Saturday 24 August 2019

John Masterson: 'Is the internet worm beginning to turn?'

Knowledge: Instant access. Stock photo
Knowledge: Instant access. Stock photo

John Masterson

Companies spend an enormous amount of money on advertising because, by and large, it works. We may think we make rational purchasing decisions based on our individual needs, but that is just fanciful.

Last week I was treating myself to a new golf club, a driver, that would magically solve all my problems off the tee. The professional gave me three to try out and I went to the driving range. To my surprise, and even horror, the least desirable one in terms of status, branding and cost (it was the cheapest) was the one that consistently worked best. I had a major fight with myself before I did the sensible thing and bought it. Why did I care what label was on the club? Probably because I watch too much Sky Sports and read golf magazines. Advertising works.

And I did buy an expensive cover to take the bare look off me in front of some of the smart alecs that I have the pleasure to play with.

The media world has changed beyond recognition since the advent of the internet. Massive advertising spend is moving to digital platforms. For the last few years I didn't care because I was getting so much free content that I didn't mind if I had to suffer a few ads which I ignored just as much as the ones on TV.

Is the worm beginning to turn? Is the social media landscape gradually turning from freebie land to pay as you go? I am now entirely fed up with opening websites where I have to watch an advert to get to what I want. It drives me mad that some formula makes sure that I am precisely the right kind of person to know about this product or service. And that they are probably right.

They may know more about me than I know myself. There is something about advertising being so blatant and in my face that makes me recoil. Enough is enough.

I will happily pay for the things I want to use to avoid some faceless algorithm messing with my head. I know that I am not strong enough to avoid the impact of ads. If some trendy designer decides it is time for bell bottom jeans to make a comeback and puts the appropriate spend behind it we will follow like sheep. Perish the thought.

Google Maps is one of the most useful devices I've ever used. Thankfully it has not yet hit me with an ad. It tells me the distance to my location, the route and time of arrival. I would pay for that but so far have not been asked to. I do not foresee coming up to a junction and being required to view yet another weight loss promo.

Newspapers are one thing I would, and do, pay for. You might well say, "he would, wouldn't he". But many of my contemporaries have also bitten that bullet for the simple reason that we have all seen the gradual lowering of any kind of informed discussion on the net.

There is no requirement for what is posted to be true. Everyone has an opinion. There is a lot there that is free. I wish it was also worthless. It is worse than worthless. It is corrosive and damaging. I know it may be good for democracy for everyone to have a place to say their bit, just as they can vote and everyone's vote is the same - even if you are residing in jail as a result of pillage, rape and murder. We are all equal. But some of us make more of an effort to be truthful and believe things because of evidence more than others.

Anybody can express the most outrageous ill-informed sentiments on the net without any consequence. It is free, but not true. The anti-vaccine nonsense is a good example and it has cost lives. The fightback, largely on radio and in print, has been expensive. But thankfully it is working.

Could the incessant ads be the turning point? It doesn't matter how often we are told there is no such thing as a free lunch. We fondly imagine this time is different. Sadly it isn't.

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