To block or not to ad block – a Hobson’s choice?
Ad blockers have been around for many years. They’ve been a thorn in the side of ad tech since the birth of the technology but recent weeks have seen an explosion of digital emotions prompted by Apple’s announcement that it has included a new web blocking tool called Ad Block, straight into the Safari browser on iOS9. Take up of iOS9 is expected to be swift and total, so any advertiser buying web ads, and any publisher who is reliant upon web ads for part or all of their revenue, will be concerned, worried, and probably very frustrated. But how will ad blockers affect the wider digital advertising landscape?
Blis attended ATS London this month, where a lively series of debates took place across a range of ad tech hot topics. A defining feature of ATS is the strong presence of advertisers, agencies and publishers, as well as the usual army of ad tech providers. Without doubt, the liveliest debate of the day was focused upon ad blocking. This debate also featured the bravest attendee of the day, as Roi Carthy, CEO of Shine, squared up against a passionate array of experts, in order to defend ad blocking.
Shine asks this thought-provoking question on the homepage of its website: “Who’s Monetizing Your Pipe?” Prosaic, but on point.
A number of views were aired at ATS, but the debate really came down to two options:
· Do we give consumers the choice to reject the revenue source of the free content they enjoy consuming so much?
· Or should consumers be forced to accept that free is not free, and content is paid for with attention and data?
Blis takes the view that the advertising model has done an extraordinarily fine job of keeping the consumer web free at the point of use for twenty years. Users have accepted the implicit contract that the presence of advertising enables news, entertainment, services, and apps of all kinds to be consumed by customers at no financial cost.
Anyone in the ad tech industry can see that there are a few key players who are likely to get burned as ad blocking hits the mainstream. But the real losers stand to be consumers themselves who install the software.
Because the rise of ad blockers and the attention that is focused on them right now has forced this question for content providers firmly out into the open:
“Will you, the User, block our ads? If you do, should we, the Publisher, in return block you?”
Advertisers and technology providers who are responsibly gathering more user data like location behaviour, and properly leveraging it to improve targeting are now in the driving seat. This includes a range of mobile ad technology providers, as well as the data platforms focused on connecting the dots.
Blis is a buyer of ads, and we run vital campaigns for our agency customers who want to pay for that content on behalf of the user. So, yes, we like ads, and we want ads to be available to interested users in as many places as we can. These ads must be good ads, well-designed and not overly intrusive to the user experience. The advertising industry has been in challenging situations before and has always overcome them with creativity and innovation.
Location equals relevance
Blis and the rest of the digital ad industry can play its part in this battle by making those ads as entertaining and relevant as we can, something we do by seeking out audiences whose location-based context suggests that they want to see our ad message.
This is what consumer are telling us! It’s no mystery that consumers widely prefer highly relevant ads to ads lacking personal context. A survey performed by the makers of one of the most popular desktop ad blockers, Adblock Plus, even suggests that 41% of ad blocker users would no longer feel the need to use blocking tech if ad content was simply deemed “relevant” to them.
If that user blocks our ad, we will find another user for our ad. The affected publisher though, has lost the money we spent. Millions of those blocked events per day across the internet means less money for publishers, less investment in their product, and a decline of content quality and quantity. This can lead, and has led, to the retreat of content behind a paywall, or simply to disappear altogether.
Each user faces a choice. Receive the ad, or block the ad. The choice made has a consequence, and users must be ready to accept that consequence.
Relevance is the key. Yes, the industry needs to continue to find the right ways to gather consumer data in a more transparent and transactional way to properly power that relevance. But if the world wants the information publishers share on the Internet to remain free, then more contextual advertising, that feels native, is targeted to consumers in the appropriate location and the right time, is in the best interest of everyone: publishers, advertisers, and consumers.
To watch the ATS debate on Ad Blocking, go here.
Tags: Ad blockers, Blis, Blis Data, Consumer choice, Data works, digital advertising, Hobson's choice, iOS Ad Block