forward through the commercials, binge watch commercial-free programming on Netflix and now readily install ad-blocking software on our computers and mobile devices to zap any ads that consider showing their sorry faces on our screens. A recent survey by the Interactive Advertising Bureau shows 34 percent of adults currently use ad-blocking software, and many predict the number is on the rise. Simply put, we do not want to watch advertising and will go to great lengths to avoid having to do so.

We all know how advertising benefits advertisers… it helps sell their products and services. We also know how it benefits the media… it provides them with revenue. Ask an average person how advertising benefits the general public and, my guess is the overwhelming majority will say it doesn’t. A minority will say it informs us about products and services. An even smaller minority, I surmise, would tell you the real answer and something all of us know but conveniently forget. Advertising either completely pays for, or subsidizes, the cost of our entertainment, news and other content.

A recent cover story in Advertising Week estimated the full retail price of what we would have to pay for content if advertising were not in place. An annual subscription to the digital version of The New York Times would increase from $195 to $334; your cable or satellite bill would have an an additional $1,800/year tacked on for fees to the networks and cable channels (and there would be far fewer of them to choose); Facebook would charge $12/year (not a bad deal) and you could kiss popular webzines like BuzzFeed goodbye.

Movies are a slightly different animal because we do pay for admission, but most theatres show ads before the main feature. If the theater chains didn’t make any revenue from these ads, or the high price of refreshments for that matter, you would pay considerably more for a ticket.

We do have many advertising free options available to us, for which we pay. Satellite radio, for instance, offers us a primarily advertising free environment at a price. The same goes for premium cable networks such as Showtime and HBO.

The Internet, aka the Wild West of marketing, presents probably one of the most intrusive advertising environments imaginable. First there were the pop-up ads, which are now seamlessly killed by pop-up blockers that are standard equipment in all Web browsers. On-page advertising, integrated within the desired content, mimic newspaper and magazine advertising in a more blatant and intrusive way. And advertising within apps on mobile devices has become the new way to target and reach consumers. Ad-blocking software, much of it available for free, can eliminate most of this.

It would be fun, as Advertising Age suggests, to imagine a world without advertising. But bear in mind that, in this world, you may have to pay $5 for a newspaper, $10 for an episode of a television show, $6.99 for an app that was previously free, $49 for an annual subscription to Twitter, $2.99 to watch a video on YouTube or $25 for a movie in a theater.

So in the end, we all do get something out of advertising despite Will Rogers famously declaring that “advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.”

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