An Ad-Supported Model With Teeth?

A computer-implemented method for operating a device, the method comprising:
disabling a function of an operating system in a device;
presenting an advertisement in the device while the function is disabled;
and enabling the function in response to the advertisement ending.

So reads the first claim from a patent application that Apple recently filed (with Steve Jobs as first inventor, no less!) for technology to deliver a rather compelling ad-supported business model. Or perhaps the better word is compulsory. You can read an analysis by Randall Stross in the New York Times.

I agree with Stross that it’s hard to imagine Apple ever implementing the technology described by the patent application–indeed, Apple has been one of the few success stories for paid digital content models. That said, the approach does feel like at least one endpoint for the ad-supported model–it guarantees the advertisers the attention that they are paying for by subsidizing content or services.

The advertising business is a bit more top of mind for me, now that it pays my salary. Google’s approach, however, follows the aphorism that honey catches more flies than vinegar: it tries to target ads well enough that users want to click on them, rather than to simply endure them as a cost of subsidizing free services. Google’s revenue (and the popularity of PPC models in general) is a testament to the success of this approach, my occasional rant notwithstanding.

In general, the industry seems to have found a compromise in how aggressively to push ads at users. Users can safely ignore (or even block) sponsored links, but few people do.  Pre-roll ads on video sites (i.e., advertising before a video starts)  are more invasive, but a number of sites let users skip them. You can read why the YouTube folks are testing this approach. Advertisers–or at least ad-supported services–seem to recognize that they can’t cross the line between pursuing users’ attention and annoying users to the point of alienation.

Still, technology like Apple’s patent application describes shows that it is possible for the ad-supported model to take a more more aggressive approach. Part of me wonders if more aggressive ad-supported models would revitalize paid content models, as users would stop perceiving the former as free. But I suspect that the gentler ad-supported model is here to stay, and that it will continue to strive toward the point of optimal effectiveness.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

5 replies on “An Ad-Supported Model With Teeth?”

Google’s approach, however, follows the aphorism that honey catches more flies than vinegar

I get what you’re saying, but I would hardly call ads “honey”. The organic results are supposed to be the honey. Google’s search result ads are certainly not totally sour like vinegar, I agree. At best, I would say they’re like a popular asian-inspired dish: Sweet and sour chicken.

Sweet, because there is indeed an attempt to make them relevant. Sour, because no matter how relevant you make them, a truly awesome search engine should have been able to find those same results/ad landing pages organically; it’s only because it didn’t that the user had to look to the right-hand side column. And chicken, because it seems everyone in this space is too chicken to develop a different business model, one that isn’t reliant on splitting the user’s attention between two different types of relevance, “ad” and “organic”.


I’m hungry now…


@jeremey, wow! apart from being funny your point was really interesting. But I was wondering what other “different business models” are there that the “not-so-chicken” people in this space can adopt?


@Raza: I have an ongoing hope that one day there will be a search engine that I can pay for. I really think that if I were paying real money, and the search engine were accepting real money, the overall experience would be quite a bit different than it currently is. Different how? I don’t know for sure. But I have a hunch that it would be. And that I would be willing to pay for it.

I realize that at times I can be a hopelessly naive idealist. So I’m not holding my breath. Still, I have to at least wonder, and ask the question.

Oh, and thanks for taking my comment in the right spirit…the “chicken” name calling was indeed intended more for comedic effect than anything else. 🙂

And I did end up having chicken for lunch today.


I guess my point on the honey vs. vinegar is that Google (and the other web search engines) count on users to proactively click on ads–which is certainly less coercive than pre-roll ads and there variants. Moreover, the availability of ad blockers–for both display ads and text ads–has not led to significant adoption or countermeasures.

I’m not a fan of ad-supported models, even if they pay my salary and generally support most of the online services I use. But, as I’ve said before, I’m enough of a realist to know that online consumers feel entitled to “free” services and undervalue the attention tax they pay for them.

And yes, far more on this topic in the comments for the post Jeremy linked to.


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