An Ad blocker is a blunt instrument. They treat all ads the same, regardless of quality, source or context. Arguably, the notion of defining “acceptable ads” could be equally blunt in its application, given the likelihood that such an approach will fail to account for the context in which ads run or how such an acceptable ad system is itself funded. The reality is that the issue of ad blocking is nuanced, as demonstrated by the range of views expressed on a diverse panel on ad blocking hosted by Personal Data NYC (PDNYC) November 11.
Frederic Montagnon, CEO of Secret Media, expressed frustration commenting that “Ad blocking is black and white and it is not fair that this is the way it works because there are those investing money in doing things the right way.” On the other hand, author and journalist Doc Searls pointed out that ad blocking is an unsurprising response by consumers to the ways in which ad tech has influenced the course of online advertising. And Digital Content Next CEO Jason Kint said, “It’s accepted that there’s a problem, and it’s serious.” However, it was clear from the discussion that not everyone is in agreement on how best to address it.
Panelists included Montagnon, founder of Secret Media, technology that helps publishers create advertising that circumvents ad blockers; Jim Hirschfeld, SVP of Sales & GM Americas at PageFair, a company which provides both analytics to allow sites to measure how many visitors block ads as well as an advertising system that displays ad-block friendly ads to ad blockers; and Brendan Riordan-Butterworth, director of technical standards at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which recently put forth its LEAN standards (Light, Encrypted, Ad Choice Supported, Non-Invasive Ads).
In the years that he’s been tracking the growth of ad blocking, Riordan-Butterworth said he’s seen things shift from an idealistic phase to one “where the capitalists are running the show.” In particular, he points to “intermediaries who have inserted themselves in between the audience and the publishers—and then ask them for money,” which he likened to highway robbery.
Hirshfield pointed out that publishers have to monetize their audiences in some way and said he doesn’t hold out much hope for the efforts publishers have made to appeal to their readers to turn off blockers or pay “because ad block installations are orders of magnitude higher than their conversion rates.” Kint, who made it clear that he is concerned about solutions that may trigger a “tech arms race” said he’s seen DCN members testing a range of approaches, but emphasized that any solution needs to focus on the consumers “who are sending a clear signal that there’s an issue with online advertising.”
Searls pointed out that one of the issues consumers have is with unbridled tracking — citing the unexpected veracity of a recent Onion article, “Woman Stalked Across 8 Websites By Obsessed Shoe Advertisement.” However, he emphasized the relative youth of the internet and his belief that with continued experimentation, the industry can find effective answers. He was not alone in expressing the view that there needs to be a movement away from the type of digital advertising that relies upon tracking for targeting towards one that is includes more evocative brand advertising (think classic Madison Avenue campaigns). “The notion of the right ad for the right ad for the right person at the right time is absurd because most of us aren’t buying things all the time,” he said. “But brand advertising sends an economic signal. When I watch the ball game, I’m not going to buy a truck. But GM knows it’s worth showing me the ad.”
Kint pointed out that to date, “TV has been the only great medium for brand advertising because of its scale. If digital can figure that out, and deliver great ad content that changes minds and effects emotions at scale, that will mean something.” And he reinforced that this is an issue that can’t be addressed by assigning blame. Rather, it is one that requires all affected parties—brand marketers, advertising agencies and media companies—to apply innovation and creativity to creating solutions that support the industry and satisfy consumers’ expectations.