Un-neighborly: Ad Blocking in Park Slope

UnneighborlyGrumpy laminated signs are uglifying the gorgeous architecture of Brownstone Brooklyn. “Do not deface my property with your disgusting advertising,” they seem to say. “Let me deface my own property with this churlish plastic billboard.” The most subtle sign is postcard-sized with a giant NO! — flyers, ads, menus — but you can get a lawyer-worded 5″ x 7″ placard that is “technically compliant with the new Anti-Flier Law” with each letter 1 inch tall.

It’s part of the hard bigotry of non-commercial aspirations. We listen to public radio, support environmental groups, recycle our leavings. Overt money grubbing is for the hicks in the sticks. (Although plenty of residents make their living in media occupations.)

But it’s un-neighborly. The offensive print doesn’t come from Halliburton or Dow Chemical, it’s from the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker — local businesses who sell food, home repair, car services and locksmithing. The worst offenders may be supermarket coupon books, but that’s because the folks who once appreciated the cents-off groceries have been priced out of the neighborhood and $5 celery from Norway is more fashionable.

Advertising — not predatory marketing, behavioral targeting, huckstering or deceptive selling — is an important part of running a business, a basic human activity since the first prehistoric souq on the banks of the Tigres and Euphrates. For the businesses down the block, better to give some kid a few bucks to walk the stoops than to pay for a direct mail campaign with addressing and postage and handling costs that are, in a word, unsustainable.

But the adblockers are gaining ground, making it harder to make a living. Last year, 12 states were considering some form of “Do Not Mail” legislation to keep print ads out of the mailbox. There’s already the federal “Do Not Call” list to stop ads on the telephone — except from politicians and non-profits. And in response to no-cost spam, only 74.57% of email messages make it to the average U.S. in-box through all the various spam filters.

I’m not writing in favor of junk mail, telemarketing calls or spam. But consider: there wouldn’t be any ads if people didn’t buy from the messages they get, however odious the medium. At some level, advertising works, and it’s essential to the way business gets down. The intrusion on our attention and the clutter have to be balanced in the grand scheme of things.

All I’m saying is that we should give our neighbors a little leeway, not be so hard on the smallest companies trying to make a buck when times are tough. Who knows? We might even learn about something we’d like to buy.