A site I happened upon in the early 2000s while browsing around PBS Kids was one I still think of from time to time, one called “Don’t Buy It”. It was a site that focused on getting kids to think twice about advertising. Typically, PBS networks don’t have advertising other than for their own shows, or this segment before or after a show that highlights specific sponsors, as well as the Viewers Like You (thank you). Of course, being a site from the early 2000s, it’s no longer up, since in addition to not fitting whatever the current site aesthetic is, it occasionally depended on some old web plugins like RealMedia and occasionally Flash on some pages. However, if the URL <pbskids.org/dontbuyit> was thrown into the Wayback Machine, and a snapshot between 2003 to 2010 was picked, you can still see most of the site just fine, just that certain downloads may be broken as is the case with these snapshots.
Something to note right away is that this PBS site about advertising has ads. However, these are all weird parody ads, that when clicked, open a pop-up to tell you why you shouldn’t click them or what the attempted message would be. They even encourage you to download all of these old GIF banners and… I guess put them on your own website? Maybe intending to link back to their site?
Going deeper into the site, there’s several pages about advertising itself, mainly things like the techniques used and how brand marketing creeps into the general culture, and then of course tells the target teen audience to “get involved” somehow. This latter part is mainly described through sending emails or letters to a company or government official, participating in some Adbusters-promoted holiday that involves not doing a thing, or putting certain stickers on ads. The effectiveness of those approaches is in question, as Adbusters themselves can be. You could do… something, maybe, but part of this ad-awareness mentality is reminding one of the ability to think for yourself, so you’d have to decide on the best course of action.
Depending on what pages you can actually load, you can see how much hasn’t changed at the core of things over the space of a couple decades, and research elsewhere runs even deeper. The products change, usually, but the marketing is about par for the course. There’s even parts about how photographs are taken and edited regarding food and models, patriotism used as marketing, and there’s also some underlying theme against media violence, including video games. Something to note when there’s a strong presence of non-violent games being popular now, even at the moment this post was written (I’m thinking of the likes of Animal Crossing, Fall Guys, and Spiritfarer specifically, for only a few recent examples), or at least having very minimal violence which is more possibly cartoony and unrealistic and causes no actual harm to anyone in the game. If it is present in some games, it’s with an angle that indicates how it’s a bad thing, often in more indie stuff. But there’s still Call of Duty, of course, which will probably exist until the end of society, even if it somehow caused it through some contrived series of events. Supposedly it sometimes has a message about how war is bad, but then has non-stop multiplayer focus.
What I do remember most, though, aside from there being weird banner ads, is something that allowed you to make your own ad by replacing the text on an existing real-world ad. I think I got the most enjoyment out of this function from the whole site, mixed with juvenile humor regarding bodily functions, which is still a popular thing online. I remember editing the text of Mario and Tang ads specifically, claiming the latter was made of monkey waste products due to the presence of chimpanzees in the advertising. I know it existed, and after enough digging around in source code as I usually do when I try to look for things intently, I found it in some 2003 snapshot, along with digging up a couple other Flash files of similar kinds with purely fictional brands. I figured it was just deeply hidden on this site, as there weren’t many anti-advertising sites I browsed back in the day, as I really wanted to just focus on finding the latest Flash games involving Digimon or Sonic or even Kirby sometimes. If not those, then maybe check out some of the latest advergames on Neopets to get the points to get the food for my cartoon dragon, and realizing things cost way too much on the market so just settling for omelets. Maybe the activity was later hidden or removed due to complaints from… advertisers?
Generally, with the intense presence of ads online lately, and there being an effective necessity to have an extension that blocks the ads to be able to actually use a website, plus when said ads tend to promote harmful mindsets and products and possibly the abandonment of free thought in general to install a totalitarian regime that nobody knows how to overthrow because they weren’t able to think about anything but what they’re told, I still think back to this site and its attempted messages. I also think about how it’s not live anymore, but there should certainly be good alternatives, maybe not as attacking toward video game violence as much in the face of lootboxes and the related things that steal parents’ credit cards, and throw something in about political campaigns as well, or those primal reaction super-targeted ads that are run by foreign entities in some attempt to probably cause a Red Dawn scenario eventually. Maybe just have a whole section on how to avoid social media and instead make your own website for your very own conspiracy theories to live instead of just sharing some other person’s ramblings.