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South Park demands transparency from ads, adblockers

south park popup ads adblock 2015

The internet can be a truly wonderful place. For example, did you know that by taking this quiz you could win a trip to Jamaica on a private jet from anywhere in the world?

At this point it almost doesn’t matter what I say because most of the people who came to read this article are off chasing that link across cyberspace. That’s exactly the point South Park made in the final three episodes of the most recent season; the worst part about ads is not that they exist, it’s that we’re losing the ability to tell where they are.

The hilarious three-episode piece on ads starts with the episode “Sponsored Content” in which South Park’s school newspaper becomes one of the most popular in the country, simply because its editor, Jimmy, refuses to allow advertisements of any kind. The newspaper is a refreshing change of pace from the struggle people in the show are having staying on the news theytry to read.  At one point one of the characters describes feeling like he was “chasing” news around the internet, resisting the pull of pop ups, slideshows, and preroll videos for as long as he could before ultimately and inevitably succumbing to their draw.


Can anyone actually tell what’s an ad anymore?

South Park further exaggerates the ubiquity of ads by suggesting that they are able to take human form. Not only can the residents no longer tell ads from news, they can’t tell human ads from real humans. Soon they realize that these human ads have been forcing them to gentrify South Park, shop at whole foods and “spruce everything up, get rid of all the ugliness, in order to create a false sense of paradise” because “only one thing can actually live in that world: ads.” The rest of the show revolves around South Park’s residents trying to save the world from this ad-mageddon.

Humanity’s last hope rests with Jimmy, who has a superhuman ability to distinguish ads from actual content. He describes how we’ve arrived at this point of cunning, nearly invisible ads by describing our humankind’s innate desire to rid the world of ads:

I won’t spoil the ending for you (instead you’ll have to go to Hulu and, ironically, sit through their obnoxious preroll ads) but the overall message is clear: trying to permanently rid our lives of ads will cheapen and perhaps ultimately ruin the ability for true credibility to exist on the internet. We know that the ad on the side of our page is an ad, and perhaps we are beginning to realize that the slideshow of “top 10 whiskeys under 100 dollars” is actually financed by whiskey companies, but how about when we start to understand that the article we were originally on (before we were curious about those whiskeys), the one about how many Americans don’t have car insurance, was actually financed by Geiko? It’s modern day inception: an ad within an ad within an ad….

An adblocker that’s wary of “sponsored content”?

Perhaps this may sound strange coming from people that make an adblocker, especially since South Park is quick to point out that adblockers are one of the main causes of this transition to “native ads” and “sponsored content.” The thing is, we agree. We think it’s unsustainable for adblockers to operate by simply allowing some of the old kinds of ads (the kinds that forced people to get adblockers in the first place) and taking cuts from the advertisements that they show. That’s why we operate in a completely different way.

No ads in content. Ever. Not as “acceptable” banner ads, “content from our sponsors,” or anything else. If we can pull the ads far enough away from the content, maybe someday you can read a top 10 list of items and actually believe that number 1 didn’t finance the post. Maybe.

The thing that people sometimes forget when they are talking about online ads is that ads can be really wonderful without being disguised as anything but an ad. This ad for Duracell has over 19 million views on YouTube since July and that’s because people are actively searching for it and watching it, not because it is paying for their NY Times post or Hulu show.

Seeing a pop up vs clicking a pop up

So what’s the real difference between clicking on an ad for Duracell, watching it, and smiling and having to watch the same ad before continuing on to your South Park episode? Timing. One is your choice, the other is keeping you from the choice you made. In this case the ad may be good enough that you enjoy it either way, but that’s certainly not always the case.

Can you really create an internet where people choose to see ads, choose to share data (or not), and are still able to financially support the wonderful web that we all love? We think so. There just needs to be a reason to choose. For Goodblock, the reason is because if you do see one of our ads we promise it will be clever or beautiful or both, and because if you do we will donate the revenue to a charity of your choice. Gladly has raised almost $200k for charity to date through opt-in ads on Goodblock and Tab for a Cause

So in the spirit of South Park and invisible ads, we will admit that this article is itself an ad; it’s an ad for Goodblock and it’s an ad for a better, cleaner, more transparent internet. Because if advertising is a dialogue and not a war of attrition, we might find that its mantra of “here’s something we think you’ll like” might not be so bad after all.


-Written by Joey DeBruin @Joey_Gladly

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