Instep Today

When the ads come marching in

By Amina Baig
Sun, 02, 24

Would you rather pay for an ad-free experience, just put up with it, or decide after considering the consequences of both?

When the ads come marching in

Advertising has to be one of the most fascinating industries in the world. It is heartbreaking, soul-crushing, super-rewarding, and both highly capitalistic and actually kind of woke at the same time. If you know people who work in advertising and marketing, you’ll find that these are some of the people who work hardest - not just to pay their bills or roll in revenue for their agencies - but also to make sure their brands get the kind of market awareness they need to sell, while somehow exercising their creativity, and perhaps slipping in positive messaging for the audience. It’s a lot of work.

For our friends and family in marketing and advertising alone, we would put up with all the ads in the world, even the ones on YouTube. Even the ones that masquerade as skippable, but have recently started segueing into a ‘next’ ad, which you can skip after a few seconds. Very clever, and so very annoying. At the same time, pushing us to subscribe to YouTube Premium makes us a little mad too. Why do we have to pay for the privilege of ad-free content? On YouTube, which actually sometimes throws in ads in the middle of a song, perhaps to nudge us to start paying for the service. We haven’t caved yet. And there are several good reasons for that.

When the ads come marching in

A lot of us aren’t watching YouTube for long-form content. We’re watching it for the music, the music videos, smaller clips from different shows, and yes, for creators. So if an ad about a food delivery service pops up in the middle of a clip of Saturday Night Live, or Akbar Chaudry video, or Miley’s shade at Liam at the Grammys, that’s just fine. For gamers, if it comes on during a long gameplay session they want to catch from a gaming creator, they’re okay to sit through it too, if annoyed.

Then there is the fact that some of us actually grew up with an analog YouTube, better known as a VHS tape. If you don’t know what that is, please ask your grandma, I guess. The way those guys used ad placements was, to say the least, innovative.

The videotape business in Pakistan was just booming in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when our in-cinema options were often just the three or four jatt/gujjar films that would go up. Sometimes - like once every couple of years - you’d have a Hollywood movie if it was particularly spectacular. Mission: Impossible, Titanic, Jurassic Park. One is particularly fond of that last one, as one is clearly a dinosaur too. But all true jokes aside, if you check the release dates of these films, you will realize that this wasn’t exactly a regular occurrence. If we wanted to watch anything besides Shaan romancing Saima, we had to rent movies.

Now for Hollywood films, we had the world-famous Pulse Global doing us the favor and legally printing and distributing movies, which were ad-free. There might have been movie trailers at the beginning, but as the last Pulse Global print one rented was like three whole decades ago, memory fails slightly.

For Bollywood and more lowbrow international cinema, you had to still turn to pirated prints. This is where local distributors probably made their millions, because boy, were those full of ads! And nothing was sacred. You could have Aamir Khan telling Madhuri he’s her ideal lover because…and be cut off by an ad for Pakistan’s most reliable ceiling fan. A demon snake could slowly be letting the woman it had been gestating inside for months know that she was basically screwed, only to be out-creepied by an ad for Pakistani sweaters, featuring the world’s most godawful lady clown with pigtails as she frolicked with kids.

So you see, ads don’t bug some of us. We’ve seen every version of sponsored content since the dinosaurs walked (in Jurassic Park), and we’re okay to sit through some more. And if you’re thinking, well, you were just fast-forwarding some of those ads on video weren’t you, let us tell you that sometimes you didn’t want to forward too far, and then rewind, and risk getting the tape ribbon caught up in your VCR, okay?

When the ads come marching in

When cable television took over, cable operators also added their own channels to the mix, where you could vote for movies to be played, or find a channel that played only Salman Khan’s entire filmography to date, or released Bollywood movies before anyone could say pirate! Cable TV companies too though needed to increase revenue, so friends, a lot of ads came on through our 50th viewing of Bobby Deol’s fabulous Bichoo or that one Bolly remake of The Wedding Singer with Salman Khan and Rani Mukherji. And these you couldn’t forward. You also couldn’t help but become acquainted with all manner of locally produced beauty creams and guthka.

If we can sit through decades of that, surely we can sit through one GoDaddy ad.

Now here’s the thing. If Pakistan’s digital creator economy is actually expanding, and we assume that letting the ad-ful content be our default is benefiting these creators in any way, we are sorely mistaken. Look, you can hate what seems like an extortive attempt to get you to subscribe to a paid model, and you can then as an extension of that thought think the revenue model YouTube offers creators is a little extortive too, but sometimes we have to take all the stakeholders into account.

First, there is you, the viewer. Quite simply, while actually moving to a paid subscription isn’t going to entirely save you from being marketed at, it will definitely nix actual ads popping up when you least expect them. Also, one of the things we’ve all always wanted for our YouTubes is for them to be able to play in the background, which is a convenience you can pay for now.

Then, there are the creators. And while it does seem on the gently mercenary side of YouTube to do this, ad views from their content don’t make them a lot of money. However, they do earn a bit more from Premium subscribers, with the split being something like 55% in their favor (although that isn’t huge, revenue between creators literally gets divided down to cents). But okay - if this is how your favorite astrologer, comedian, TV or fashion critic is making money, maybe you want to support them better. And we do need the creators.

In Pakistan, where one has to censor oneself in order to not get into trouble - and the trouble really varies in intensity and nature - online platforms are often where people have been able to express themselves best. Think of all the comics and musicians and journalists you have discovered through their various social media, including on any video streaming platform. These are the people who have said, shown, sung, joked about, the things one would wish could be aired on television, where it could be viewed more widely. But we will take alternate channels when we have to.

When the ads come marching in

What is slightly unpalatable about the paid subscription is the fact that while it offers creators higher revenue, and viewers a smoother UX, there are sponsored videos, where there will be in-video sponsor mentions, which may just crop out of the blue. There could be a sponsor shoutout at the beginning, lasting a few minutes, which one can skip ahead of, or the creator can ‘chapter’ so viewers know where to skip ahead to, although some sponsors will bake not doing that into contracts. Also, once sponsors enter the picture, some subjects, words, visuals and jokes become off-limits.

This is the point where you decide what you value more. Is the ideal world one where just the cost of living doesn’t force us to censor ourselves? Is it one where both creators and audiences don’t feel coerced into resigning to certain models? Or is it one where both actually, truly have the right to choose?

Is the ideal world one where just the

cost of living doesn’t force us to censor ourselves? Is it one where both creators and audiences don’t feel coerced into

resigning to certain models? Or is it one where both actually, truly have the

right to choose?


We support creators: Everyone from Osman Khalid Butt to Eva B found their start on a streaming platform, and they’ve all done some incredible work.