Think of the Advertisers!

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Necessary to protect precious revenue from unruly users.[1]

A variety of self-censorship, wherein a New Media entity purges itself of "adult" or "extreme" content out of fear of violating the terms of their advertising server and thus losing revenue -- or to make itself attractive to potential advertisers in order to generate or increase revenue.

Think of the Advertisers! frequently happens when an edgy and unrestricted website which is popular and has a large userbase becomes heavily dependent upon advertising to keep running, or when such a site is bought by a larger, more conservative firm which intends to monetize it. The result is the complete removal of all the edgy and unrestricted material which drew in the target demographic that the advertiser or the new parent company wanted to exploit. It rarely involves true Moral Guardians, but rather is motivated entirely by money and the belief that the presence of "undesirable" content on the site scares off more profitable advertisers.[2] It also comes from a perception on the corporate level that the userbase is a commodity to be sold, rather than a community to be served.

A variation of this trope can be found when traditional media make sudden changes in their editorial stance -- usually but not always to a more conservative position -- in response to boycotts or other threats to their cash flow.

This tactic is frequently disguised as Think of the Children rather than admitting it is about profit. Consequently, its most common euphemisms and nicknames include "making [site] family-friendly", "kindergartenization", and "kiddening".

Not to be confused with Think of the Censors.

Examples of Think of the Advertisers! include:

Literature

  • One fictional example is Arthur Chambers' newspaper (the San Piedro Review) in the novel (and film) Snow Falling on Cedars. Pearl Harbor generated a virulent racial backlash against "the wily Jap" which culminated in widespread internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. For a small-town journal in wartime, the price of taking a purely-idealistic editorial stance that "prejudice and hatred are never right and never to be accepted by a just society" was the paper paying dearly in cancelled advertisements and subscriptions.

Live-Action TV

  • The US Public Broadcasting Service, a non-commercial educational broadcaster, doesn't directly interrupt programming with ads. It does accept indirect advertising: announcements that "production (or local acquisition) of this programme was made possible by a grant from X, makers of Y" are bought and paid for by huge donations from wealthy individuals and corporations. These de-facto sponsors are known as "underwriters". Add a heavy reliance on uncertain government funding and, despite the best intentions of Viewers Like You (Thank You), PBS remains just as vulnerable as any other mass medium.
    • Home Depot and Weyerhaeuser withdrew their support for WGBH-TV's This Old House because then-host Bob Vila had appeared in an ad for a competing regional firm in New Jersey. Vila was sacked, and ultimately went on to start his own show on another network.
    • Gulf+Western withdrew its corporate underwriting of Newark, NJ-licenced member station WNET to protest a documentary, Hunger for Profit, about multinationals buying up huge tracts of land in the third world. Its CEO denounced the content as "virulently anti-business, if not anti-American." [3]
    • On 12 November 2012, WNET broadcast Alex Gibney's documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream, a pointed exploration of growing economic inequality in America. The programme contrasted 740 Park Avenue, the home of billionaire industrialist David Koch and one of the most expensive apartment buildings in Manhattan, against the lives of poor people living at the other end of Park Avenue in the Bronx. Koch Industries is a huge energy-and-chemical conglomerate. Koch, the conservative industrialist, had given $23 million to public television and was on WNET's board of directors at the time. David Koch was given the last word in an on-air discussion after the programme aired.[4]

Periodicals

  • As a Deal with the Devil, media becoming dependent on paid adverts (thereby placing their meagre editorial autonomy at the mercy of advertisers) is Older Than Television. Long before New Media, it happened with TV, radio and (before that) with newspapers and magazines.
  • Campus newspapers are shoestring operations with limited budgets. Already vulnerable to student governments withdrawing funding or university administrators interfering with distribution, their heavy reliance on ad revenue is just one more chink in the armour. Even the local advertiser might not read the paper (as it serves only the campus), so a small but loud and well-organised campaign can easily pressure sponsors to pull their ads. For instance, a small group of lesbian feminist separatists could mount a campaign to contact every advertiser, claim to speak for all women and denounce a publication as "sexist, racist and homophobic"; the next week, that paper's page count will abruptly drop as half of the advertisers cancel.
    • In 2007, Central Connecticut State University's Latin American Student Organization organised protests against campus newspaper The Recorder. They boycotted the paper's advertisers in protest of a comic strip's depiction of a teenage Hispanic girl imprisoned in a closet and forced to drink urine. Their intention was to coerce student editor Mark Rowan to resign.[5]
  • And no, naming a small Pulaski County, Missouri newspaper the Uranus Examiner is not a good idea. It soon curtailed publication as banks declined to loan it money and many businesses wouldn’t advertise in it.[6]
  • A rare few periodicals managed to avert the trope by not accepting advertisements. This is a costly decision, and rarely done, with Consumer Reports (Published by Consumers Union · No advertising) being the most prominent example. It reviews products, so it must remain neutral. Parody magazines like Mad and Cracked historically did monochrome print runs with no ads (so Mad's parody of Consumer Reports was "Condemner Reports · Manufacturers hate us so we get · No Advertising"), although this stance was abandoned once they began losing ground in a big way to Internet and new media.

Web Original

  • TV Tropes, of course. See TV Tropes/The Situation and TV Tropes/The Second Google Incident for details about the process, in their own words.
  • Tumblr castrated itself in December 2018, giving its userbase two weeks' warning that all "adult" blogs would be shut down. It also published a list of what it now considered "unacceptable" content -- including any and all LGBTQ communities but not Neo-Nazi or White Supremacist groups. (And on top of that, Tumblr staff made a deliberate, concerted effort to block volunteer teams who were hard at work trying to archive as much of the doomed content as they could.) Prior to December 2018, one quarter of all Tumblr's traffic was generated by its NSFW content; another substantial fraction came from its supportive communities for alternative sexualities. Immediately following the announcement, users of every stripe began leaving Tumblr. Within two weeks of the announcement, the Staff account posted a desperate message trying to convince those reading it that things were not nearly as dire as they appeared and begging them not to leave the platform. Within a month, Tumblr's overall traffic had dropped by fifty percent and just kept dropping, to the point that as of May 2019, Verizon -- who had bought Tumblr to monetize it, and had forced its sanitization -- had begun desperately shopping for someone to take the site off their hands. It was sold to WordPress owner Automattic Inc. in August 2019 for pennies on the dollar. See our Tumblr page for a bit more detail. Also, the move only removed the most outward NSFW content and the appropiately tagged stuff: pornbots (automated blogs that post naked pictures and links to camgirls and call girls services) still run rampant but go under the radar because they are untagged or use extremely generic content tags (like the tags for foodstuffs or popular fandoms that many people in the site follow) that cannot be banned because of the actual legitimate content there, meaning that they cannot be as easily expelled as other NSFW sex-related content.
  • Wikia's crusade against Uncyclopedia, from the intrusive Content Warnings in 2012 (which caused a permanent split in the English-language community, now here and here) to their ultimately throwing twenty-two individual-language Uncyclopedia projects under the bus in 2019. Instead of honestly disclosing that the project still exists off-Wikia, they merely claim them to be "closed" in an attempt to keep (or divert) the traffic for themselves. There's a long list of other wikis destroyed by Wikia's efforts to delete any project which may offend advertisers; the problem has been growing worse since 2018 in the wake of advertiser backlash on other platforms, like YouTube.
  • The infamous Strikethrough and Boldthrough incidents on LiveJournal in 2007, where thousands of accounts were unilaterally suspended and deleted due to allegedly having "objectionable content" related with sexuality, a move that affected hundreds of fandom blogs (many of them from Slash and Lemon writers, but just as many of people who never posted anything objectionable and only had "Yaoi" or "Homosexuality" on their interest list), a literary discussion group for the book Lolita, and even some support groups for survivors of sexual abuse. While originally blamed on a Christian organization (with said organization taking credit for the take down, even) and framed as a crackdown on child porn content that accidentally went beyond the original scope, in retrospective it was obvious the purge coincided with their first attempts to attract ad revenue and with negotiations by then-owner SixApart to sell LJ to a Russian conglomerate -- 6A may not have orchestrated the purges, but they did get all the advantage they could get from the subsequent "clean up".
  • Tripadvisor had been "quietly deleting reviews that mention rape for years" – supposedly because it violates family-friendly policies. After widespread media coverage (NYT, Jezebel, Guardian UK, Business Insider, Mashable) the site moderated its stance slightly... but the fundamental flaw (that TA is a review site funded by ads from the very vendors being reviewed) remains.
    • Their excuse? "In the past, reviews mentioning assault did tend to get removed, for a number of likely reasons: being too graphic, making unsubstantiatable direct accusations against specific people, for being written in a way that wasn't relevant to travelers. Following some well-publicized issues re reviews on resorts with multiple reports of the same issues (doctored drinks, assault), TA implemented some new policies, including loosening the rules on discussions of these incidents and implementation of a warning notice on problematic listings."
    • Sadly, TA isn't the only "review" board sponsored by the very vendors being reviewed. Yelp sells ads to restaurateurs, then makes some less-than-transparent decisions to selectively remove reviews as allegedly being from shills or Sock Puppets. The inherent conflict of interest hasn't gone unnoticed (Inc, Forbes).
    • There are even a few sites on the web which "review" call girls – guess who buys the intrusive ads which pay the bills there.
  • OnlyFans, a online subscription platform known by its high proportion of adult content and which became popular during 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 lockdowns limiting conventional sex work, as of 2021 has been making moves that point out to minimize, if not outright ban sex content, in a quest to become more mainstream and get a higher valuation. They already had silently changed their TOS to limit what kind of sex content was allowable on the platform, as this Insider report explains. Things reached a climax in early August 2021 when they announced that they'd ban sexually explicit videos starting in October, only to drop that plan less than two weeks later after an uproar from both consumers and content creators. At least one article published in the wake of the turnaround suggested that OnlyFans had learned from Tumblr's fall and backed off lest they sanitize their platform into irrelevance.

YouTube

  • YouTube had some major sponsors withdraw in 2017 due to their ads appearing alongside "extremist content".[7][8] They responded by using automated algorithms to "demonetise" some videos (removing the ads) or place them into a "limited state" ("In response to user reports, we have disabled some features, such as comments, sharing and suggested videos, because this video contains content that may be inappropriate or offensive to some audiences"). They placed some content behind age restrictions and censored many videos entirely. Among the false positives: news footage from the Syrian conflict,[9] LGBTQ content,[10] historical information about the Holocaust,[11] and content about Nazism done in a historical, artistic or satirical context, such as gameplay videos of World War II video games or any mention of Hitler, Nazis or the swastika. Even other despotic figures such as Joseph Stalin are being demonetized as well. Authors attempting to appeal these automated decisions often find Google to be quite unhelpful.
  • YouTube's strict compliance to COPPA guidelines in 2020 caused a lot of backlash both from content creators of family-friendly children's videos, who contended that the demonetization would affect their livelihood and stifle interaction, and those who while do not necessarily make videos aimed at children, are still in some ways affected due to the automated flagging of content remotely resembling children's media. Heck, even adult cartoons such as Happy Tree Friends and legitimate parodies of children's content e.g. YouTube Poops are unjustly flagged as for kids despite their content being oriented more towards mature audiences. Similar to other videos pertaining to sensitive topics, restrictions are applied to videos marked as "for kids", albeit a tad stricter as not only you couldn't leave any comments to them, you are also unable to save them to a playlist, perhaps likely due to reports of pedophiles compiling playlists of children's videos for them to disgustingly lust upon.
  • Anthony Fantano, host of The Needle Drop, stated on a tweet that he had to discontinue his meme channel thatistheplan because his videos were getting hit with demonetization.
  • Noble, host of Lost Pause, kept getting demonetization on his Let's Plays of Ecchi Visual Novels, starting in early 2016. Old videos were targeted years after their release, and he received Community Guideline strikes, as covered on Drama Alert. His whole channel was taken down in March 2016, and was re-instated two weeks later. Since then, he switched video topics, going for more general Anime discussions, and does Let's Plays only on occasion.
  • A number of channels had to self-censor their videos especially those pertaining to sensitive subjects such as True Crime documentaries. One such channel is Anna Solves, who had to mince their videos' titles e.g. "The 18YO Model Who Was Viciously K*LLED.. Then Violated" likely due to fears of demonetization, even if the use of terms related to heinous crimes such as "rape", "murder", "stab" or "kill" aren't as taboo as those widely viewed as explicit or risqué unless used in a threatening or malicious context. Ditto with popular Filipino public service YouTuber Raffy Tulfo who also took a similar approach despite him and his brothers having gained notoriety in their native Philippines for their penchant for expletives.
  1. If only we could get rid of those users and just get the revenue without them...
  2. To be fair, the single largest (and most trustworthy) ad server on the web is Google Ads, which imposes severe restrictions on "acceptable content" for the sites it serves. If a site wants to host material unacceptable to Google Ads while still generating ad revenue, they must use smaller, less profitable services which may serve ads laden with viruses and malware, such as the likes of TrafficJunky whose niche is porn sites which mainstream advertisers wouldn't obviously touch with a ten-foot pole.
  3. The London Economist, cited in Noam Chomsky's Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, ISBN 978-0887845741
  4. Public television’s attempts to placate David Koch, Jane Mayer, New Yorker, 27 May 2013.
  5. Pressure kept up on CCSU newspaper, Matt Burgard, Hartford Courant, 18 Sep 2007
  6. Uranus Examiner ends publication, blaming judgmental people, Associated Press, 7 December 2018
  7. YouTube Loses Major Advertisers Over Offensive Videos, John Blistein, Rolling Stone, 23 March 2017
  8. AT&T and Johnson & Johnson Pull Ads From YouTube, Sapna Maheshwari and Daisuke Wakabayashi, New York Times, 22 March 2017
  9. A Brief History of YouTube Censorship, Jillian York, Vice (magazine), 26 Mar 2018
  10. To censor or not to censor? YouTube's double bind, Alex Hern, UK Guardian, 21 Mar 2017
  11. YouTube Wants to Fight Hate Speech. So it Censored My Educational Video About the Holocaust, Marc Schulman , Newsweek, 14 June 2019