Turn it Down!

September 30, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

It's late at night. The date on the calendar has already switched over. I'm sitting placidly at the computer surfing as I do research on one subject or another. My cat is curled up on my lap, sleeping, and my wife is in the next room, having gone to bed two hours earlier. Suddenly, my computer starts screaming at me. "YOU MAY HAVE JUST WON AN XBOX 360!" It shouts, threatening to wake the dead. Panicked after being jolted out of her slumber, the cat scratches me as she flees the room. My wife has been awakened and makes her displeasure known in ways that only rudely awakened wives can. By the time I find the volume switch on my speakers, the damage has been done.

I recognize the need of Internet advertisers to find new and flashy ways of attracting the attention of surfers. Regular banner ads have lost much of their effectiveness. (Remember the days when it was fun to click on them just to see where they would lead?) 90% of pop-ups are blocked. However, the decision to use music and voices in ads crosses the line that separates catchy advertising from intrusive advertising. It has forced me to operate in a default "speakers off" mode whenever I'm surfing.

The problem with talking ads isn't that there's sound, but that it's loud and jarring - the internet equivalent of a used car dealer's radio commercial. If the makers of these ads would lower the volume, they would be more effective. The noise of faint talking would get my attention but it wouldn't encourage me to turn the speaker volume to zero and close every browser window I have open.

Advertisers (at least some of them) seem to have forgotten the term "consumer friendly." The objective of some ads is to be as obnoxious as possible. This is not a good way to sell a product. When I find a commercial to be offensive or irritating, I go out of my way not to buy the product. The same thing is true in the politicial arena, by the way. If I identify a political ad as being misleading or untruthful, I make a note to vote for the opponent in that election. (Of course, there's always the possibility that the opponent is running an equally malicious commercial, in which case I don't vote for either.)

Movie sites, by the way, are among the worst offenders. Some of them accept ads from studios that contain trailers that begin playing automatically. When I visit a site and this happens, I do not visit again. Now that I have allowed advertising on ReelViews, I field requests for advertising, and I have turned down all that involve audio. It hurts the bank balance a little, but when the alternative is pissing off readers, it doesn't take a lot of thought. After all, I do enough of that with my inflammatory ReelThoughts columns.