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Avoiding ads

Consumerist.com reports that Microsoft has patented a system that would let people pay to skip commercials.

That could be the start of a rant about our broken patent system (is this really something that needs a patent? Isn’t it sort of obvious?), but I’m on a different rant today.


  • People will pay to avoid advertising. If we wouldn’t, there would be no point in this patent.
  • Things we pay to avoid–or would if we could–are, by definition, bad.
  • Therefore, advertising is, in and of itself, bad. Not just its effects, which are bad enough, but the simple fact of its existence, which causes us some amount of annoyance that we would pay to avoid.

Now: in many cases advertising is a tradeoff–I want to watch Jersey Shore, so I’ll sit through some ads in order to do it; the irritation of the ads is worth it for that Jersey Shore goodness.

But what about ads that don’t support anything–that just accost us? Like billboards? Or spam phone calls?

Why are they legal? Spam calls to cell phones are in fact not legal, but why are any spam calls allowed?

And check this out:  Sao Paolo, in Brazil, got rid of billboards. Here’s what a business owner there had to say about the effect that had:

“You have to change the whole structure of the business. Today we work instead of investing in advertising, to have something that attracts the customer. Our job is to look for referrals.”

(Quoted in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.)

In other words, restricting advertising means that businesses have to compete the way that textbooks say they should–by actually attracting customers with their products, their services, or their prices.

Okay, that wasn’t even other words–that was many of the same words.

Point being: If we will pay to skip ads in videos and whatnot–and Microsoft is betting that we will–we would no doubt, if we had the option, pay to skip ads on billboards, on our phones, in bar bathrooms, and suchlike.

Thus, getting rid of these things would make us better off. In theory at least, measurably better off (by the amount of the money we would have spent to avoid the ads).

I can’t find any research about how much people would pay to avoid all the crap that the ad industry dumps on us, all day, every day. But certainly it’s more than zero, while the social benefits of all these ads are less than zero.

So why allow them?

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