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William A. Levinson

Customer Care

When Online Customers Block Your Product

Striking a balance between content users, providers, and advertisers

Published: Monday, June 27, 2016 - 11:38


ISO 9001:2015, Clause 4.2—“Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties” requires the organization to determine the “requirements of these interested parties that are relevant to the quality management system.” When customers block an organization’s content, it is a sure sign that the organization has failed utterly to meet this requirement. Microsoft, YouTube, and various other advertiser-supported websites exemplify this failure.

Windows 10 doesn’t sell, but applications to block it do

Microsoft is offering Windows 10 for free through the end of July, and has reputedly been pushing it onto computers without the owners’ authorization. Numerous people have complained on Microsoft’s Facebook page and elsewhere that they have found Windows 10 installing itself on their computers without explicit permission, and then rendering the computers, or at least certain applications, unusable. My experience with a transition from Windows XP to Windows 7 was that expensive legacy software performed poorly or was even rendered unusable, despite the purported ability to apply XP compatibility settings. The last thing I want is for Windows 10 to render Quattro Pro (where I keep my personal financial information for tax return purposes) unusable, noting especially that Microsoft Excel cannot read and convert the data file.

I also had to change the update option from “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them” to “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them” because Windows was installing the updates, including those related to Windows 10, without giving me the opportunity to choose whether to install them. Gibson Research offers a free download called Never10 to block installation of Windows 10. GWX Control Panel, meanwhile, is “a free tool that can remove and disable the ‘Get Windows 10’ notification area icon on Windows 7 and Windows 8.”

There are two takeaways here. First, when customers look for ways to block your product, it clearly does not meet their needs and expectations. Second, when customers look for ways to block your product when it is being given away for free today, why do you expect them to pay for it tomorrow?

Web advertising: Do needs and expectations really conflict?

The ongoing arms race between internet advertising services and ad-blocking systems exemplifies what appears to be, at least initially, a conflict between the needs and expectations of web advertisers and content viewers. The advertisers don’t make money if nobody watches their ads, and viewers don’t want advertising that interjects itself into the middle of what they are trying to watch. Content providers (suppliers to content viewers and advertisers) are now developing software to prevent people with ad-blocking software from seeing the content, while ad-blocking providers are developing ways to defeat this software.

Hulu and, if I recall properly, YouTube (before I blocked the ad-hosting sites) disable fast-forward controls during ads, but an entire program can be recorded in the background while your computer is engaged elsewhere, much the same way that people record TV shows on hard drives, and previously on VCR players. For example, Screencastify is a Google Chrome extension that “is able to record all screen activity inside a tab, including audio.” Then the entire video can be downloaded and treated like a DVD (or previously a VCR) in which the user can fast-forward or even move the video slider control to eliminate the clutter. YouTube bumper ads can be similarly dealt with by downloading the entire video for viewing in another format that does not allow the video control over the slider or fast-forward controls. I haven’t tried Fleetube.com, but it claims to bypass pre-roll ads.

There is also a Chrome add-on that will mute Hulu during an ad so the user can do something else. The add-on will pause the video at the end of the ad, and then sound a tone to alert the user to resume viewing. Its name is unimaginative but descriptive: “Mute Ads and Pause After Ads in Hulu.”

The most effective way to eliminate intrusive ads, however, is to list the offending domains in the HOSTS file. At least on my computer, the HOSTS file is located at:

C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\HOSTS

and

C:\WINDOWS\SysWOW64\drivers\ETC\HOSTS.

Mine, for example, contains the following entries:

127.0.0.1 localhost
127.0.0.1 ad.doubleclick.com
127.0.0.1 ad.doubleclick.net

Doubleclick was first on my ban list because it kept refreshing banner ads and slowing my connectivity back in the dial-up era. Dozens of other domains and subdomains were added when they interjected a pop-up ad into the middle of something I was trying to read, or started unwanted video and audio on the page I was viewing. The result is that the computer is simply not able to access the offending site, and vice versa. As an example, the URL http://ad.doubleclick.com/, which also is on uBlock Origin’s blacklist, displays a blank page in my browser, even after I tell uBlock to temporarily authorize it.

There is no problem for the advertiser if it pays only for clicks on the ads because ads that are never seen don’t generate clicks. If the advertising site is paid per view, however, it is quite possible that the purchaser of the ads pays for ads that are never seen. That is, the computer makes contact with a banned site when it accesses a web page, which the content provider may count as a “view,” but nothing is actually displayed because the ad is stopped by AdBlock Plus, uBlock Origin, or the HOSTS file.

The result is what Stephen Covey called a lose-lose situation, one in which neither of the interested parties gets what it wants. Users must spend time on ad-blocking applications and on banning advertising domains, and the ads themselves don’t get seen. As a consequence, although content providers might think that unskippable and intrusive ads meet the needs and expectations of at least one interested party (the advertiser), they end up meeting nobody’s.

A win-win solution must therefore meet the needs and expectations of both the advertiser and the user, or as stated more simply in the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, “Give the people what they want.” This is quite easy because people don’t block advertising for the sake of blocking it, and they recognize that noninvasive banner ads support the site’s content [2]. AdBlock Plus says, in fact, “Unobtrusive ads aren’t being blocked in order to support websites.” The user can change the settings to block all advertisements but there is no reason to do so; I certainly don’t.

Quality Digest is itself an example of how site-supporting ads can be displayed in a dignified and noninvasive manner. The ads on a Quality Digest article page such as the one you are reading right now (top banner, side banner, and in-article ad), for instance, appear in my browser despite AdBlock Plus and the long list of ad providers in my HOSTS file. These ads, therefore, meet the needs and expectations of all the interested parties involved.

Pull marketing and pull advertising are meanwhile the counterparts to pull production systems, in which nothing is produced for which there is not a demand. Pull marketing occurs when a customer uses a search engine like Google to look for a particular product or fill a particular need. In this case, the seller doesn’t even pay for advertising because the customer finds the seller. This also is an intelligent way to use the internet to reach customers without antagonizing them through intrusive advertising. The bottom line is, however, that nobody is likely to win a conflict between the needs and expectations of interested parties, and organizations must think accordingly.


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About The Author

William A. Levinson’s picture

William A. Levinson

William A. Levinson, P.E., FASQ, CQE, CMQOE, is the principal of Levinson Productivity Systems P.C. and the author of the book The Expanded and Annotated My Life and Work: Henry Ford’s Universal Code for World-Class Success (Productivity Press, 2013).