Aggressive Online Advertising - Where Is The Line?

Winn Jewett's picture
Winn Jewett

Aggressive Online Advertising - Where Is The Line?

My new favorite food site, food52.com has recently stepped up its online advertising. Did they go too far? The point of advertising is to try and pair up companies offering services with potential customers who are interested in these same services. If someone is browsing a photography blog, they might be interested in learning about the newest Canon DSLR or a photo safari in Kenya.

In the past, these ads have taken many forms, but in general, have been relatively unobtrusive. Gone are the days of flashing neon ads proclaiming "You're # 1,000,000. You Won" (at least on reputable websites). We have grown accustomed to the constant visual buzz surrounding the websites we rely on.

I was recently introduced to food52.com, a wonderful food website with a passionate and energetic community. As I browsed the site, looking for a new bread recipe, I would occasionally hear a beeping sound, reminiscent of the tv show "24", followed by a  popup video ad from Citi Cards that covered the entire website. This happened several times, each time increasing my frustration level. What was causing the popups?

Now, I consider myself to be a pretty technically savvy internet user. As a full-time web developer, I am acutely aware of website design, techniques and practices, both good and bad. This popup video caught me off guard. I finally figured out what was triggering the ticking time-bomb sound and the video that followed. Simply hovering over the very large ad on the website started a three second timer (complete with sound effects) followed by a full-page video add.

I am most taken aback, not by the fact that these tactics exist, but that a website that is as community focused and style-aware as food52.com would implement such aggressive tactics. If we, as consumers, want free access to useful resources, advertising is a necessary evil. However, there are ways of advertising that do not put the reputation of your website at risk.