Brazil is set to be a busy place over the next few years with a World Cup and an Olympic Games to host. These grand events not only bring with them some of the greatest sportspeople on the planet, they're now synonymous with money via an influx of tourism and a strong scent of advertising dollars.

This need to satisfy the interests of big businesses could be interesting in São Paulo (the world’s seventh largest city) where in 2006 the local government enacted Lei Cidade Limpa, (the Clean City Law) which banished all forms of outdoor advertising.

Imagine if one day, those who control the web decided that advertising was no more: leaderboards, skyscrapers and rollovers, all resigned to the Wayback Machine.

- More photos of the ad-free city 

You may believe that nobody would ever be in a position to instigate such a madcap plan, but just think of how the EU cookie law was forced upon the web, causing design and build teams all manner of grief.

There's also an active example in email marketing where all communications have to abide by Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. If people don't want you to email them, you can't, and there are heavy penalties (up to £500k) in place if you do.

What if you were only able to advertise to people who had actively welcomed your business into their digital life?

The popularity of Ad Block Plus (boasting over 200m users) and multiple other variations of this browser extension shows there are enough web users out there that would be in favour of an ad-less internet.

Nearly 3,500 of those people were ironically-keen enough to donate $65,000 towards a campaign to create ads promoting an ad-blocking service.

Social sites are responding to this, attempting to find the best way to weave the adverts necessary for their survival into the feeds of their users (who are also very much necessary for their survival).

YouTube has opted to allow users to skip adverts after five seconds, while Facebook is adjusting the EdgeRank algorithm positively or negatively depending on how well your page engages with followers.

In order to attract online attention, any company with any product is required to think about what value they can bring to the web experience of their target audience, be it in the form of something useful, interesting or entertaining, rather than staying firmly in sales-mode.

Heading back to Brazil, a local ad agency welcomed the change as a challenge:

Where businesses are concerned, it turns out some advertisers are actually thankful for the ban, as it’s forced them to reevaluate and improve.

Branding has made a (sort of) return the city's walls with graffiti sponsored by GE: this is the approach companies would be forced into taking if the option to advertise was no longer available. Create something your audience wants to look at and associate it to your core business.

And that's what companies with a customer-centric content strategy are doing on the web already.

Special K offers a fine example of this in action. Their customer comms over the years have firmly pressed home the message of slotting the cereal into a healthy eating lifestyle and now online they have a website full of fitness and nutrition pearls of wisdom.

This sits alongside customisable healthy mean plans with their products taking a back seat: the rationale is the better information they can provide to users, the more boxes of cereal they'll sell on the supermarket shelves.

Advertising is great when it's done effectively, but don't rely on it as the only way of connecting with your audience. Try to think a little differently about the landscape you're in.


Published 1 October, 2013 by Danny Chadburn

Danny Chadburn is Content Strategist at iCrossing and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (5)


son ge, computer operator at itr


almost 5 years ago


Craig Cooper

I think we need to embrace advertising as the way the free web is paid for. But we also need to keep popups, obtrusive ads and the kind that annoy people to a minimum; as these are the reasons people use ad blockers.

almost 5 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

Part of the issue with online advertising in terms of the display form is the combination of volume, more formats and irrelevance to consumers, something which in the modern day shouldn't really be happening.

As a result though, users become sick of receiving the same irrelevant adverts for the 500th time because they happened to go on to someone's site once (for about 3 seconds!) and either become banner blind or look at ways to block these obtrusive elements from their view.

Add to that the volume of pop unders that are still entertained (largely by companies like well respected travel websites ironically enough) and youcan understand a customer's frustration.

The only way to resolve that and keep adverts alive (and hence content as free as possible) is to look at ways to improve customer experience with these ads - something very few companies seem to even be considering looking at!

almost 5 years ago

jean ge

jean ge, computer operator at itr

my buddy's ex-wife makes $60/hr on the laptop. She has been unemployed for 9 months but last month her pay check was $18120 just working on the laptop for a few hours. >>>>>>>> WWW.JOBS60.ℂOM

almost 5 years ago


Danny Chadburn, Content Strategist at iCrossing

Good points Matt. I see the online advertising suffering from some of the same complacencies as the music industry - blindly carrying on with scant regard for the consumer's changing behaviours, leading to many opting for the 'alternative' route to consume content.

I'm guessing using an ad blocker (or reading content on Instapaper/Pocket/Readability) is against the terms of use of the sites I look at; it's akin to using Limewire to get hold of whatever I was listening to in the early 2000s as I'm essentially ignoring their revenue model.

It's been a long road to recovery and profits from music sales will never be what they once were. It's going to take something as revolutionary as Spotify for me to open my browser back up to ads, and paywalls don't seem to have been particularly well received.

almost 5 years ago

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