Thats the question the ad sales think-tank at America Online should be asking themselves as they start pestering voters in swing states and the District of Columbia. They are doing this with a 30-second commercial on behalf of an anti-trial lawyers group sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I wonder if its just coincidence that Democratic Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards just happens to be such an attorney?
The commercial appears in the window at the top of the AOL instant messaging client, where easy-to-ignore text ads usually reside. (Perhaps we should call them "IMmercials?) The political spot includes audio, but doesnt repeat unless you click on it. You can also stop it once its running.
The ads promoters say click-through rates are very high and they havent received complaints, though precisely how someone would complain isnt obvious. Im betting most unhappy AIM users just sit and mutter expletives until they feel better.
The people promoting the anti-lawyer campaign say the AIM video ads are targeted at working women and are being shown during the work day. Instant messaging has become such a common business application they believe its a good way to reach their target audience. And, like most Internet advertising, it offers a click-through to a Web site where even more propaganda can be found. Advertisers like this a lot.
Still, given how everyone hates pop-ups and how obnoxious many find political ads—theyd be OK except for all the lies—I can easily imagine a whole bunch of angry AIM users will be the most noticeable result of the video campaign.
Perhaps there will be a backlash. My bet is that as IM providers look for more effective ways to monetize their networks, users will look for ways to either buy out of the ads or switch to clients that dont display them.
Now, I have never supported the use of the multiservice IM client software thats available on the market because the programs deny IM providers a fair return on their investment—after all, they are providing a free service. Of course, that assumes the providers dont overplay their hand with too many ads or content thats too obnoxious.
Still, it may well be that individual users and even corporate customers would be willing to pay for ad-free instant messaging, especially if a single client could connect to multiple networks. At the same time, its easy to understand why AOL, Yahoo, MSN and other IM providers might not want to offer a paid service or a multi-headed client.
After all, werent we promised some sort of IM "standard" that was supposed to link the networks, but has never seen the light of day? Nor will it ever, I predict, at least not until the commercial issues are worked out.
Whether you agree with its content or not, we should all be concerned by an escalation in the intrusion onto user desktops by commercial content, especially the kind that moves and talks. At the end of the day, its just another annoyance we dont really need.