Ad Block­ing is Not a Curse; It’s An Op­por­tu­nity

The Insider - - CONTENT -

Afew months ago I came across an ar­ti­cle (more of a rant ac­tu­ally) from the pres­i­dent and CEO of the In­ter­ac­tive Ad­ver­tis­ing Bu­reau (IAB), Ran­dall Rothen­berg, about ad block­ers. Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Rothen­berg, “Ad block­ing is rob­bery, plain and sim­ple. It’s time to dis­rupt the dis­rup­tors.”

It would ap­pear that the head of the IAB didn’t get the memo that the in­ter­net is owned by con­sumers, not the me­dia and mar­keters who have been treat­ing the web like a dump­ing ground for their dig­i­tal garbage.

On­line con­sumers to­day have the power to dic­tate what they want and don’t want. What they want is qual­ity con­tent (which in­cludes ad­ver­tis­ing) that is rel­e­vant and adds value. What they don’t want are the mil­lions of in­tru­sive, low-qual­ity ads that pol­lute their on­line ex­pe­ri­ence with abysmal page load­ing, ex­ces­sive data track­ing, se­cu­rity loop­holes and pre-roll Flash at­tacks.

It’s not like Rothen­berg and the IAB didn’t see it com­ing; ad block­ing has been used for years by web-savvy, early adopters. Sure,

the av­er­age con­sumer didn’t make the move to clut­ter-free back in 2012, but it was just a mat­ter of time. Un­for­tu­nately, due to the in­dus­try’s ar­ro­gance or com­pla­cency in not deal­ing with the per­va­sive­ness of a poor ad­ver­tis­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for users, time has run out.

Ac­cord­ing to their web­site, “The In­ter­ac­tive Ad­ver­tis­ing Bu­reau (IAB) em­pow­ers the me­dia and mar­ket­ing in­dus­tries to thrive in the dig­i­tal econ­omy.” Let’s take a look at what “em­pow­ers” means.

How can the IAB pos­si­bly em­power their in­dus­try on­line when all the power on the web be­longs to the users? Smells a bit like false ad­ver­tis­ing to me.

Now they’re off try­ing to de­velop tools to un­block the block­ers – a “too lit­tle, too late” Band-Aid so­lu­tion if there ever was one.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by Page Fair and Adobe, there are close to 200M peo­ple us­ing ad block­ing soft­ware to­day. In the US, ad block­ing grew by 48% in just 12 months; glob­ally, it’s grow­ing at a rate of 41% yearon-year. It’s es­ti­mated to cost the in­dus­try US $10.7B in 2015 in the US and a whop­ping $20.3B in 2016 ($41.4B glob­ally).

Why wasn’t the IAB pay­ing more at­ten­tion to ad block­ing’s po­ten­tial im­pact on their in­dus­try and do­ing some­thing proac­tive to mit­i­gate its risk? Why weren’t they set­ting stan­dards for on­line ad­ver­tis­ing that would help en­sure an en­joy­able web ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one? Where was/is their vi­sion?

To­day’s in­ter­net has be­come a cesspool of crap and con­sumers have had enough – hence, the es­ca­la­tion of ad block­ing by the masses at a global scale. If the IAB wants to help its mem­bers, it needs to start treat­ing the root cause of the prob­lem, which is the ram­pant abuse of the in­ter­net by their mem­bers. They helped cre­ate this mess and they need to clean it up.


“Ad blocker” is re­ally a poor name for tech­nol­ogy in­tended to im­prove the user ex­pe­ri­ence on­line. Ads aren’t hated by con­sumers; in fact, in many in­stances ads are as im­por­tant to read­ers as the ed­i­to­rial con­tent around which they live.

This “Vogue Ef­fect”, very com­mon in the mag­a­zine world, also ex­ists in other me­dia. Su­per Bowl ads are watched by mil­lions of peo­ple, many of whom aren’t even foot­ball fans. Qual­ity ads de­liv­ered in a non-in­tru­sive way are not only tol­er­ated by con­sumers, they are sought out by them.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Nielsen study, 60% of con­sumers on av­er­age trust ads in news­pa­pers and 58% in mag­a­zines. In­ter­est­ingly, mil­len­ni­als show the high­est lev­els of trust in both of those me­dia types.

How­ever, dig­i­tal ads fair much more poorly, not be­cause of they are dig­i­tal, but be­cause their im­ple­men­ta­tion se­ri­ously de­grades the on­line and mo­bile ad ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ac­cord­ing to Mer­riam-Web­ster dic­tio­nary, em­power means: - “to give power to (some­one)” - “to give of­fi­cial au­thor­ity or le­gal power to (some­one)”

Ran­dell Beard, pres­i­dent of Nielsen Ex­panded Ver­ti­cals ex­plains, “While ad­ver­tis­ers have started to fol­low con­sumers on­line, about a third of on­line ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns don’t work—they don’t gen­er­ate aware­ness or drive any lift in pur­chase in­tent. As con­sumers are in con­trol of how they con­sume con­tent and in­ter­act with brands more than ever, un­der­stand­ing ad res­o­nance across screens is the only way to suc­cess­fully drive mem­o­ra­bil­ity and brand lift to­day.”

Ad block­ers would never have seen the light of dig­i­tal had pub­lish­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers put the au­di­ence first when it comes to con­tent (ed­i­to­rial and ad­ver­tis­ing) and user ex­pe­ri­ence across all plat­forms.


While I have lit­tle con­fi­dence in the IAB ac­tu­ally do­ing any­thing to help their mem­bers stop the bleed­ing, there is still hope for pub­lish­ers and their ad­ver­tis­ers in to­day’s con­sumer-con­trolled dig­i­tal world.

Em­bed “Cus­tomer First; Qual­ity Al­ways” in your DNA

I’ve said it be­fore, but it’s worth re­peat­ing... If pub­lish­ers treated the ads on their sites as they do their ed­i­to­rial con­tent, the in­dus­try would not be in this predica­ment. By ig­nor­ing the

ba­sic law of economics (sup­ply and de­mand), ad­ver­tis­ing has be­come com­modi­tized due to an over-sup­ply of plat­forms and ad space. No won­der CPMs are so low.

To at­tract and re­tain the in­ter­est or your read­ers, trash those flashy, auto-play, band­width-steal­ing, in­tru­sive and pri­vacy-in­va­sive ads peo­ple ab­hor and start em­ploy­ing al­ter­na­tive ad for­mats they’re more likely to en­joy.

Putting qual­ity be­fore quan­tity in ad­ver­tis­ing will mean less in­tru­sive ads and a more invit­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for users, which will equate to higher CPMs for pub­lish­ers.

Go na­tive

I’ve been an ad­vo­cate of HTML5 for years, con­fi­dent it would even­tu­ally re­duce the need for na­tive apps for pub­lish­ers. But with the per­va­sive­ness of ad block­ers on mo­bile now, na­tive apps have been given a sec­ond life.

It’s no co­in­ci­dence that Ap­ple killed the News­stand and launched Ap­ple News at the same time it in­tro­duced ad block­ing for Sa­fari on iOS. In its ef­forts to dom­i­nate the iOS ad mar­ket, it made sure that pub­lish­ers were left with few al­ter­na­tives to mon­e­tize their con­tent on the mil­lions Ap­ple de­vices in use to­day and long into the fu­ture. Sure pub­lish­ers can add their con­tent to Ap­ple News and share ad rev­enue with the tech ti­tan or they can cre­ate their own apps and own all the ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue.

How­ever, just be­cause ad­ver­tis­ing in na­tive apps is pro­tected from ad block­ers, it doesn’t mean pub­lish­ers can con­tinue to abuse read­ers with a poor mo­bile ex­pe­ri­ence. One in four apps is aban­doned af­ter a sin­gle use be­cause they don’t give users what they want.

Don’t com­mit app sui­cide – give read­ers all the con­tent they want (which in­cludes en­gag­ing ad­ver­tis­ing) the way they want it. Be­cause you’ll never get a sec­ond chance to make a great first im­pres­sion.

Dig­i­tize gloss

Glossy ads are still a mag­a­zine’s best bet when it comes to en­gage­ment with read­ers. But as men­tioned in my ar­ti­cle, Time to bring sexy back to the pub­lisher + ad­ver­tiser mar­riage, glossy ads in web and na­tive apps need to be en­hanced with non-in­tru­sive mul­ti­me­dia and in­clude fea­tures that en­cour­age shar­ing, sav­ing, com­ment­ing and “click to trans­act” ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

In­vest in out­stream video ads

Ac­cord­ing to BI In­tel­li­gence, mo­bile video con­sump­tion in­creased by 50% in the last year in the US and will ac­count for 41% of to­tal desk­top dis­play-re­lated spend­ing in 2020.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties in video are huge. Click-through rates are much higher than any other ad­ver­tis­ing for­mat, es­pe­cially on mo­bile. So let’s not screw it up.

There are two types of video ad­ver­tis­ing for­mats that are in use to­day. The most com­mon is in­stream ad­ver­tis­ing where video ads are placed within a tra­di­tional dig­i­tal video player. These ads are heav­ily tar­geted by ad block­ers be­cause they are of­ten im­ple­mented in an in­tru­sive, “in your face” way.

The sec­ond is out­stream video ad­ver­tis­ing which plays video out­side a tra­di­tional player. These videos are less sus­cep­ti­ble to block­ing be­cause they re­side within or be­tween ar­ti­cles, news­feeds, or slideshows al­low­ing read­ers to eas­ily swipe them off the screen like they would any other con­tent.

Out­stream ads are gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity for many rea­sons, not the least of which is their higher av­er­age CTR – 8.9% over In­stream’s 0.62% (ac­cord­ing to Teads State of Out­stream Video Ad­ver­tis­ing 2015 report).

Out­stream ads also garner higher CPM rates (be­tween $20 to $45), out­per­form in­stream ads in build­ing un­aided brand aware­ness and are less dis­rup­tive. There’s lots to love about out­stream if im­ple­mented with “cus­tomer first” in mind.

Con­sider dual busi­ness mod­els

I’ve been a satel­lite ra­dio sub­scriber since 2004 be­cause ter­res­trial al­ter­na­tives have too many ads and don’t play the mu­sic I love. I am very happy to pay for qual­ity con­tent and ad-free en­vi­ron­ment and mil­lions of oth­ers are as well.

A quar­ter of Spo­tify’s 60 mil­lion users are will­ing to pay ~$10/ month for a bet­ter ad-free lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Hulu has re­cently in­tro­duced an ad-free paid con­tent op­tion and Google is fol­low­ing suit with a $10/month ad-free YouTube Pre­mium of­fer­ing.

There’s no rea­son why mag­a­zine pub­lish­ers can’t of­fer some­thing sim­i­lar.

Of­fer qual­ity branded con­tent

There’s been a lot of buzz about branded con­tent lately, with many pub­lish­ers di­ver­si­fy­ing their busi­ness and of­fer­ing con­tent mar­ket­ing so­lu­tions to their ad­ver­tis­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group (BCG), the branded con­tent mar­ket is ex­pected to grow to over $25B by 2020.

In a re­cent study, the con­sult­ing firm sur­veyed 4,500 peo­ple across mul­ti­ple mar­kets and de­mo­graph­ics and re­ported these key find­ings:

The vast ma­jor­ity of con­sumers have en­coun­tered, en­joy and seek out branded con­tent

Con­sumers who search for branded con­tent report a higher affin­ity for the brand and are more likely to make a pur­chase

For those con­sumers who dis­like a brand, branded con­tent mag­ni­fies their dis­like

Con­sumers are giv­ing me­dia prop­er­ties per­mis­sion to play in branded con­tent, but just like ed­i­to­rial con­tent, the tone and style are crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of the con­tent

BCG also claims that branded con­tent can drive a pos­i­tive con­sumer trust in the me­dia com­pa­nies that par­tic­i­pate with those brands – pro­vid­ing a “halo ef­fect” for pub­lish­ers.

Mag­a­zines are a nat­u­ral fit for qual­ity branded con­tent that en­gages read­ers. 70% of mar­keters are ex­pect­ing to in­crease their branded con­tent this year; this is an op­por­tu­nity mag­a­zine pub­lish­ers don’t want to miss.


The IAB is wast­ing time and money pro­mot­ing un­block­ing so­lu­tions and launch­ing use­less le­gal ac­tion against ad block­ing com­pa­nies; their tac­tics will only re­sult in en­gi­neer­ing wars on the web and pad­ding lawyers’ pock­ets in the courts.

Say­ing ad block­ers are anti-com­pet­i­tive be­cause they are tak­ing rev­enues away from pub­lish­ers is like the record la­bels ac­cus­ing Ap­ple for killing their lu­cra­tive CD in­dus­try. And we know how that turned out!

For ev­ery per­ceived poi­son (i.e. ad block­ers) the im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion is to search for an an­ti­dote (i.e. un-block­ers). But that doesn’t cure what ails you.

The se­cret to a healthy fu­ture and bot­tom line is to make your dig­i­tal prop­er­ties im­mune to ad block­ers by serv­ing up con­tent and ad­ver­tis­ing that en­gages read­ers rather than en­rag­ing them.

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