Banner Ads Don’t Work on the Dark Web

The dark web may be one of the only places on the internet free from constant advertisements.

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Apr 21 2015, 10:25am

​Image: Everett Coll​ection/Shutterstock

Advertising and the internet are somewhat inseparable today. On many sites you visit, your activities are tracked to target advertising, and a steady stream of advertisements are likely to be hovering somewhere on your screen at pretty much any point.

One company, Grams (known for its ​dark web search engine), has attempted to bring this approach to the dark web, in the form of traditional banner ads plastered across the top of deep web sites. They call it "Tor Ads." However, it looks like the ads haven't had much success.

A Reddit user named "CannaJuice" took to the DarkNetMarkets subreddit to provide results of a recent advertisement. "Did anybody even notice?" the th​read started.

The ad looks like any other you're likely to see while browsing the surface web. A young woman stares suggestively at the camera, and stylish text blazons the poster-style banner. Except this model is advertising vape juice allegedly containing THC; a liquid for electronic spliffs.

According to CannaJuice, in 48 hours this advert—which didn't cos​t anything to set up—made over 13,700 "impressions" on dark web users and was clicked on 113 times. Of those who clicked on the ad, only a tiny percentage then went on to purchase a product, if any did at all. (These stats are provided by Tor Ads, as part of their service).

Compare this to the surface web, where display ads "only gain around 1 click every 1000 impressions," according to marketing​ training website Smart Insights, and perhaps the advert didn't perform that poorly after all. But while the dark web ad might have seen clicks, the vendors complained it didn't bring much business.

"During the time this ad was active we had seen only two (new) customers that conceivably 'could' have come from this ad," CannaJuice wrote.

In all, CannaJuice predicts the advert generated 0.2 bitcoin in revenue (just under $45 at today's exchange rates). "Obviously the results we achieved were less than stellar," the vendor wrote.

One of the reasons the Tor advert was unsuccessful could be because dark web users—who are encouraged to avoid using JavaScript and Flash, and to follow many other security tips designed to keep their anonymity—may be particularly wary of clicking on something that resembles a dodgy ad you might expect to see on the surface web porn site.

An administrator from Grams said that "the system still needs a lot of work," in an email. "I will continue to improve it when I get the time. Also one must remember just seeing an ad gets the vendors name imprinted in the users mind and may causes sales down the road to come in even when users don't go directly though the ad."

Reddit users had other suggestions as to why the ad may not have brought much business. "Ads are a legacy of the past," one wrote. "The future does not include the kind of marketing used to push people to make poor decisions."

"Rather than looking back to the technologies of the past (ads) I would look forward to what is coming. Perhaps there is a blogger or product reviewer who is widely read among your target market who you could get to post a review of your stuff?" the commenter suggeste​d.

Although traditional ads will continue to exist on the surface web, they do feel out of place on the dark web, especially when many of the markets have built-in systems for helping people make decisions about purchases.

Rating systems, where past customers can leave feedback for a particular item or vendor, are now commonplace, as are long, detailed reviews of particular batches of drugs. On the dark web, since customers aren't restricted to buying from a geographically close dealer, only those with the best customer service will survive, and a consistently good rating for high quality cocaine will likely generate more purchases than a generic banner ad.

For the moment, it appears that the dark web may be one of the only places on the internet free from constant advertisements.