Roadmap96: ADVERT - Advertising on the Internet | WebReference

Roadmap96: ADVERT - Advertising on the Internet


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"They all laughed when I sat down at the piano, but oh!, when I began to play ..."
-- John Caples, legendary advertisement for mail-order piano lessons, 1925.

This lesson is not in the syllabus, but I thought it would be a neat follow-up to MAP09: Spamming and Urban Legends. Things change rapidly on the Net, perhaps no more rapidly than in the area of advertising, but there are a few general principles that are likely to stay put for a while.

First, generally speaking, don't. If you work for a company that makes a product, you'll draw more flames than orders if you try to use the Net to advertise that product.



There are a couple of exceptions. In some musical groups, very few people will object if you advertise a home-made or home-distributed recording your band has made (but see below for exceptions). And if you have *one* computer or *one* bicycle to sell, it's OK to advertise it in the appropriate Usenet newsgroup (e.g., "," "rec.bicycles.marketplace"). If you have a warehouse full of computers or bikes and you're in the business of selling them, that's probably over the line.

A second exception is on the Web. If your company has a homepage, Web surfers who call it up would be offended if you *didn't* have information on your products, distributors, and so on.

A third exception is if somebody asks a technical question, such as "Who makes an Ada compiler for the MIL-STD-1750A processor?" It's generally considered OK to answer "We do" and to give a point of contact. Just make sure your posting is information, not ad copy. Often the person answering will say something like "Blatant commercial plug:" so he's not accused of being deceptive.



Deception is another matter entirely. There's a new form of advertising that's showing up on some of the musical newsgroups. Someone will post a message giving a rave review of the new CD by group X. A while later he'll rave about group Y and artist Z. It turns out that the only thing he ever has to say are rave reviews of new CDs. And all the artists he raves about record for the same major label. After not too much detective work it turns out that our hero works for (now let's not always see the same hands) the record label.

It's not restricted to musical groups, either. A well-known scenario has person A ask a question, such as "what's the best product to do W?" Shortly afterward, person B replies that the new offering P from R Software solves that problem, is cheap and easy to install, and everybody should have one. A while later on another group A reappears with another question, and sure enough, product Q from R Software is the answer to the world's ills.

I haven't the slightest idea why a company would risk earning a reputation for unethical dealings, but if you're sleazy enough to think these are good ideas, please be aware that there are folks on the Net who delight in exposing scams of this sort, and you'll be found out in short order.



Sending out e-mail to every LISTSERV list and Usenet newsgroup has already been covered in MAP09: Spamming and Urban Legends. Don't do it. There are companies who sell mailing lists of email addresses. I find the prospect of junk e-mail frightening: there are companies and organizations who would pull their workers off the Net rather than subject them to such misuse of company resources.

And you hardly need to be told that advertising a bicycle for sale in "rec.arts.marching.drumcorps" or "talk.politics.tibet" is a waste of time.

But there's a subtler point. Many of the Usenet hierarchies have a special "marketplace" newsgroup. It's safe to assume that any related group does NOT want ads. For example, there's a newsgroup called "" and it's a good bet that your offer of a synthesizer for sale will not be welcome on ""

There is a "List of Active Newsgroups" available on "news.answers" that lists the active Usenet newsgroups. Look there to find out where the "marketplace" and "forsale" groups are.

When you touch on the sensitive area of advertising it's all too easy to earn a reputation for being dishonest, when all you really are is ignorant. Save your reputation by knowing what the rules are before you advertise.



Not knowing the rules before you advertise on the Net could land you in a heap of trouble. The volume of angry replies to the infamous "Green Card Lottery" spam (see MAP09) was so large that it caused the spammer's Internet Service Provider's machine to crash over 30 times in 5 hours. To protect themselves from the fallout from spams, most ISPs have a simple "no spam" rule: if you spam the Net, you lose your account.

You also have to remember that advertisements sent over the Net are governed by your country's federal laws (in the United States, once you send an e-mail letter across state lines the content of your letter is governed by federal, not state, laws). A recent spammer who wrote at the bottom of his spam

... [I]t is not our policy to remove you from our [distribution] list free of charge. To be removed from our list of future commercial postings ... an annual charge of ninety five dollars is required.

was soon visited by the FBI to discuss charges of wire fraud (want to guess who turned him in?).



Net policy and attitudes toward advertising are evolving so rapidly that this article is virtually guaranteed to be out of date. Two articles available on the Usenet newsgroup news.answers, "swap-guide" and "Advertising FAQ," discuss some of the cultural issues involved in buying and selling on the Net.

For those of you who like e-mail discussion lists, you might want to check out the "Online Advertising Discussion List." This list focuses on professional discussion of acceptable online advertising strategies, results, studies, tools, and media coverage. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to

with the word SUBSCRIBE (just the word) in the BODY of your e-mail letter.

Start Lesson Twenty-Six | Go to the Roadmap96 Syllabus | Go to the Roadmap96 Homepage

Originally written by Patrick Douglas Crispen