MOOCs and Bad Online Advertising

On linkages and business models.

May 4, 2014

Online advertising is terrible.

Not terrible in the sense that it is too bad that we have too much online advertising. Rather, online advertising is terrible because the ads are terrible.

The poor quality of online ads is not the online problem with streaming commercials, according to an interesting article, The Great Unwatched, in the NYTimes. It turns out that many streaming ads that are purchased by adverstisers are never even watched because of poor placement and fraud.  

Does the woeful state of online advertising connect, in anyway, to the future of open online education? I think that it might. 

I’m a cord cutter. (Are you?). No cable. No satellite.  No antennae.  

I watch plenty of video. That video comes (mostly) over the Web. Save for the DVD’s that come by mail from Netflix, all my video is online video. Hulu (I pay for plus), Netflix (although the streaming selection is terrible, the handful of original shows are great), and whatever the network’s choose to offer up on their websites.   

This year I was able to finally watch some sports online beyond men’s college basketball, which has been streamed for a few years now, such as a couple of NFL playoff games and the Super Bowl.   Thank you.

The streaming sports and shows are great.  What is annoying is the commercials.  Not so much the commercial interruptions (although they are always annoying), but the terrible quality of the streamed ads.  

The websites will either run the same ad over and over again, or the ad that they show will be irrelevant to my interests and poorly made.  Usually we suffer through all 3 at once. Of all the sites Hulu probably does the best job of putting higher quality ads online, but they still make the mistake of showing the same streaming commercial to us over and over. After a few times watching the same commercial I become actively hostile to the product being marketed.

It is strange that the websites showing high quality video continue to pair this video with low quality ads. In most cases I’ve somehow signed on to the site. They should know something about me. And I”d assume that cord cutters are somewhat of a prime demographic to instill brand preferences.  

If we are watching our video online there is a reasonable chance that we are buying things online. Yet, I almost never get shown an ad that would connect with an online behavior. For instance, I’m a big online video viewer and a huge digital book buyer.  Amazon has never streamed a commercial to me about a book.

What does the pitiful state of online advertising have to do with MOOCs?

Many of you will hate the idea of even talking about trying to fund open online education with advertising.  

Buy why can’ t we envision a time where some form of advertising, maybe underwriting, helps defer the costs of online education?

If NPR and PBS can do it, why not edX and Coursera?

One reason that I hate the current state of online ads is because these ads don’t teach me anything.   I’d watch online ads if they were designed to educate.  

For instance, I’m a sucker to see how things are built. Why can’t a car company build a 10 minute ad that takes us behind the scenes of the automobile design and manufacturing process? The ads would connect into one coherent narrative, and I’d be given a reason to watch each of the ads as I progress through the entire online show.  We are more likely to connect with a brand if we know something about the company behind it. 

A marketing campaign built on teaching us something could fit well with open online education. As long at the product or service is relevant to the course being taught, and as long as we are given the option of clicking on the video, the ads may turn out to be effective and non-intrusive.   

This would require that the advertising agencies took a different approach to the online medium.  That they didn’t simply re-purpose TV ads for the Web.  

In the case of thinking about advertising as a method to fund open online education, this would mean that the agencies would need to work closely with the open learning platform providers to create materials that added to the educational experience.   

The worse of all possible world’s would be if the current approach to online advertising was ported over to open online education.  

Can you envision something better?

What have you been watching online?


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