Another week another report on the disastrous impact ad-blocking could spell for digital publishers future revenue. It appears that everyone is out there blaming ad blocking companies for this apocalypse or creative people for creating bad ads instead of taking a hard look at themselves. The simple fact is consumers have punished the industry for taking their attention for granted.
My personal view is that just as advertising is the price you pay for bad products, ad blocking is the price you pay for bad ads. Ad avoidance is not a new consumer behaviour – we’ve always tried to avoid advertisements (on TV) and had the option to vote with our remotes.
Yet Television has survived because you don’t see the same ads repeatedly in one viewing session, they are generally of a better quality and there’s a limit to the number of ads per break. I think the online industry ought to have shown similar restraint when the floodgates opened in the last decade and revenue started to flow into online media.
The online display model has an inherent flaw because CPM is the currency, which makes delivering impressions a priority. This pressure has led to bad practices like invasive ads, pop-unders, poor frequency capping, auto-play pre-rolls, pop-ups, overuse of bad re-targeting rules etc. that have driven customers to ad blockers.
On the other hand publishers like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn are thriving and not just because they can exert more control within their walled gardens. Their ads are standardized (no jumping pop-ups or jarring animations), fit seamlessly within the content stream and are innovative (Canvas, carousels) etc. Not surprisingly these are technology companies that do user experience well.
I agree that Adblocking is a serious issue – one that could kill off small independent publishers whose only income stream is advertising and maybe even bloggers who rely on Adsense revenue (Fark). That’s not good for content, writing skills and society in general. Also because ad-blockers are dumb and rely on filters-lists, they can inadvertently block content and less disruptive ads as well. It is also unfair that some ad-blocking companies run an ‘acceptable ads’ program and make money by charging publishers to be white-listed.
Publishers have hit back by restricting users with ad-blockers and in some cases demanding micro-payments to continue accessing content. I am personally skeptical that all of those ad block users are going to take the trouble to unblock sites when they could simply find the same news elsewhere or worse still find a way around the restrictions.
The initiative I am most positive about is from the IAB which has started its L.E.A.N.ads program to address ad blocking. Bad ads – and I mean the experience not just the design have put publishers in the predicament they are. While ad blocking primarily affects the sell-side i.e. publishers selling inventory, media agencies need to find solutions because we need strong publishers with quality content so we have great environments to place our clients ads.
I think as the ones who understand consumers best we need to get on the front foot with leading our clients and creative agencies on better creative. Better ads for me are those that are personalised with user information, optimised to the screen they are presented on and relevant to the contextual environment.
The solution is for all stakeholders to come together and develop a strategy that wins back the attention of online users. I’d like to see some consensus around how many and how those impressions are served on a page. Secondly let’s invite consumers to give the industry feedback and vote on existing formats by level of intrusiveness and usefulness.
This may result in fewer ads but more loyal and returning users who reward the best online experiences with their attention, thereby helping publishers secure advertising income and funding for content.