Advertisers and networks harm relationships with customers

Are Advertisers Harming Their Relationships With Customers?

I regularly check NBC News online while I’m working at the computer. I like to keep up on breaking news. But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been disappointed to see that NBC is now placing a commercial before every video on their site. Previously, you would go right to the story.

I’m not naive and I know that advertisers and broadcasters are in business to make a profit. But are they harming their relationships with their customers and viewers?

Is This Right?

A commercial precedes the story about the horrific massacre of nine congregants of a Charleston, South Carolina, church this past week.

To me it’s not only in bad taste but is disrespectful to those who died and their families. What happened to the “wall” between advertising and content? Has the wall been breached when both ad and content are inextricably linked?

When I was in advertising, our clients in industries that might experience a disaster — such as a plane crashing, or oil rig exploding — gave the networks standing orders to pull their commercials in the event of a disaster. It would have been unseemly, and not smart, to be promoting a get-away vacation when one of the advertiser’s planes went down because of an engine malfunction.

But that was before online advertising became ubiquitous. Maybe advertisers don’t have that ability now or don’t care. But it does an advertiser no good if a commercial offends a viewer. And the networks themselves should be more sensitive to where they run an advertiser’s TV spots.

I decided to check CNN and their coverage of the event. A bank commercial preceded their story, too, and it was even worst taste, in my view, because it showed two fencers sparring, each trying to hurt the other.

Social Media Pop-ups

You can’t compare pop-ups in magnitude of importance to an ad preceding the report of a human tragedy. But if you use pop-ups on your site, are you sensitive to the timing and content of the pop-up? Do you give your readers the time to read your post before they’re hit in the face with a pop-up? We know that many people loathe pop-ups but there is plenty of research to show that they work.

Even an authority site like Copyblogger concedes that but also points out the downsides: pop-ups can actually drive people away and interfere with your site’s functionality.

As Copyblogger also says, “As a website owner, you have to decide whether the benefit you get from pop-ups is worth the possible risk of harming the relationship with your readers — or with making your site just a little less appealing to link to, or share on social networks.”

The same could be said for NBC, Fox, ABC, and CBS. They, too, all aired commercials along with their coverage of the shooting in Charleston.

Does it matter or have we become so numbed by the sheer volume of commercials that we tune out and patiently wait for the real news to begin?

What are your thoughts? Is it OK now to link an ad with content?

Leave a Reply


  1. For many reasons, I almost never look at any of the sites that you mention. And I have no problem keeping up with the news. For one thing, my Facebook feed is always full of the latest (sometimes before the “news” hears about it). I suppose I have friends that like to report. That’s the beauty of today – we do have choices. The sites you mention will lose viewers if more people find out about other ways to get news. One of the ways I get news is through news aggregators – they have AP stories with only some advertisements. I can often read those articles without even going to the website.

    • Leora — you’re so right. You can get your news from so many different sources now, including Google News. I hardly ever watch the evening network news programs anymore. I’ve already gotten the news and they are offering many more “features” now that I don’t feel the need to see.

  2. Jeannette you’re spot on. The reality in my mind is most of the big corporations online, are maximizing their presence for full profit potential. While I’m pretty sure that they could disconnect those ads when there is a tragedy such as the murder in Charleston SC, do they really give a second thought? I’m not sure it’s that we’ve become numb but instead, in many ways we are on automatic.

    Ads with content: generally, if I cannot skip the ad within 5 seconds, I close the browser window and leave when they pop-up.

    • Patricia — the problem is that the network won’t let you bypass the commercial. You can’t fast forward to get to the story. Most often I read the print version below the video. It’s quicker and no commercial!

  3. CNN has had that kind of ads placed before all news videos for a long time. The only TV companies that don’t or will are the public service ones such as the BBC.

    It’s either ads or having to pay for clicking into a media site more than, say, five times a week. Even publications such a the New York Times and the Economist work that way. If we like it or not is a different story. Media companies need to make money in our online world. If not they will, at best, merge or even close down.

    Personally would prefer not to have commercials placed before news videos but that’s not going to happen. On the contrary in the future there will be more commercials.

    • Catarina — agreed. Commercial aren’t going away and we will be seeing more merging of commercials with content moving forward. There is no longer a clear dividing line between advertising and editorial.

  4. I am so with you Jeannette! I thought I was the only one who found these offensive because I live in Charleston and was especially shocked and pained by the events here. Instead of becoming numb to these commercials, I’m now more vigilant…I have a list in my head of these advertisers and it’s turned me off to their products! Whew! I thought I was crazy!

    • Jacquie — It must be very painful living in Charleston right now — there is so much anguish over these senseless murders of very decent, and God-loving people. That’s why those commercials really stuck in my craw.

  5. Jeannette-
    Traditional media and digital media work in many many different ways (as I know you know). For starters, many digital marketers have created “black lists” or “keyword lists” that limit an Ad from running up against a questionable piece of content. It could be as broad as general news stories or more specific with words like “plane crash” or “terrorist attack”. Many marketers are very sophisticated with this type of marketing and do their best to stay away from examples like the one you showed.
    In the case of Dropbox, they may not have employed that tactic and if so then that’s on them.

    As for the user experience, no one wants to see Ads before a piece of content. For some reason we seem to tolerate them in traditional media but less so in digital media. Maybe it’s because we have grown accustomed to the internet not being over run with pre-roll video Ads.
    The fact is marketers are searching for more and more scaleable and targetable audiences with video especially as their TV budgets decline along with TV audiences. It’s the natural outgrowth of changing consumer behaviors.

    NPR is a great alternative for good news content and minimal interuption.

    • Thanks, Jon, for describing how advertisers can “black list” certain types of content. I think my concern is that the ad is inextricably linked to editorial, whereas when you’re watching a TV program there is a distinct break between the content and the ad. I know it’s nitpicking, but I do think there is a difference, especially when the online ad is attached to the content. But that’s the new world we’re living in.

  6. I really don’t like to see advertising before news of tragedy either. And if it is going to be there you would think some thought would be put behind what ads are run. I certainly don’t want to see mass murder news coverage brought to you by Snuggle fabric softener or those stupid Charmin toilet paper bears. Remembering back to 9-11 it seemed for days news coverage ran without commercials. Obviously it can’t be like that all the time, but some common sense and discretion would be nice when placing the ads.

    • Susan — couldn’t agree more. Of course, we know that the media needs to bring in revenue like any business but I think in this case they’ve overstepped their boundaries.

  7. While I prefer fewer ads, i guess I’ve just came to accept their presence as a necessary evil because how else will these sites make the money they need to in order to deliver news stories? As more ads show on websites, our tolerance level will grow just was it has with television. Everyone is a walking billboard these days anyway and we all perpetuate the brands we love 😉

    • Jeri — I just leased a car and the dealer put their plates on it along with a decal with their name. I hadn’t thought to tell them not to and I’m too lazy to have them remove them. So there you are.

  8. Jeannette – I am so glad you brought this up. Like you, I realize that business runs by ads but, even though I didn’t see those particular ads here in Canada, I know I would be completely turned off and actually feel offended.
    That was such a horrific event that any commercial at all during that time would have been offensive. The news focus should have been only on the tragedy and on trying to at least provide some comfort to the victims’ families and to the Charleston community.
    I hope those broadcasters and advertisers are receiving lots of negative backlash to their actions.

    • Lenie — It is offensive to see ads in front of stories about tragic events. Ironically, it’s because an event is tragic or about a celebrity that we’re more likely to watch the video which is what advertisers want.

  9. Oh wow have you ever hit on one of my hot buttons! I normally check news a couple of times a day but avoid sites that bombard viewers/readers with ads. It really has gotten out of hand when you have to search for the content among a sea of ads just to finish an article. As far as pop ups, I\’ve read the pros and cons and I don\’t care what the \’pro\’ people say or how carefully you time their appearance, I hate them. The other day an interesting headline lead me to a particular blog for the first time – before I could finish the first sentence the pop-up appeared. I got rid of it and hung in there because the subject was interesting, but as I read the article there were no less than 4 ads inserted and then one of those pop-ups that come at you from the side appeared! I finally gave up and it goes without saying I\’ll never go back to that blog again, so as far as this reader is concerned, yep, some have definitely taken advertising way too far.

    • Marquita — We know the research says pop-ups work, but they can get out of hand and you have to weigh whether getting additional traffic or another sale is worth the damage to your brand.

  10. I certainly don’t tune out and wait patiently. Unless I have an option to skip the ad after the first few seconds or I really, really want to see what’s on the video, I don’t wait. I go to a different site. I understand that the advertisements are what funds the ability for the company to let me see the site for free, but that doesn’t make it less annoying. I’m not sure what the best answer is for advertisers to reach people without annoying them.

    • Donna — Ads are meant to be intrusive. That’s why the sound blasts louder than the show you’re watching, which I hate. But it’s what we have to live with.

  11. Given that the commercials I have seen are usually no more than 30 seconds in length it does not seem to be that big a deal to me. As Catarina mentioned it is the sign of the times and as Jon mentioned we did not seem to have an issue with advertisers in print media. That said, it is the type of ad that appears before the real story that is the issue and I agree that no-one wants to see a commercial from airline preceding a video of a crash.

    • Tim — I think it’s the intrusiveness of these ads (as opposed to a static print ad) that I find so jarring in front of a sensitive story.

  12. My son-in-law is a VP if sales for one of the larger networks. He was telling us that people are watching TV less and less. The advertisers are now pushing for ads on sites, pop up videos, etc as that is where they think that it will be the most beneficial. Pretty much the advertisers dictate to the networks what they want or do not want. They pay for a certain slot. Without those advertisers the networks would be out of business so they are at the mercy of the advertisers, until the networks go in a different direction like Netflix has and charges to use their products.

    • Arleen — agreed that advertisers are looking for more diverse outlets for their ads. But I would disagree that advertisers dictate what they want — actually, advertisers for years have tried to get the networks to run fewer commercials during programs but, instead, the networks have increased the number of ads. It doesn’t help advertisers when their ads are buried among many other ones.

  13. I am not a fan of it,
    We have gotten so saturated with infomercials, things we think are news, that end up being ads, and they are presented in a news format. It might be OK, if you look at it from a marketing point of view, but after a while, no one will believe anything, news or ads.

    • William — that’s another new trend — ads that pose as editorial content. You’re right — we won’t know what to believe anymore.