Can Advertising in Windows Client Software Work?

MSN Messenger does it. Quicken does it. There’s a fair amount of Windows client software that has advertising – the same kind of banner ads present on most Web sites. But there are challenges to ad-powered client software, ranging from technical (how do you create an offline ad store) to sociological (will people be willing to live with ads in their local software).

I think that the technical issues, while non-trivial, are very solvable. What's more interesting is the idea of client software that's supported with advertising and how far our industry can take that before somebody cries foul.

There's certainly proof that people are OK with advertising in their applications -- just look at every ad engine out there. What's more interesting to me is how something like this could help small software creators make a revenue stream. By now we've all heard about Plenty Of Fish, the Canadian dating site where the creator makes $10K/day off of ads. But could the same work for my asphalt mix application creator?

Can people live with ads on their client? What are the blockers? What technial issues do you think the industry will run into? What sociological issues?

Comments (14)
  1. Jeff Parker says:

    I think that the answer would be no. Take Microsoft Money for example. It is constantly taking the user out to MSN which inundates you with ads. I became a fan of money late 90’s I absolutely loved the application I found it useful and not only that it helped me after college get a handle on my personal finances and helped me grow as a financially responsible adult. The tool was easy to use, it explained things to you, allowed you to sit there and think about what you wanted to do with your money right there in the privacy and peacefulness of your own home.

    Now I absolutely hate Microsoft Money. Most of the features I used to use I click on the button to go use that feature to be found I am taken inside Money to MSN. There I get swamped with ads for loans and credit cards as if I didn’t get enough of them in the mail. Somewhere buried in those ads is something about what I originally wanted to do but now all I want to do is get away from MSN and the ads. So that now becomes a feature I can no longer use in money.

    I mean think about it I get mail at home advertising credit cards every sing day. In fact 3 times I have actually shredded real credit cards mailed to me as replacements because they sent the replacement cards to me a month early. I wasn’t expecting them and they come in a unmarked envelope which freaking credit card ads are doing now as well. I could tell though that in the envelope there was a card like object so it instantly went right in the shredder without even opening it. Thinking it was just another fake credit card that they normally send in those ads. Now Money is becoming useless as well where half the time I click on something or I want to do something in the app and it takes me to MSN and I am swamped with ads. Usually the same credit card ads that have already cause me enough problems.

    I am half tempted to just go back to using an excel spreadsheet to track my finances. I already have excel so why spend more money and buy MS Money when all you get is ads now with it. Everything that was useful is now buried somewhere on MSN or gone. Don’t get me wrong I have thought about switching to quicken but then I found they are doing the same thing I already know people that have given up quicken because of the ads. It is getting more and more annoying. I would gladly pay $100 well over what you pay for Money and quicken every year for a personal finance app that didn’t try to make me go more into debt and distract me from doing my finances with ads. I am really considering going with a spreadsheet anymore. About the only things I can do in money anymore is get my bank register, set up a budget and get a few reports. Everything else has MSN and advertising in it so it is absolutely useless to me I even went in and just deleted those items out of the menu so I wouldn’t click on them by accident anymore.  So since I am concerned with my personal finances I myself have wondered in the last couple years why  on earth do I actually pay for Microsoft money $40 and can’t use most of it because it drives me batty with ads from MSN. I guess I keep hoping MS will realize the error of their ways and return to the Money of the late 90’s and early 2000 but I have about given up hope. If 2007 rolls around I will have the new office, why on earth would I buy money again when excel with let me import a downloaded CSV from the bank, create charts and graphs of my finances and guess what no advertising and no MSN and I would at least feel my finances are more secure.

    Heck the primary reason I do not use MSN for anything is because it is way too busy and way too full of ads. And heck MSN is free. I am liking the new it is only as busy as I want it to be.

    Another thing think at how much money has been poured into anti advertising software. Spam filtering, Popup blocking, Anti Spyware, which really most spyware is just a way to swamp you with popups and get around the popup blockers. Also nothing just pisses me off more like MSN Messenger you are working late at night on a project your mind is thinking about the code you are writing you open msn messenger to fire off a question to a coworker and you mouse accidentally moved over some add placed in MSN messenger. Which some moron decided that on_mouseover make the add scream really loud at you. You now jump about out of your seat everything you were thinking about is now gone your concentration broken. You cuss extremely loud send your co worker a message saying look I can take no more the this MSN messenger crap send me an email I will get it in outlook where there is no advertising. This does happen I have done it. Anyway AIM is the same way who ever got it in their head moving ads with sounds embedded in an app was a good idea was horribly mistaken.

    The other problem you have with this idea. There have been tons and tons of apps that have included advertising in them. Every single one of them also included spyware. We are so ingrained anymore when you see ads especially embedded in software the first thing you do is uninstall the app and then start a hunt for what spyware it installed. Heck now I fire up a virtual machine for certain software if I find I want the software I have to sandbox it. Take turbo tax software. I used to do my taxes. Unfortunately it installs adds and links and bookmarks and a bunch of other paid advertiser crap. So I resides on it’s own virtual machine that only gets fired up once a year at tax time.

    Anyway that’s just my feedback on it. There are other things we do out here, there are entire websites building large databases with entries to our hostfiles on our PCs that sends all advertising banner urls to our localhost addresses. Advertising is enough of a problem as it is. I will say this though I use google. I also use gtalk messenger. The only advertising is unobtrusive text. The minute you put sound and pictures and flash animated adds or anything that obtrudes on us that’s when we hate it and start fighting back. Heck I absolutely hate XP popping up and telling me there are unused desktop icons, you know what I really do not care if there are unused icon I care about being interupted.

    So end thoughts. If you are going to try to use advertising, it needs to be very subtle and not get in the way of the user. Remember the user wants the app to be productive. If your adds keep interupting them then they will hate your app and look for something better.

  2. johnmont says:

    Sounds like I need to loan you my copy of Quicken 2000 — the one before ads. 😉

  3. Xepol says:

    Lesse, I use IE itself to block out most ads in my webpages (just start listing the source of javascript responsible for the ads as a banned website and just WATCH the ads evaporate!)  I can’t even remember the last time I saw a popup.  Those ads that do show up on my page, I mentally filter out and don’t even see any more.

    Ads in Messenger?  Don’t see them either.  The main interface is closed a LOT on my machine, and the little footer ads don’t even register on my conciousness any more.

    Frankly, I have very very serious doubts about the reported numbers for online advertizing (which no one I know of actually likes or uses), and I suspect one day we’ll hear about an enron-scale accounting boondogle associated with inflating advertizing incomes.

    Will people tolerate advertizing in their software?  Sure, if it is subtle enough to ignore at will.  I’m willing to bet, however, that advertizing in the app was a major part of why opera never saw serious interest and adoption of their product (yes, yes, it has many other sins, but they would have been fixed if enough people had actually used the app).

    Is every app suitable for ads?  Hmmm… Could you imagine targeted ads in notepad or mspaint?

    I think it could probably be done if you were silly enough, but there is probably a cost/reward equation somewhere that says if you only expect to make 5$ advertizing in MSPaint ever, and it only takes an hour to put it and make it available for distribution, it would STILL not be worth doing, as it could lead to even more costs through support and the added complexity is just something else to go wrong.


    I dislike ad based mediums (e.g. radio, magazines, web sites, etc.). I suppose one can make the classic argument "well if the ads were relevant you wouldn’t hate it." There might be some truth to this but I’m still waiting to see ads that are relevant to me. It’s not that it doesn’t ever happen, it’s that it happens so rarely it’s an event when it does.

    But I think there is a deeper uglier issue here that John, you in particular given your history, should have some sensitivity to. When you have an ad driven business model your customers are the advertisers not the people consuming your product. The consumers are only relevant in so far as they are interesting to the advertisers. Therefore the job becomes to create content that is just interesting enough to consumers to keep enough of them to justify your ad rates.

    The end result is that ad based revenue models tend to work best for content that doesn’t have enough value in and of itself that people would be willing to pay the cost of producing it. Hence you need the advertisers to make it all work.

    So when you find that the only way you can make money is by sticking in ads then you can feel pretty confident that what you are doing isn’t really all that terribly valuable.

    With that having been said I’m going back to my job at Windows Live.

  5. johnmont says:

    Of course, Yaron, your own Web site has ads on it. 🙂

    But yes, really really not speaking for my employer, I dislike ads in all their forms. I deplored them when I was in the computer trade press and they were our revenue stream, I deplore them as a consumer since they rarely contain anything I find interesting (a few exceptions such as the Honda Cog ad). And if your product stinks, no amount of advertising will get consumers to buy it (usually — the systems may get messed up but tend to be self-correcting).

    At the same time, lots of customers want to put ads on their Web sites and are exploring putting them into their apps. So who am I to question?

    Back to my job in developer division.

  6. Dave Kalman says:

    It all depends on the meaning of "ad."

  7. johnmont says:

    How would you define ad, Dave?

  8. Dave Kalman says:

    An "ad" could be anything that conveys a brand message, which means that it could be something functional (i.e., of value) to the user. One example would be a branded "Web service." Let’s say your client software includes a WinZip file compression feature. Getting away from techie dweebie stuff, the client software might include a secure private channel to a Ticketmaster (e.g.,) advance sales database. Or a private radio station, or another feature that’s relevant and compatible with the client software’s function. I think you’d find a sharp difference in how user’s perceive these "functional" ads vs. some kind of popup/banner.

  9. johnmont says:

    I still think they’ll wind up being intrusive, but to date I’ve proven remarkably inept at gauging what people in general want and think. Notably inept, in fact. So much so that you can basically bet that whatever I want, everyone else will want the opposite.

  10. Dave Kalman says:

    <" can basically bet that whatever I want, everyone else will want the opposite.">

    Tell me what stocks/mutual funds you own, so I can sell them FAST!

  11. johnmont says:

    Lots of shares of Google. 😉

  12. Dating says:

    MSN Messenger does it. Quicken does it. There’s a fair amount of Windows client software that has advertising – the same kind of banner ads present on most Web sites. But there are challenges to ad-powered client software, ranging from technical (how

  13. Weddings says:

    MSN Messenger does it. Quicken does it. There’s a fair amount of Windows client software that has advertising – the same kind of banner ads present on most Web sites. But there are challenges to ad-powered client software, ranging from technical (how

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