How Advertising Shapes Content on the Web and Off

Altavista is my favorite search engine. It always was, and it still is! Why? Because no matter how obscure the topic is, Altavista comes up with relevant information. Take for instance the Minisimulator IIC, a product once manufactured by my father's company, Inverted-A. I looked for it on Google and only found my autobiographical hubs and my father's CV. But I was looking for old press clippings, and only on Altavista could I find them!

Why didn't Google, the world's best search engine, not turn up those clippings? Probably, because it didn't stand to make any money off of them, so it didn't bother to index them. Whereas my autobiographical hubs are modest money makers.

Altavista doesn't care so much about advertising, which is why it is not on top of the market.

Advertising, it turns out, is a very important factor in getting the news out, not necessarily in the sense that advertising will help sell a product, but in the other more hidden sense that unless you work with advertising, it will work against you, to deny and obscure editorial coverage. Take for instance, what happened to the Minisimulator IIC when my father refused to advertise in Flying Magazine.

Search for "Minisimulator IIC"

Altavista turned up the business aviation archive that Google did not find
Altavista turned up the business aviation archive that Google did not find

The Development of the Minisimulator IIC

The Minisimulator IIC was a testament to personal ingenuity and an  innovative vision. My father describes its development and history  briefly in his CV:

Inverted-A was founded in 1976 as a flying club. It soon turned into a flight school that I ran on the side. More than twenty students were trained for the private pilot and higher ratings in the years 1976-1980. This activity pointed the need for a low-cost digital simulator for instrument training.  Work on developing this simulator started in 1979 and continued as a sideline through 1980. After the concept was defined, a leave of absence was obtained for the last four months of 1980 to complete the development and present it to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). The result was the Minisimulator IIC -- a self contained floor console that drives a CRT display of the instrument panel and of the ground track.

 

The IIC was the first CRT based flight simulator, and for a few years the only one, to be accepted by the FAA for credit against requirements for pilot currency and training. The Minisimulator was introduced to the market in 1981. In 1983, with sales picking up, I resigned from LTV to devote my full time to Inverted-A. By now there were Minisimulators in operation coast to coast as well as in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America. The Minisimulator was further improved, and by 1986 the total number of systems deployed was 51.


Inverted-A didn't have any employees. We subcontracted some of the labor, but we didn't pay by the hour, we paid by the part, and we ourselves did not take a salary. In our corporation, we had no laborers. My father designed the printed circuit board and sent it off to be manufactured to our specifications by a subcontractor. My mother and father designed the cloth portions of the console, and they were subcontracted to seamstresses, many of whom worked at home while watching over their small children. Every part, whether metal, wood or cloth, electronic or mechanical, was either made to order by subcontractors or bought off the shelf. I did quality control and some of the soddering on the PC boards, because I was younger and my close range vision was still sharp. My father and I put parts together in the garage, and all of us had to help with lifting crates.

On top of all that, I was in-house counsel, and I drafted our distributorship contracts. Oh, yes, and I also had to answer the phones and provide relevant information for sales prospects.

My father's dream was not just to make a top of the line flight simulator. It was also to show that it could be done without the suits -- the business people that dominate most corporations without having any technical know how, whose sole job was to get money out of other people.

We also hoped to show that we could do it without employees, people who sell their time, and not their products. My father saw how employees behaved at LTV. Many of them intentionally worked slowly. They had no incentive to finish early, because what they were selling was their time. They didn't want to learn newer, better ways of doing things. They spent much of their time socializing with one another and disturbed other employees who were trying to work.

My father wanted to find a better way.

Flying Magazine and Reciprocity

The leading aviation journal at the time, and now as well, was Flying Magazine. Initially, they treated us very well. They sent a reporter to cover the Minisimulator IIC, and he wrote a very complimentary article, praising the product. Other aviation journals did the same, and consequently, we had a lot of interest from pilots and a steady stream of orders.

Then Flying started calling us up and pestering us to advertise with them. They suggested that it would help our sales. My father was reluctant. He didn't like advertising. He never read advertisements himself, always muted the commercials on TV, and thought of admen as disgusting parasites who produced nothing, but lived on the products of others.

Nevertheless, at first we did purchase a modest ad. Flying included an insert postcard in the magazine that listed all advertisers and gave the reader a chance to fill in a circle by the name of each product so that they could receive more information. We started getting a list of addresses that were supposed to be sales leads. We sent them our brochure. None of them ordered anything. It was very labor intensive for us at home, my mother, my father and I, to stuff envelopes and mail out information to people who weren't really interested. Only those readers of Flying who bothered to call or write to us in response to editorial coverage ever bought a simulator.

So we stopped advertising."Why should I pay for ads, when I can get articles for free?" my father reasoned.

The sales calls from the Flying advertising department became ever more insistent, but eventually they stopped. Then one day the annual Flying Buyer's Guide came out. And we weren't in it!

The Flying Buyer's Guide was a comprehensive list of all aviation related products available on the market. When it gave a list of flight simulators and failed to include the Minisimulator IIC, it was like announcing to the world that we did not exist.

My father was shocked and angered. It seemed to him that Flying had tried to extort advertising out of us, even though the ads were useless for the purpose of generating sales, and now that we had refused to advertise, they were retaliating by banning us from editorial coverage that was rightfully ours.

We filed a lawsuit for business defamation in the Federal Court in Dallas. Then Flying got a change of venue to New York. I was only licensed to practice law in Texas. My father was not going to hire outside counsel, because that would cost a lot of money. The whole point of everything he did was to live frugally.So we had to drop the suit.

Eventually, our sales came to a grinding halt. And that was the end of this particular experiment in unconventional business practices.

Lessons from the Past

Editorial coverage in a magazine like Flying is something that manufacturers purchase by paying for ads. Ads don't sell products. Articles do. But you can't buy articles directly, hence the subterfuge of advertising.

My father naively believed that Flying had the journalist's ethical mandate to report the news accurately, and that Flying's main duty was to their subscribers, not their advertisers. But the name of the game was selling, and it wasn't subscriptions that paid for that glossy magazine or the salaries of the reporters!

If someone did not advertise, then they might as well not exist, because they were not going to get indexed.

Google and the Competition

If you want to sell a product, you have to pay for PR. An article is always more effective than a mere advertisement, but if you paid for an article directly, it wouldn't be an article. It would just be an ad, and nobody would take it seriously.

Do Google ads sell products? Yes, I think they must, but possibly not in the way we originally thought. I think the web is just like Flying Magazine. People read and write articles about products that are advertised. If there is no advertising on your webpage, people are less likely to read it, because it is less likely to be indexed. If you write with the ads in mind, your article will be read, and there will also be a monetary reward.

One hand washes the other. There's reciprocity for you! And that's why Google is the best search engine in the world -- for advertisers!

But if you're looking for something obscure, like old news clippings about the Minisimulator IIC, then Altavista is the place to go.


(c) 2010 Aya Katz

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Comments 20 comments

H P Roychoudhury profile image

H P Roychoudhury 6 years ago from Guwahati, India

Good information.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

H.P. Roychoudhury, thanks for your comment!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India

You have a point there Aya. I was in advertising for too many years not to know how things worked and I guess it's the same in the virtual world as well. What I am very impressed about is how your father never succumbed to the pressures of paying for the ads in exchange for his articles appearing. Not many would have the strength to do what he did!

I am a Google fan for many reasons - but I will check out Altavista now when I want to look for more that what I get on the Big G.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Shalini! I really appreciate your confirming from your own experiences in advertising that this was not an isolated incident. My father was very principled, but I sometimes think that it's easier not to give in to social pressure when you don't really understand it completely.

My hope is to improve my own understanding of how things really work, so that I can get the most out of Google -- and the most out of its competition as well. The important thing in life is to consider all available choices, and choose what works best for each set of circumstances.


Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 6 years ago from New York State

Might a periodical like Flying Magazine survive without advertising? If the publisher raised subscription rates dramatically to make up for no ad revenue, would your father had been willing to pay for the high rate?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

F.L. Light, I'm not sure how much the rate would have been without advertising, so I can't honestly say. In any event, whether my father or some other manufacturer would have been willing to pay the higher subscription rate is beside the point. The real question is whether ordinary readers of Flying Magazine, those who buy products rather than selling them, would have been willing to shoulder the whole burden of paying for the magazine to be published. I suspect that the magazine could not have been as glossy, and the reporters could not have been as well paid, if not for the advertisements.

There are three distinct parties in such a situation: the publisher, the manufacturers and the readers. The publisher wants a nice magazine and a good profit margin. The readers want a nice looking, informative magazine at an affordable price. Manufacturers want to tell readers about their products -- and direct advertising is not effective, while articles are. This is how the situation I described arises.


Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 6 years ago from New York State

Your father might have paid for a sequel to the original story about the Minisimilator, saying, "I like not direct ads but am willing to pay for a sequel." That would be in response to the magazine's solicitations for an ad.


nhkatz profile image

nhkatz 6 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

F.L.'s question is interesting in the context of Google as well. Is there an untapped market for paid, advertising-free search? There exist such pay services for more specialized applications like Intellius which gets you criminal background and property ownership checks on whomever you like for a price.

Also, I enjoyed discussing Google's business model with you.

They get 99% of their revenue from advertising and it amounts to 24 billion dollars per year. It makes the whole

idea of making money on hubpages take on a new light. Is

there any reason Google should want to give you a substantial share of that money? But it also makes one wonder how they can really be a growth business. The more

advertising they sell, the worse their search engine becomes.

I rather impulsively took some action, namely I sold Google

short. (I now own negative 10 shares.) So far I'm doing OK

but only because of the Greek debt crisis. Go figure.

I have one other question. If you wrote a hubpage about reasons to sell Google short, how would that affect your relationship with AdSense?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

F.L. Light, that sounds very logical, but not something that would ever have happened, because there was an ethical dilemma involved. As a reader of Flying Magazine, my father had always trusted the judgment of the reporters. He believed them to be giving their unbiased opinions. If they said they liked a product, it was based on their journalistic integrity that readers decided they might want to find out more about it. If manufacturers paid for articles, and readers did not know that this was happening, then this would constitute a fraud perpetrated by the magazine and the advertiser. My father wanted no part in such a misrepresentation.

The conundrum that we face in situations like this is that these business practices are not equally transparent to everyone.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Nets, those are a lot of very good questions. I'm a little afraid I might already be jeopardizing my relationship with Google by writing this hub, but I don't know in what way a reprisal will come. The same goes double for suggesting we sell their stock short. The bots can't be intelligent enough to read the vibe of the hub, so I'm thinking I might be safe for a while, until a human Google person comes along and reads this.

Most searchers wouldn't pay for an unbiased search, just as most readers wouldn't pay the full price of a subscription to Flying. If we do go that direction, I bet the ads will eventually insinuate themselves back into the paid service. Remember how cable was supposed to be the alternative to advertising on broadcast TV? Now there's no broadcast TV to speak of, but cable is full of ads!

Why should Google want to give hubbers a substantial share of their income? Well, obviously, they don't. I read a blog by Lissie, a seasoned hubber, who explains that Google doesn't want us to know the secret of how to earn from Adsense, which is why her pro secret website carries no ads, and is available only to subscribers!


ngureco profile image

ngureco 6 years ago

Hello Aya Katz,

This is a good article that you have put here on Hubpages.

I have a question for you: if you were to rewind the clock and go back to 1980s with the knowledge you have now, would you advice your father to advertise in the flying magazine?

I personally have found out that in this world, not many things will work out without the blessings of the intermediaries.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ngureco, that's a really good question. I would not have advised him what to do, but if I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I would have explained the situation much better. Attorneys should not make the decision for the client, but they should let him understand all the foreseeable consequences of each possible decision. The truth is that neither my father nor I fully understood the situation at the time, and we were shocked by the outcome.


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

Thanks, Aya, for the window into the advertising world. I worked for an ad agency some years ago so am fairly cognizant of how revenue is derived. Sometimes in the business world, and I know not everyone will agree with this, one has to "go along" to "get along."

Thanks also for writing about your very useful Altavista experience.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

DrBj, thanks for adding more evidence that this is the reality people in advertising are cognizant of. Hope you find Altavista as useful as I do!


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain

As always I find your hubs very interesting and I come away having enjoyed the read and having learnt something new.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Maggs224, thanks!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

It's enough to really piss you off, ain't it? I read a book on the history of the press not that long ago after a trip to Hearst Castle... etc. It was a pretty basic history, but the thing I pulled out of it was the progression of advertising as it infected information--actual information. What started out as something meant to give voice to ideas was, inevitably and inexorably, polluted by the interest of money.

The press (which I realize was not your point here, per se) is supposed to be the third leg of democracy, but it's not. It's all just like you tell this story. At some point in the idealistic past, someone would have written an airplane industry pamphlet that was just to exchange information.

Everyone wasn't a marketer. No one was at one point. Everyone was actually somehting that mattered. Carpenter. Cobbler. Flight simulator maker. Everyone is a marketer now. Like the whole world is standing in one of those cash wind-booths where dollar bills blow around and the person inside betrays dignity trying to grab a buck.

(sigh). I don't know why, but I swear, as totally opposite as you and are in some ways, you and I share a lot of really similar core values. (You been watching the house licensing thing?)

Anyway, at least the results of an Altavista search will come up on a Google search now, via you. At least until Altavista dies because truth doesn't matter.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Shadesbreath, I don't know about the press being the "third leg of democracy". I've heard that before, but I don't know whether I believe it. I'm not so crazy about democracy, either, if it means that a majority gets to vote away the freedom and rights of everybody else. I like the idea of a Republic with limits to what the majority can vote on at all.

No, I haven't been watching the house licensing thing. What is that? (I pretty much tune the news out, so I only hear of things that friends specifically point out to me.)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

H.R. 2454 (cap and trade bill). A License will be required for your house now, like your car, and people won't be able to sell, especially people who can't afford to keep the house as it is (which might be why they need to sell). It basically makes it so you can't sell your home if you don't fix it to meet the EPA standards. Can you freaking believe that?

Beginning in the first year, you can't sell your home unless you retrofit it to meet the energy and water efficiency standards mandated by HR 2454 that will be made more difficult to meet each passing year (it just past in the House). If the Senate passes it, just wow. It's like a nuclear tax increase and a cost of living increase all mashed together.

Plus, the feeble attempts to "help people pay" written in is a joke because the way the grant program is designed. For one, they get to raise the standards whenever they want and you know they'll increase that faster than the "we'll help you out" department will adapt. Plus, the state determines who gets grant money, and it will be based on income levels being low and home values low... leaving the middle class hosed, as always.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Shadesbreath, that's awful! Looks like I'm going to have to tear down my house and live in the barn! Surely, it's not going to pass?!?

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