Ad blocking: could it spell the end of a free internet?

Publishers, advertisers and consumers have their own skin in the game when it comes to the use and proliferation of ad blockers. Like everyone else, I am deeply concerned about where the industry stands and, more importantly, what needs to be done to reconnect with disgruntled and disgruntled consumers.

The rapid adoption of ad blockers is a direct response to our industry’s persistence in using outdated and outdated advertising practices, which don’t work, and in many cases never did. The result is a collapse in the media economy. Consumers are turning off ads, reducing publishers ‘revenue, and hurting advertisers’ sales prospects. But everyone already knows.

So how did we get into this mess?

Once upon a time people bought magazines and newspapers because they valued the editorial content offered. The ads were part of the revenue model and were not intrusive from the reader’s perspective. Some were even entertaining. Just turn the page and continue.

The advent of digital publishing meant for many that the old models were unsustainable and that prompted a move towards digital advertising to fill the economic gap. Sadly, this created a vicious cycle in which the entire advertising ecosystem shifted over time from quality to quantity goals, with almost everyone losing the place of the consumer experience. Volume and scalability became the buzzwords and technology, as always, was developed to support them. Huge investments have been made in everything digital – programmatic, DSP, DMP, networking, exchanges, native, and more – which with no change in product quality means the same annoying and unwanted ads. Combine that with privacy and performance issues – it’s clear why ad blockers are proliferating massively. Additionally, the industry appears to be blind to or unconcerned that the vast majority of fraud occurs through the use of programmatic channels. This blind approach has created a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps consumers from wanting to see ads: Enter ad blocking. Today’s business drivers have been more focused on short-term revenue gain; money for money, at all costs. It’s more about cost reduction than creativity. It’s more about data mining than consumer privacy. It’s more about volume and scale than creating great experiences and value for the consumer.

The sad truth is that many still have their heads in the sand. The implicit permanent contract between the publisher and the consumer; viewing and enjoying my content in exchange for viewing my ads has been fundamentally broken, and perhaps forever. The erosion of ad revenue is accounting for the not-so-slow death of the very economic model that was wrongly thought to save the publishing industry. For the Internet to remain free, a major course correction is required. And everyone in our industry must stand up and be counted, not just an enlightened few.

What to do? A two-pronged tactical initiative plus a transformation strategy

In short, our industry needs to get back on a path that changes consumer attitudes towards advertising; One that ends the meddling of current and often considered questionable advertising practices in use today. Doing so will start a process that will ultimately eliminate or greatly reduce the need for consumers to trust ad blockers in the first place. The answer lies in a radical change in attitude and action:

1. Open communication channels with current ad unit users

It is a fact that there has been little to no dialogue between publishers and consumers using ad blockers. As a result, publishers have no real idea why their site crashes, how many times it happens, and what revenue losses they are incurring. And from a consumer perspective, all ad blockers offer is a binary decision to block or not. It is an “all or nothing” proposition. Now publishers have the opportunity to make “good use” of technology.

To interact directly with ad unit consumers visiting your site, you need tools that identify when an ad block is occurring and which ad blocker is being used. Then you need to provide two-way communication and dialogue with ad unit users through rich messages that allow publishers to start changing consumer behavior and provide readers with a wide variety of alternative options through configurable options. defined by the publisher. These tools should then expose what works and what doesn’t to optimize the consumer experience and measure the impact of publisher choices consumers are willing to make and quantify what choices consumers made, including whitelisting conversions over time. over time.

Some more fortunate premium publishers like the New York Times and the Washington Post don’t have to worry about ad blockers, as their content cannot be fully accessed without a paid subscription. Others, including GQ and Slate, detect ad blocking and message readers to disable your ad blocker or pay to access content. These practices may or may not work well for them, but for many other publishers they don’t have that luxury. These new tools help the less fortunate to figure out what their response to ad blocking should be. One point of caution that publishers should be aware of is that giving zero access to content can be just as damaging as doing nothing. It can, and has been seen, increase the level of animosity against publishers and stifle every reason to have the site in the first place. But in the scheme of things, these tools are just tactics. They will not resolve the underlying cause and effect on their own.

2. Shift to transformational advertising

This is where all of our efforts should be strategically focused. It’s clear that the same tired use of banner and display advertising is killing the industry, exacerbated by its enormous programmatic proliferation. Consumers’ use of ad blocking is a loud siren, if need be, that the entire ad ecosystem needs a root and branch transformation.

It’s true that consumers view ads that use high-quality video or image media much more positively. But on their own, they are not transformative, and in the end, ad blockers don’t discriminate between “good” and “bad” ads. They block everything or they will block everything in their path.

Many people now rave about native advertising as the white knight of our industry. But here too there are thinking errors. Obvious shortcomings are overlooked driven by convenience in the rush to pass judgment. Today, many of the so-called native ads that conform to the appearance of a web page and integrated into the content stream are simply banner ads in disguise. By clicking on them, consumers leave their intended experience and go to some other website where they did not want or expect to be; more interruptions and more of the same old annoying advertising tactics that got publishers into the mess we find ourselves in today. Sure, properly done native ads will be a key part of the transformation, but there’s a lot more to do first.

The pillars of true transformative advertising lie in 3 key principles. First, consumers must be allowed to stay within their intended digital experience. They must be provided with content and better experiences, wherever they are. Second, the entire nature of the ad content should be reviewed. Consumers must be informed, educated, and genuinely engaged in the experience if they want to stay. So your ads should be intriguing stories, packed with relevant content that they can interact with and act on in a single experience. This cannot be achieved with just text, a video, or an image. And consumers will decide if their needs are met by higher participation and conversion rates, whatever that is. The third element, and the most crucial, is that the change must be transparent in recognizing the power of the consumer. When consumers realize and accept that their needs and interests are truly respected, ad blocking should be a thing of the distant past.

But how do we get there? I hear you cry The answer comes in two parts. We must use the advanced technology that is available to us, but now for the greater good, to bring amazing new experiences to the consumer instead of using it to damage that relationship as we do today. Solving the quality problem also opens the door to using automation and programmatic channels in a more meaningful and responsible way. But technology can only help us through the nuts and bolts of ad creativity, production and delivery. The biggest mountain to climb is a total change in current thinking. You have to realize that the use of common advertising models puts the survival of the industry at stake. The time to pay attention to this growing crisis is over. It is time to stop talking and start asking if a free Internet is to be in our future.

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