The Simple Dollar Morning Roundup: Discussing Ads Edition

Yesterday, a reader wrote to me with the following:

It was a real turn-off to pull up your blog today and be faced with an ad for Viagra. I get enough of that as spam. Please fix this.

The advertisement in question is depicted below (it’s non-clickable, I’m just putting it here for discussion’s sake).

V ad

This was an obviously professionally produced advertisement directly from Pfizer, not much different than what’s found in most print publications. It’s not offensive in any way that I can perceive.

My question is that if I were to follow the reader’s suggestion and actually drop the ad, what’s the ethical line that I draw for displaying ads? My current line is that the content has to be appropriate for a family environment and it can’t promote a product that I’m in direct ethical opposition to, which this ad doesn’t violate. I used that rule just a few days ago to eliminate a bunch of ads.

There isn’t really a question to discuss here – I’m already signed up with the ad for a while (it only displays on a tiny percentage of page views) – but it is a worthwhile ethical question to figure out.

The honest truth is that as the author of this site, I deal with many things like this on a daily basis. I get suggestions that are quite good, other ones that are completely absurd, and then there are some right in the middle, like this one.

The Big Breakup: Who Gets What? Sadly, I identify with that scene in St. Elmo’s Fire where the broken couple is splitting up their CD collection. (@ queercents)

Saving For A Home On Your Own: Learning From Those Who Did It Yes, you have to change your lifestyle or else it won’t work. If your spending eats your paycheck, you’re not going to make it. (@ my money blog)

To Start Or Not: The Entrepreneurial Debate My philosophy: dip your toes in as deep as you can before making the leap – if you don’t, you might find the water to be too cold or too hot for you. (@ wise bread)

The Simple Dollar Retro: Seven Reasons To Quit Your Job … And Seven Things To Do To Prepare For The Switch Some great preparatory material for that entrepreneurial debate.

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  1. Tim says:

    Honestly, I’m not sure who could be that offended by that ad. It’s for a prescription drug that helps out people with a problem. I suppose if the person complaining has a problem with the activities that the product enables, well, I guess they’re missing out. ;-)

    Personally, I rarely notice too many ads on websites – it’s pretty easy to filter most of them out & concentrate on the content of the website itself.

  2. Tim says:

    dang someone else by the name of Tim is stealing my name.

    hey, the ads are the price we pay for you having a blog with advertisers. it’s no big woop, since ads are everywhere anyways. as far as ethics are concerned, you are the blog owner and have to live with yourself at the end of the day. if you can live with yourself by a certain ad then so be it, if you can’t then that is probably the standard for not having an ad.

    as far as the viagara ad itself, it is rather stupid. i wouldn’t get viagara becuase of the lame ad: hot car, hot woman, man with ED so get viagara to rev your engine up so you can drive both. pretty stupid.

  3. Flexo says:

    There’s nothing offensive about the ad. If it were for *illegal* sales of viagra or fake viagra, like the spam that we all get, I’d remove it. That doesn’t change the fact it’s a stupid drug used mainly by people who don’t have the condition it’s supposed to be prescribed for… but a great idea from a business perspective.

  4. Noma says:

    I think the latter Tim underestimates the power of advertising — but that’s not why I’m writing. Also, I appreciate your thoughtful line on ethical drawing the — line. An ad is an ad.

    Trent, we are hosting the carnival of debt reduction. Is there something you’d like to post? LadyDough has forwarded your advice re selling stock and reducing debt, and we are grateful.

    Thanks again.

  5. Ryan says:

    “Viagra”! “Erectile”! Consenting adults holding hands and considering having sex! Sporty automobiles!! The horrors!!!!

  6. Eric says:

    I, frankly, don’t have a problem. I’ve worked with the Internet long enough to know how to disregard the ads I see. Of course most ads aren’t made to get you interested in the product through the ad itself. It’s to get in your head and create a brand. To get you used to the product and it’s maker so that they become the default answer to the question, “how do I resolve this problem”. Have you ever needed a Band-aid? Well band-aid is a product made by Johnson and Johnson. There are several other makers of adhesive bandages, but you never need an adhesive bandage, you need a band-aid, or at least that’s what you think when you cut yourself.

    What’s interesting if the product in question is actually being used to treat Cron’s disease and other things other than ED.

  7. Tim says:

    Noma, i didn’t understand what you meant that i underestimated the power of advertising. the person gets the ad in spam all the time, which begs the question why the person doesn’t have a spam filter or is reading all the viagara spam.

  8. guinness416 says:

    I think the spam he’s getting is probably selling Vi@gra, V1agra or V I A G A R A, and not Viagra. There’s nothing wrong with the ad, really. And hey, making Viagra to keep America, uh, standing keeps a lot of people in pharma plants in Ireland employed, so I’m not going to say it’s a stupid drug!

  9. Wendy says:

    I know it doesn’t help Trent’s bottom line, but Firefox + AdBlock Plus means I had no idea what this post was even about for about 30 seconds. If a person is that bothered by ads, I don’t know why they aren’t using ad blocking software.

    I didn’t realize there were ads on this site other than the few text links under the “Sponsors” heading at the bottom of the page.

  10. Ted Valentine says:

    Geeze. I say if you’re that sensitive to ads turn off the internet. Does the reader think Trent is writing hours a day outside his job and family just so we can take a couple breaks at work?

  11. Tim says:

    Wendy, that’s pretty funny, because after you mentioned it, i realized the same thing.

  12. Jared says:

    I’m with Wendy – I use Firefox with the adblock extension, and I don’t see most ads.

    On top of that, though, I read almost all of my blogs through Google Reader, so I never see the ads on the webpage unless I come to leave a comment. Ads are a fact of life these days (see the complaint posts @ Consumerist for many examples).

    In fact, in my opinion, the low point of ads on webpages was the day added Intellitxt advertising – that’s when you see key terms in articles/posts underlined (sometimes double-underlined) and when you mouse over them, you get a pop-up advertisement. I hate those so much…

  13. Celine says:

    How is this ad more offensive compared to similiar ads on tv? At least there isn’t a guy with a massive grin and double entendres flying around about ED problems.

    Personally, I don’t have an issue with people trying to earn some cash with advertising on their blog. If the reader is offended by the advert, they can always read the blog from a feed so they can’t see the ad. If they are so offended by such things, it’s pretty simple for them to use ad blocking software.

    My occupation is trafficking such online ads to websites. I always block ads when browsing outside of work. I hear this complaint of ads being offending or too big (dial-up users complaint) or whatever. If it’s that big of a deal to make a formal complaint, why not spend that time to install ad blocking software and stop wasting time of others.

  14. Brian Jones says:

    This ad is not in poor taste.

    Ethically, the only thing I have a problem with is popup ads. I use a popup blocker and so when I see a popup ad, I believe the developer of that ad has taken into account the known ways of blocking popups, and has developed a way to force people to deal with his popup who demonstrably don’t want to.

    In other words, evil. Sites with popups that defeat my popup blocker get blacklisted.

  15. st says:

    wow. whoever was offended by that ad (what in the WORLD is offensive about it??) needs to relax a little. no wait. a lot.

  16. Matt says:

    I think you should be compensated for your work on The Simple Dollar. It obviously takes you time and energy to produce and manage it and I don’t find a viagra ad like this one offensive.

    I do think it is way better than ads for payday loans, credit card, mortgages, etc. I always found it ironic that personal finance sites had those ads which went against everything they were writing and were working towards.

  17. Celeste says:

    I’d like to hear some rationale from the person who was offended. Personally, I’d rather Trent’s blog exist and be available to me anytime than not. If the price of that is having to use a few extra brain cells ignoring some ads, then I’m for it. But then again, I would never be tempted by Viagra adverts anyways, being a girl and all…

  18. Monica says:

    I don’t see your ads because, like a few other posters, I use ad-blocking software. I feel that we are inundated, not just online but everywhere, with advertising messages to buy this, buy that — and I prefer to opt out whenever I can. However, I don’t find a tasteful ad for Viagra to be inherently unethical, no more so than an ad for, say, Windows Vista or iPhone.

    As an interesting aside, I find this ad interesting because I don’t normally see ads like that one, including either in print or on television. Canada has greater restrictions on advertising drugs to the public. Our TV ads for Viagra don’t say what it’s for! My understanding is that you can either mention the name of the drug OR talk about treatment for a particular condition, but not both. So we have ads about Viagra that don’t tell you what it’s for, and ads telling you that you should ask your doctor about treatment options for hair loss (without mentioning any product names).

  19. guinness416 says:

    In fairness to the emailer he/she didn’t say they were offended per se, rather that they get enough (Viagra?) advertising through spam.

  20. Trent says:

    My perspective about AdBlock as a writer who uses those ads for revenue is that it hurts my income (and the income of other sites like mine, run by individuals trying to make enough to get by and pay for the site), but I understand why people would use it. There are a lot of sites out there that use highly intrusive ads that are simply annoying – if these ads didn’t exist, I would probably be more bothered by people blocking my rather unintrusive ads. Basically, some overzealous folk ruin it for others.

  21. Brian says:

    I do the same as a few other readers and use Firefox and an add on called remove it permanantly (RIP). So, unfortunately for Trent I never see an add on any of his pages.

  22. Jayne says:

    I do understand your need to sustain this great site and I am grateful for the work you put into it. I don’t think there is anything really wrong with the ad; however, I also get tired of being beat over the head with our hyper-sexual society. I’m only 26- maybe I’m just too old-fashioned?:) Thanks for the site.

  23. eR0CK says:

    No ads here, I also use AdBlock. Sucks for the blogger, but in reality, I wouldn’t click on the ads anyway so you’re not losing anything :-).

  24. phantomdata says:

    eRock, Trent is losing out on page impressions. He (probably) makes a small percentage of his ad revenue from people just seeing the ad. So, he is actually losing out.

    However, I was browsing the web for a quick patch on my gaming box (which is stock except for games and vanilla firefox) and was greating by a “HEEEELOOOO! DO YOU WANT A FREE RINGTONE?!!@@!1!1011eleven” blaring from my speakers. I was then reminded of why I use adblock.

    As to those who are confused about who could be offended by the ad, I am confused as to how you can be confused. Frankly, you can pick out any item, thought or piece of speech and you will find at least thirty-five human beings who are terribly offended by it.

    Anyway, poor those men with Ed. I mean, seriously… he’s always stealing away their wives with his hot car washing attitude.

  25. Trent says:

    Two quick notes: many ads often pay bloggers by the number of times it’s viewed, not by clicks.

    Also, I have no problem with a credit card ad because I don’t oppose credit cards – I think they’re valuable tools if used correctly. The problem comes when people misuse them… I like to think of them as a sharp knife that you can use for many things, but can cut you badly if you use it incorrectly.

  26. Jake Smith says:

    Well, its funny that the reader talks about being “turned off” because of Viagra – interesting word choice perhaps??

  27. shanks says:


    If I may suggest something, do something like this.

    If you’re accepting ad placements, either do it or don’t do it all. with no reservations.

    In every other case, if you accept some/reject some, the ads that remain implicitly mean that you approve of them. Even though it’s a just an ad placement for you. So a ciggy ad will lose you 2% viewers, another iPod ad another 3% (what a joke, Trent telling us to save but runs a ipod ad,see?)

    So, you’ll have nutters like me whining about your choices and making moral judgements about you when the point of this site is fundamentally fiscal responsibility(not that these 2 are divorced)

    anyways, make you policy clear in someplace. like you’re not responsible for third party sites referred from your sites. or whatever passes as legalese.


  28. Farley says:

    I feel bad. Adblock does such a good job I didn’t even know an ad was being blocked. I should look into configuring it so it will not block ads here but I don’t want to enable ads everywhere.

    I wish you took paypal donations. I would prefer to donate a bit of money. I know that is all going to you, and I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about blocking ads.

  29. Jayne says:

    I realized I wasn’t very clear in my post above. I think the ad is fine and I think you have handled this site with integrity in every way. I also like the idea of a paypal button.

  30. People need to understand how ads are served on sites and they’ll see that you don’t have 100% control over what’s displayed. I can’t stand when folks criticize things they don’t research/understand. Folks are entitled to their opinions, but with all the hard work you and many other bloggers (including myself) do, I dare them to challenge the notion that we deserve at least a few cents here and there.

  31. Sara says:

    People like to complain but the reader who emailed you gets your advice for free so (s)he doesn’t get a say in how you make money (or cover costs) on this site. If your blog were covered in a bunch of pr0n ads I would just stop reading. A lot of people are clueless about the way the internet and advertising on the internet works. Back in 1999 I was a member support person on one of the first social networking sites. The site was initially free but as it grew, and we added more features, we offered paid memberships with extras. I received several emails asking why they should pay to belong to the site when they already pay so much for the internet (meaning their ISP bills). A lot of people probably don’t realize that you incur a cost for your hosting, not to mention that you put a lot of effort into your content and you deserve to be compensated

  32. Adam says:

    I’m not offended by the ad, either. I’m not a big FAN of ads like that, but it’s not illegal or immoral.

    As a preacher, I think we need to limit some of what is advertised on TV, or at least make sure it is tasteful, but I don’t think this ad is offensive.

  33. devil says:

    I’m so old and have been on the internet so long that I didn’t even SEE this ad till this post. For the most part, I’m oblivious to ads.

    So, no, this ad is not offensive. It’s not a particularly good ad, but not that bad.

  34. paula says:


    As the person who emailed Trent, saying I am tired of being faced with Viagra and other stuff every time I turn on TV or go to my computer, I thank Guinness and Jayne for their comments. They understand what I feel. Clearly, everyone else here is much more savvy about computers and can block a lot more than I can. I have McAfee and an adblock, but I can’t tell you anything about them. I do know that a lot of ads get blocked, but I am still inundated with ads and spam.

    I certainly don’t begrudge Trent a way to earn a living, either, and if he could put up a PayPal button, it sounds like some of the readership would support him.

    If it helps people understand my position, let me explain that I am old enough to remember when prescription drugs were not advertised on TV. At all. It was considered unethical. “Personal” items were off limits, too. Underwear ads were discreet. These items simply weren’t considered appropriate for family viewing. As Jayne noted, we have become a hypersexual society, which I attribute partly to advertising (which also encourages us to go into debt, because we “deserve” stuff, “need” stuff, etc.).

    I just want to be spared all the stuff that appeals to our most basic impulses for self-indulgence. The message for viagra just seemed out of tune to a financial health site, particularly since Trent “gets” the ethos of living with discipline and compassion for others.

    A note to Jake Smith: “Turned off” dates me. We said this all the time in the 70s when I was a kid. It’s part of the hippie culture. Glad to supply the history lesson. ;)

  35. Maria says:

    Trent, I think you contribute tremendous value through this site and you deserve to be compensated for that. I admire the stance you’ve taken against ads that conflict with your values and don’t see any conflict with the drug ad. Perhaps the person offering that opinion doesn’t understand the economics of running a popular website, or the time commitment it takes to write multiple blog postings per day, but I appreciate all the effort you put into The Simple Dollar.

  36. !wanda says:

    I use an adblocker because I want to limit my exposure to ads. If I don’t know about a product, when I need it I can research options without even being subconsciously influenced by the ads. I don’t watch TV, either. But there’s a downside- my immunity to ads is running low. Using other people’s computers is so annoying, because all of a sudden there’s all this distracting BRIGHT COLOR and ANIMATION. When there is a TV in front of me, like on an airplane or in a bar, the commercials are nearly as mesmerizing as the show. It’s made me realize that it must take a lot of mental energy and practice to filter out ads, energy that I’d rather, er, waste on commenting on blogs.

  37. pam says:

    I was a kid in the 70′s too. The viaga ad is less offensive than “Mom, have you ever had that not-so-fresh feeling?”

  38. !wanda says:

    @paula: Firefox+ Adblock Plus. Adblock Plus is a program that has a pretty good algorithm for blocking out ads or things like look like ads. However, you can add to its ad filter if you see an ad or exclude whole pages or sites from the filter.

    I don’t think that advertising pharmaceuticals on TV is good for public health. I think, though, that advertising the “latest and greatest” cholesterol drug, when it’s not, or making up diseases like “restless legs syndrome” in order to create a market for a drug, is far, far more unethical than shilling Viagra. Also, could you explain how Viagra ads contradict Trent’s “ethos of living with discipline and compassion for others,” more so than an ad for, say, an iPod?

  39. pdwalker says:

    There will always be someone who will be offended by something. You cannot possibly please them all, all the time.

    If you are happy with the ads that are displayed, why let it worry you? Your readership size will utimately determine if it is truely offensive or not.

  40. Dan says:

    Heaven forbid! A website about money ought to be a complete waste of it!

    My question: is there an ethical issue with reading a favorite website through GoogleReader thereby avoiding the ads altogether? i.e. not contributing to a favored author.

  41. Celeste says:

    I know this is a little off topic, but I just don’t see “hypersexual” in an ad for two older people who are being presented holding hands in front of their (presumable) home and (however sporty) car. It’s not like you have some 30 year old business exec in a suit in the VIP room of a club advertising the use of Viagra for 5-hour swinging sessions. That to me would constitute hypersexual—and believe me, there are some ads out there (male “body spray”, anyone?) which I think are much more overtly pushing sex.

  42. Tim says:

    i just don’t like ads that track your entire browsing history and follows you around. although i agree with you Trent that income is generated by your ads, i think it is better that you have, as you do, ads that pay for visits to your site rather than clicks on the ad itself.

  43. EP says:

    Please display the ads that make you the most without these ads being noisy, pop-ups, pop-unders or those low-grade ads that look as error messages. You deserve the money for quality for writing.

  44. Jamie says:

    Okay, here’s what you need to do to support Trent and still use ad-block. You need to add two exceptions to your ad-block filter.

    1. In Firefox, goto Tools–>Adblock Plus…
    2. Click the italicized “Add filter…” text.
    3. copy and paste this text without the quotes
    4. Hit return
    5. repeat step 1-4 using this text (without the quotes):

    The first exception will allow all ads from google on all sites. But, the other filters (assuming you are using filtersetg to auto-update your ad-algorithms) will still eliminate the ads from most (if not all) sites. So, you need to add the second exception so that when you visit The Simple Dollar, Trent’s ads come through. The only other issue is that if you visit another site from a link on Trent’s site, it’ll know it and won’t block the ads. That’s probably okay, since Trent is giving credit to the sites he links to, so it’s good to allow their ads, too. This also gives you an idea of how websites know all they know about you (i.e. where you’ve come from).

    I’m not guaranteeing that some ads won’t still shine through, but it seemed to work for the few sites I visited.

    Also, if you are using NoScript, you’ll have to allow googlesyndication to run scripts.

  45. David says:

    Tell the person who complained that you will accept $10 a month from that person for the privilege of reading your blog. Sometimes I’m dumfounded by people who expect everything to be free and tailored to their tastes. This site has free advice (which I personally think is awesome) that you can take or leave. The owner’s choice to run advertising isn’t an issue unless the owner gives preferential treatment to advertisers, which I’m guessing you can’t because you don’t even know who’s advertising on your site. Keep the ads.

  46. N'Awlins Kat says:

    Ack, where to start? I must be immune to ads, too, as I hadn’t noticed this one. It’s reasonably tasteful for what it is, and legal, and not unethical, and yes, Trent needs to be compensated for his labors. I’ve seen far worse.

    @Paula–I, too, remember when pharmaceutical companies were prohibited from advertising–and I think things were safer then. People didn’t demand a drug till their doctors gave in (think overuse of antibiotics), and the cost of medicines was a lot lower for not having the huge ad budgets. They’re creating perceived needs now. Remember when lawyers didn’t advertise, either? Fewer frivolous lawsuits, fewer lawyer jokes. Unfortunately, those genies are out of the bottle.

    @!wanda–I don’t like the ads for Requip, either, because it’s a re-packaged Parkinson’s drug that’s been on the market for a while, but as Requip, the price is inflated to pay for the advertising. Please, though, don’t assume that “restless leg syndrome” is a made-up problem. Having suffered it for almost 25 years, due to a combination of nerve damage from a back injury at age 17 and an under-chlorinated gene pool (thanks, Mom!), I can guarantee you it’s not only real, but miserable.

  47. Kristi says:

    Just use Firefox and use AdBlockerPlus. Best thing I’ve ever downloaded. It blocks all those unwanted banners. It makes the Internet run faster because it doesn’t have to load all those stupid animated ones.

    Thanks to this little gem, I haven’t seen a Viagra or ad in months!

  48. Kristi says:

    Ah, after I read through some of the posts I see the problem faced with AdBlockerPlus. Now I’m a bit torn about it, but I must admit that for now, I’m going to keep it. I run on dial-up a lot and it takes forever to load sites just because of those animated ads. I have saved a LOT of valuable time since downloading it and time is money, right?

    Are we completely sure that they’re not counted as hits? Does AdBlockerPlus block it before it would have been counted as a hit, or does it block it after it has already been counted?

  49. Karen says:

    Well i am old fashioned too like the one complaining and what I do is a manual ad blocker: i put my hand up so i can’t see offending ads, or gals in panties or whatever i don’t care to clutter my mind with. It is the simplest way i know to be online and ‘avoid’ the ads that bother my sensibilities. How’s that for old fashioned?

  50. Trent says:

    Karen, that’s actually what my mother does.

  51. Ryan says:

    I think the submitter needs to grow up. Ads support this site. Not to mention that it’s a legitimate ad from the company itself, not some sleazy spammer.

    They seem to have a maturity problem with the concept of sex. Get over it.

  52. Anna Ploski says:

    I think what is offensive is, to some degree, the existence of Viagra. Pfizer essentially invented the “disease” to make the $$. Are there men with ED? Yes. Enough to make it such a profitbale product? NOT EVEN CLOSE. So to me, it is offensive because it’s an example of rampant market manipulation.

  53. Noelle says:

    Trent, I know I will be dating myself extremely here, but I am pretty sure that in St. Elmo’s Fire they were splitting up LP’s, not CD’s. In the summer of ’85, I was in high school and we were still doing mix TAPES and no one I knew had a CD player. Wow, that was a loooong time ago.

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