Within a week of each other, I noticed that two of my favorite YouTubers were pushed by angry fans to defend their decision to make Patreon pages – something that would allow members of their audiences to send monthly contributions in return for extra perks. Payments are not mandatory to watch their videos, and both expressed an aversion to relying on corporate sponsorship to pay for their labor and tech. One pays out of her own pocket to produce skits. I was so incensed by the audacity fans had to demand free access to these people’s lives and artistic work that I decided to start a payment plan to support both of them. As a writer and blogger, I know that you can neither eat nor pay student loans with exposure, likes, or moral support.
In a similarly disheartening turn, after seeing the influence fake news sources had on the presidential election, I bought a subscription to the New York Times. I now spend approximately $20 a month on digital content, and I encourage my readers to try to do the same, even if it’s just a dollar sent to your favorite vlogger.
It’s disappointing that digital consumers are unwilling to paying for videos and articles. These people and the publications they may work for are not interchangeable, not just anyone can pen a NYT article or produce professional-quality videos daily, and no one can subsist on views or likes. As a reminder that should be uncontroversial: CREATIVE WORK IS STILL WORK. By paying for content, viewers circumvent the advertising world in lieu of a direct line to the artists and writers who dedicate their lives to entertaining or educating their audience.
Better Content = Not Reliant on Ad Revenue
Paying for content creates an atmosphere that encourages more creative, reliable entertainment and news that does not rely on outside advertisers. Because the American system of journalism is free, but not independent, each publication relies on subscriptions and ads to pay its writers, editors, and reporters. If subscriptions fall, they turn to more clandestine ways to get advertisers’ message to the readers, and that has recently come in the form of sponsored content. Because ads are meant to attract the maximum number of clicks, these paid articles often masquerade as true news. This is not a new phenomenon, public relations professionals have been planting news stories for decades; however, this is the first time that companies can directly pay for copy in a publication. This doesn’t just affect digital content, such articles make their way into print magazines as well. Across genres, fashion lovers, political wonks, and entertainment news junkies all grapple with ads pretending to be content.
In the presidential election, Donald Trump receive millions if not billions of dollars of free advertising because TV news stations played many of his rallies and speeches wholesale because it drove ratings and therefore ad revenue. This is the kind of yellow journalism that gives preference to the wild, controversial, and entertaining.
In social media and blogging worlds, one can be creative in seeking revenue without needing to rely on advertisers and sponsored posts (that are often unmarked as such). Setting aside the ethical consideration of disclosing when a post is paid for, product placements and sponsored content are categorically less interesting than what an artist or producer would make otherwise. Unless your tastes align perfectly with those that Pfizer or Beyer believe their key audience hold, you probably don’t benefit from content filtered through the advertiser’s lens.
Clickbait is the worst
Content creators and online journalists need to maximize the number of clicks on their articles or likes on their videos, and this often manifests itself in the form of appealing to humanity’s base natures. The reason is twofold; Internet algorithms give preference to things that receive more activity, such as clicks, likes, or comments, and the more popular a video or article is, the more creators can charge for ads. It is a vicious cycle — popular content is given more prominent placement, reaching more viewers, earning even more activity.
Another tactic popular on YouTube and instagram is hosting giveaways or other quid-pro-likes. This not only encourages the audience’s idea that they should be rewarded for liking and subscribing to entertaining content, but allows bloggers and ‘grammers who have the most means to buy more subscribers. The narrative of “rich person uses wealth for leg up in life” is neither new nor interesting.
Nothing is Free, Ever
One of the vloggers I follow said that many of his fans called him selfish for wanting to earn his money directly instead of through ads. His intentions were the opposite — he didn’t want to pimp his audience to advertisers to make ends meet. Every time you watch an ad, you’re opening your subconscious desires and attitudes to be subtly changed or appealed to by clever advertising. But you can just tune it out, right? Wrong.
This video shows how simply seeing an ad can affect the brain:
Furthermore, in a post on Psychology Today’s blog, Dr. Markman cites a 2010 study in which two researchers were attempting to quantify the subtle messaging that goes into advertising. In the study, participants were asked to choose between two pens, one with objectively better traits. A second group was asked the same question but was flashed a supposedly unrelated set of images that positioned the pen next to positive images. The control group made the logical choice and the influenced group chose the one from the pictures.
One thing [ads] do is to take a product and to put it next to lots of other things that we already feel positively about… And repeatedly showing the [product] along with other things that we feel good about can make us feel good about the detergent, too. This transfer of our feelings from one set of items to another is called affective conditioning (the word affect means feelings).
— Art Markman, Psychology Today
Part of the reason I’m so passionate about the effects of advertising is that I study it– strategic communication is essentially the study of how to persuade large audiences to do or believe something. I know the power ads and public relations campaigns can have in shifting culture and attitudes to sometimes catastrophic (or positive) effects. At the end of the semester, we talked seriously about the ethical quantities that come up in this field.
So we need to ask ourselves, how much is it worth it to you to avoid advertisements and support the writers, bloggers, producers, makeup-tutorial makers, comedians, among others who bring joy to our lives? a quarter a week? A dollar a day? A penny per view? Would that money make the same impact on your quality of live and others’ if you instead supported an international conglomerate with your attention and dollars?