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Wednesday, 13 May 2009

smh.com.au, as part of the Fairfax stable, is in an organisation bleeding red. On the day after a multitude of cuts was announced in a budget aimed at shoring up a multitude of new expenditures, the website put up a terrifying ad for Macbooks that occupies the top of the page above the fold. Like the government - eager to generate revenues to fund losses elsewhere - smh.com.au has invaded my browser with an ad that is sure to cause thousands of toenails to curl.

With any luck it will be gone tomorrow. But deadly downturns in media revenues have caused highly popular websites to seek ad revenues by placing irritating and intrusive ads in places previously thought to be exempt from the annoying wallpaper of clickthrough-land.

Another egregious example was the BMW ad that occupied the side channels of the top page of smh.com.au. Not only was the regular square banner espousing high-end cars, the generous white space either side of the main copy that web users rely on to make reading online tolerable was taken up by zooming sedans with coloured wheels.

BMW is the last car I would ever consider, after this escapade. But the Apple takeover of smh.com.au's top page makes me nervous about where ad placement is travelling. It's not enough that I personally would be less likely, now, to buy a Mac. It's the high level of tolerance for such treatment among web users generally, that causes me most apprehension.

When you bring up the page it loads normally. But then the Apple ad intrudes, pushing the news stories and photos down a good 10cm, and much disappears below the fold. Normally, a horizontal row of photos sits just above the fold. Now, the main story's caption is obscured and you're forced to scroll down to see what normally is immediately legible above the fold.

As media ad receipts dwindle with the recession, we're likely to see more such treatment from news editors and the managers who decide how information is placed, and how advertisers are treated. Stuff the consumer. Make 'em scroll!

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