The ad blocking phenomena really is the first time consumers ever had a voice about their web experience, says The Washington Post's Jeff Burkett during a panel session at the 4As Transformation Conference in Miami earlier this week.
"No one really cared about the user," says Burkett. "Finally we have to pay attention to it and create better experiences that resonate with users. Which ads annoy users and [then] do the best to eliminate those."
There is a reason this problem exists, according the participating panelists. "When you see how people talk, it is usually about extreme cases" such as the website with 50 ads, says Google's Vegard Johnsen. Yet intrusive ads and pop-ups give all advertisers a bad name.
It only takes one bad experience for a person to install an ad blocker, which takes an average of 17 seconds to download. And the fundamental problem is that they are extremely blunt tools, says Johnsen. They are "sticky" meaning the same browser with appear automatically across all platforms. And after that one bad encounter, all ads are eliminated "no matter how wonderful 95% of the ads are," he says.
What you hear, unfortunately, is that the people who install ad blockers say they had no choice, says Johnsen. "At this point we already lost them. We don't see big billboards [promoting these ad blockers]. They learn through referrals" adding that it is easier to install one than explain reasons not to do so.
One key problem in overcoming ad blocking is finding consensus among those impacted by the technology. It needs to be addressed with a broad multi-front task force focused on improving the customer experience and convincing them it will be a better experience, says AOL's Ernie Cormier. Unfortunately, "the industry is no good at coordinating multi-faceted programs across systems."
Many agencies thought it was a publisher problem, says Burkett. "What we are seeing with advertisers is that we were being forced [to provide] intrusive ads to get the buy. And the pressure we get at the agencies is extremely high," he says. At least with ad blocking, publishers are able to resist being forced to use intrusive creative. "Finally ad blocking is a metric we can push back and agencies are listening to that. Before it was you are off the buy."
Most of those installing ad blockers think of only their own personal interests, protecting their privacy and negating agitation. "Most consumers don't go to websites that show messages about how we make money," says PageFair's Jim Hirshfield. "They don't think their actions are changing the economy."
There's also the unintended consequence of blocking all communications. Burkett says there is no way to discuss these matters. "With ad blockers, they block out communications about the value exchange. We can't get to them to say maybe you should subscribe."
One bright spot is that ad blocking right now is a computer problem. It's harder to get ad blockers on the phone.