The Evilness of Eating Your Cake and Having it Too

For better or worse, a big chunk of the Web economy is built on a foundation of free supported by advertising. It’s the reason why so much great content is available, and why so many new and cool online services have been launched, creating a bountiful buffet for people looking to do just about anything.

Whether this economic model is sustainable remains to be seen. It depends, in many ways, on whether enough advertising will move to the Web to support free. There’s no lack of optimism about the growth of online advertising, which climbed 34% to $16.8-billion last year.

Looming on the horizon, however, is an evil predator. Adblock Plus – a Firefox plug-in that makes online advertising disappear in a Web browser. According to the New York Times, there are more than 2.5 million Adblock users around the world.

While Adblock has yet to become wildly popular, it and other ad-blockers should terrify companies that rely on advertising, and advertisers looking to reach consumers on the Web. Without advertising, many companies obviously have no viable business models given people have shown little interest in actually paying to use an online service even if it’s terrific and useful.

Anyone using Adblock wants to eat their cake (access free content and services) and have it too (no advertising). Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t gorge yourself at the Web buffet without paying for it in some way such as seeing advertising.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. Any anyone using Adblock is a fool because they clearly are missing the big economic picture. If you believe in Web 2.0 and/or if you believe in the concept of free, Adblock is pure evil.

- HipMojo, which succinctly summarizes that users who want more and better content without paying for it is a “dangerous and unreasonable position”

- Nick Carr, who calls Adblock the “nuclear plug-in”

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  • Jim

    I see your point Mark, but I find it interesting that google (and others) provides a pop-up blocker when you install their toolbar, thereby themselves blocking ads of other companies. I can see the difference of course – a pop-up is annoying whereas an ad on an existing page isn’t as annoying – but it’s a slippery slope and a pop-up blocker is an early version of adblock.

    If you want something truly evil – what about a program that replaces the real ads with other ads, thereby not only blocking the revenue source of the content creator but generating revenue from them. For example, a company could insist that all their company-owned computers have ad replacement software if the new ad provider shares revenue with them. Or an ISP could replace the ads before sending the content to you and hence offer a subsidized service.

  • Mark Evans

    I guess the only difference between Adblock and pop-up blockers is people don’t like pop-ups whereas they’ll accept banner ads, AdSense, etc. But you do make a point that blocking is blocking at the end of the day.

  • jordan

    as a user of adblock, i see it a bit differently.

    advertising is like that guy who always interrupts a group in conversation at a party. at first, his stories always sounded interesting and exciting, and the group was keen to divert conversation to talk about whatever he wanted to talk about. but after a while, the group was unable to maintain a conversation for more than a few minutes without that guy jumping into talk about himself. eventually, the group just stopped listening to him, even going to the extent of not inviting him to the party, even though once in a while he said something that was relevant and useful.

    using adblock is like not inviting him to the party. most online ads burst in on a conversation the user is having with some piece of content, with the obvious goal of distracting him into making a purchase. how would you feel if the same thing happened in the real world? “excuse me sir, i know you’re having a deep and meaningful conversation with your children, but are you interested in buying a new cellphone?” online advertising is the equivalent of panhandling.

    companies must recognize that conventional advertising isn’t the only way to promote and advocate product. web 2.0 has empowered consumers to talk broadly about their experience with product, and they are doing so in droves. it must be a more effective promotional tool to have real people who’ve experienced your product sharing their feedback with their friends than it is for you to interrupt what they’re talking about to talk about yourself. it’s as if you’re saying “me. me. me. now, let’s talk about you: what do you think about me?” it’s a narcissistic attitude to believe that companies have the right to dictate my conversation, even if they are paying for the content that i’m using. and it may be a real fear for you to think that, if someone talks about your product, they may something bad. that’s good: make better product that makes your customers happy, and don’t treat your customers like suckers – at least, don’t do it if you want your customers to come back to YOU instead of one of your competitors.

    adblock isn’t a trendsetter; it’s an extension of an existing social condition. instead of focusing on the negative – “my conventional ads aren’t being watched anymore, so i’m taking my basketball and i’m going home” – look at the opportunity that’s created here. companies should be thinking about creative ways to get people talking about their product, starting with MAKING BETTER PRODUCT. entrepreneurs, on the other hand, should think about ways they can help better inform customers about product. there is always a time in my day when i think about purchasing something, whether it’s a camera, dinner, or a vacation, and it’s at that specific instant that i want to collect as much reliable information as i can to make an informed purchase decision. web 2.0 should be built around this concept of informing customers and/or directing them towards the appropriate form of expertise, especially insofar as there are terabytes of expertise already digitized in the form of blogs, reviews, and photos.

    better to improve the purchase experience and help people make smart, more relevant purchase decisions than to interrupt them and try to sell them something at a time when they’re not prepared. to me, that sounds like more respect for your customer – and, likely, embodies the right attitude that will help businesses win in the long term.

    seth godin talks extensively about treating customers (and employees!) with respect, and summarizes a lot of what i just said far better than i said it in this video:

  • jordan

    by the way, i don’t think i’m having my cake and eating it too. i think i’m demanding and inspiring companies to come up with new, creative ways to interact with me as a valued customer. as beneficial as it might be for a company to think of me this way, i’m not a “canon” person or a “nikon” person, in the same way that i’m not “liberal” or “conservative” (or, more appropriately, “liberal” or “ndp”). i am an individual out to make a series of informed decisions, and i’m looking at each decision independently, even if that means that i make contradictory decisions over time. i’m asking for a company’s respect in informing me about their product and i’m even acquiescing to be told the features and benefits of that product, but only when i’m ready for it, not when they are.

  • Darren

    Do you feel the same way about the Mute button on my TV remote control?

    On a different tact, I’m not sure that “seeing advertising” is a sustainable model. Somewhere in there we need to take action–usually it’s clicking an ad.

    I use AdBlock Plus (or some variation thereof), but I also never click on ads. So, at least in my anecdotal case, it’s a bit moot, isn’t it?

  • Webomatica

    Well, I can see your point of view but calling an AdBlock plug in evil is going a bit too far. What do you think about TiVo?

    I think it’s the consumers’ right to be able to block ads if they so desire. Most of the people who would go out of their way to block ads aren’t the sort of people that would be receptive to an ad in the first place.

  • ptc

    I agree to a large extent with Jordan. Advertisers can’t expect web users to tolerate some disturbance just because it fits into some business model thought by them or producers of content. If a business model is not win-win for everyone, you can’t expect support from everyone. I think its time to rethink about the flaws in the business model itself and not to blame tools which allow users to get rid of unwanted disturbances while exploring information.

  • Griffin Michaels

    Great story Mark, in fact it has been chosen to be included in today’s episode of BlogBuzz. Daily, we highlight 3-4 interesting blog stories like this on our podcast at

  • Mark Evans

    You may never click on an ad but I suspect some of them make an impression – much like there’s nothing you can “do” with a billboard ad but it, nevertheless, can register with consumers for companies trying to build a brand, etc.

  • Hugh

    I can understand pop up blockers. Pop ups are invasive and aggravating. However I am appalled at folks that block subtle things like adwords (whether by google or yahoo). I have provided free content on improvisational theatre ( for more than a decade, and Google Adwords is the first remuneration I have ever received for this labour of love. It actually helps out with the endlessly thankless task of giving your stuff away ;). If you don’t like the layout of a site (i.e., invasive ads or pop ups) go to another site, complain to the site manager, or build your own site. Please don’t wipe away the few pennies that the little sites garner from page views just because you don’t like your porn or warez obscured by pop ups.

  • Mark Evans


    Thanks for the podcast coverage!

  • Thomas Purves

    Does this mean rss is evil too?

  • Anon

    Does this mean getting up and going to the bathroom during TV commercials is evil too? If I turn off Javascript in my browser, am I also an evil predator? Or is it the browser-maker who’s the evil predator, because they gave me the option to turn off Javascript? What if I deinstall the Flash plugin, am I an evil predator too?

    I’ve read some dumb commentary on these newfangled “blog” things, but this has got to be somewhere in the top 100 dumbest posts ever. An evil predator? Really?

  • Darren

    Darren: Mark, that’s the great lie of the advertising in the 20th century. I encourage you to research the science behind that ‘passive influence’ on my behaviour. You’ll find it’s highly sketchy.

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  • Wladimir Palant

    I am afraid, your post is based on a misconception, see

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  • Edward T.H.

    Ad blocking is direct result of malware, spyware, trojans, keyloggers, drive by installs and a plethora of very very very very annoying ads that flash, move across screen, popups, pop-unders and whatnot.

    If you think AdBlockPlus is “evil”, boy are you in for a surprise. There is one for Internet Explorer, one built in for Opera and Konqueror. Then there is the host file generic ad blocker for pretty much every browser.

    You can not fight this “evil predator”, even if AdBlockPlus disappears of the face of the Earth, there will be on 10 to take it’s place.

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  • omar

    I just used adblock on this site to get rid of all the trash trying to burn itself into my retinas.

    then I used noscript to view SIX SCRIPTS your website just tried to run on my computer.. no thanks.

    perhaps the internet could stand to be less commercialized and take away incentives for people to write garbage blogs..

    say no to spyware and ads being broadcasted into your brain 24/7

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  • Andrew

    I think this bruhaha over ad-block plus is based on a misunderstanding of how the advertising business works.

    Advertising relies on a tiny percentage of visitors for the entirety of its revenue and advertisers therefore must accept that this minute minority subsidises the remainder.

    In general a 3% click rate is pretty reasonable, so what if 10% of the
    remaining 97% of people block the adverts altogether? What have you lost?

    It is highly unlikely that the kind of person that is willing to go to the lengths of installing software to block adverts would be in the revenue generating 3% (unless they are trying to control a compulsion in which case that is also reasonable). It is also likely that the only kind of impact a ‘look at me, look at me’ style ad would have on this kind of person would be negative.

    I think it is highly unlikely that Google, Yahoo, etc, considers ad-block to be an issue let alone a threat to their business model and if they take action I will eat my hat.

    Non-contextual advertisers on the other hand should be scared because they are dinosaurs heading for extinction, with or without it.

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  • Richard

    I take your point, and am willing to accept ads that are not obnoxious. But I draw the line at those ads that move/dance/jiggle/whatever. They distract the eye while it is trying to read and are way annoying. If advertisers did not use them, I’d not block ads.

    Sites that don’t use moving ads, I don’t block.

  • Josef

    Is it evil to get up and go to the bathroom during TV commercial breaks? No.

  • BAH

    I see what you are saying, but, as the saying goes, THE COSTUMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. you shouldn’t rely too heavily on ads, as some ads are far too invasive. For example, I went too a site which opened up a window that WOULD NOT CLOSE. I eventually found that the computer does not register the ad as a program and cannot close it through Task Manager. Obviously, I never went back (it was a blog site).

  • Daniel

    We are marketed to as if we are sheep.

    Daniel (adblock fan)

  • fy3535

    Im useing Adblock Plus on this very site! HA! Oh and flashblock,Javablock and quicktime killer.

    Nooblet. U got teh pwnted

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