As one who believes in high-quality niche content, I’ve long been a fan of of the video game comic/commentary/community Penny Arcade. (In fact, I keep trying to slip John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory into presentations to clients curious about user interaction.)
I was therefore heartened and impressed by this post from the aforementioned Gabe about their attitude to advertising on the Penny Arcade (apologies for the lengthy quote, it’s worth it):
Other game site out there takes ads for whatever game they can get. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pile of crap, if the publisher pays for the spot IGN or Gamespot or whoever will run the ad. That’s fine but that’s not how we do it and the news posts you just read are part of the reason why..
No matter how early the build we tell the publishers that unless we can see it played in front of us or play it ourselves we won’t run ads for it. Obviously a lot can still go wrong during development but we make the best decisions we can. We do not think of the ads you see on our page as ads. They are recommendations and we try extremely hard to insure that anything we put over there is worth your time.
When Prince of Persia 2 came out and we saw that it was crap we said as much on the site. Ads for the game appeared right next to those news posts slamming it. Needless to say Ubi wasn’t very happy and Robert got some angry phone calls but our loyalty is to our readers not the people paying the bills.
We explained to Ubi that the reason our ads perform better than any other site out there is because our readers trust us and that means we have to admit when something we advertise doesn’t turn out as good as we hoped.
How great is that? How sensible is that? They regard ads as part of the content of their site and they vet products before they carry ads for them. If they then carry negative reviews, the games companies just have to suck it up. And why do these powerful organisations suck it up? They suck it up because ads on Penny Arcade out-perform ads on other sites. And why does that happen? Because Penny Arcade’s users trust what they see on the site. And they trust the ads precisely because the products are vetted and honestly reviewed.
Penny Arcade’s been around a long time and is a huge success. They really know what they’re doing. In that one post, Gabe and Tycho demonstrate far more commercial nous than many advertising people I’ve encountered.
Imagine similar conversations at a newspaper: “You want a full-colour wraparound advertising your ‘crack cocaine for kids’ casino open day? You want it to look like it’s the real front page of our paper? You want to spend £200? No way, we’re a respectable family publication. Oh, you said £2,000. Hey, sure, no problem. We’ll throw in the editor’s mum posing nude with a donkey as well.”
Let’s focus on Gabe’s key phrase: “Our loyalty is to our readers not the people paying the bills.” Maybe if newspapers had the spine to adopt that attitude their sales wouldn’t be going down the toilet.