Stop the Propaganda Machine

Tranfroming online ads from being misleading to being useful

I am by no means a digital marketing expert. But as a web developer, I am sometimes likened to the man behind the curtain – pulling the levers to keep the propaganda machine going. I recently told someone my occupation of “web developer” and was met with the response: “do you make those annoying online ads?”. The fact that this man-behind-the-curtain analogy makes sense indicates that there is a level of propaganda in the current state of digital marketing.

What exactly is propaganda? Misleading information used to promote or publicize a particular point of view.

Now let me ask the same question about clickbait, paid search, media manipulation, and the all too common popups and auto-play videos. Each of these is a highly misleading form of promotion — the definition of propaganda.

Several organizations in history have built their growth strategies on propaganda. Some even continue to do so today. Are these successful? Maybe. Is a propaganda state desirable — as either a citizen or an online consumer? Never.

Why is Propaganda Bad?

The fact is, consumers hate misleading ads. These ads not only annoy, but create severe mistrust. Not to mention, the technical strain these type of ads put on the web is astronomical. Both performance and engagement go down the tubes. It’s like trying to drive a car with the e-brake on. Maybe that’s why Apple blocks ads in iOS9, and Google is exploring new technologies to simplify mobile content.

The Alternative: Useful Content

Content that provides value, even if it’s blatantly an effort to promote your brand, is well received by today’s consumers. No one wants a popup for cat food. But a cat video provides emotional value. No one wants to read clickbait about your software. But they’d love to hear how your developers solved a difficult problem. Ads need to transform from being misleading to being useful.

In the end, content that actually provides value contributes to society. Whether it’s a recipe or informative how-to, an artistic video, or even a funny meme. Content like this makes the web faster, leaner, and ultimately more valuable.

For 2016, let’s take down the curtain and stop the misleading ads — and start making our brands more useful.