Publishers - Repent Now And Stem The Ad-Blocking Tidal Wave

Blog about ad-blocking and the response is usually fairly predictable. Evangelists of blocking software or browser extensions are usually very quick to point out two things. Content is cheap, get over it and if ads were less bothersome, we wouldn't block.

On the first point, the ad blockers are so wrong it is hardly worth engaging with the point. Are there people out there who think writers and video makers -- in fact, any kind of creative worker -- do their job for free and are given coins in a magic cup left overnight by arts-loving fairies?

On the second point, however, there most certainly is a case to answer. Only this morning I was reading the usual excellent coverage at Press Gazette only to find it was, at the same time, as annoying as ever. It's one of the many news sites -- The Telegraph and The Times are occasional transgressors here too -- where a viewer selects a story only to find they are presented with a video. This morning's Press Gazette feature about some football clubs banning some news groups from games and press conferences -- how crazy is that? -- was a particular low point. A video played the best part of a minute after the page was opened, only I couldn't find it. It was, as is increasingly the case, hidden away at the bottom of the screen.

When found, and paused, it simply went back to playing another ad. The truly amazing thing is that I had the sound turned off on my computer. So how a video managed to play with the sound turned off is beyond me. However, I would estimate hunting for the hidden frame probably ensured it was in frame for two seconds and the ad would have been deemed viewed.

The other truly crazy ad experience on Press Gazette this morning was a pop up -- yes, they are still going strong -- which appeared over the copy and of course, scrolled down with my scrolling down to get past it to the read the story. A glance to the top right only offered an Ad Choices logo with no 'X' to close the box. A quick click on the logo and I was redirected to an Ad Choices page. Hit 'Control+W' to close the window and the whole tab disappeared.

It's an extreme case, but the experience of selecting a piece of content only to find a video ad blaring away, uninvited with audio automatically on, is now an everyday occurrence for anybody who consumes content online. As audio blares out, we have all done that desperate search for a tab with a speaker mark to find out how to keep our computer quiet at work or surfing on the couch or, even more embarrassing, on a train catching up with the news in a 4G area.

Clearly a balance must be struck. Those not living in fairyland realise that content is not cheap and it must be paid for. Those who are a little more savvy know that on-site display advertising rarely covers its cost, and so publishers are forced to go to ever more extreme measures to grab our attention. S, I don't know about you, but I think an unwritten agreement has been reached. Ads are best out of the way but if the content is good we understand that someone like Forbes will put up a full-page "interstitial" ad we can skip before getting to the article. It's not ideal, but we stomach it because we understand the free content for attention deal. Just like the YouTube ad you can skip, these formats at least give us a degree of control.

What really is not on are hidden video ads that play and blare out audio from a secluded part of the page, particularly when we have not selected video content but rather a written piece of content. They are hidden away purely with the intention of making us seek them out and ensure they remain on screen for two seconds so they are logged as viewed and charged for.

In fact, anything that covers the content we want to see, or shouts over it, should be avoided -- but if a publisher is so desperate to give an advertiser our attention, it needs to offer us some control and a clear way of getting through to an article without having our eyes confronted or our ears blasted.

The irony is that publishers are not seeing the full picture. They might make a few more bucks in the short term but in the long term all invasive advertising does is turn users into ad blockers.

There is a clear difference between interruption and invasion, and the answer is common sense -- which as well all know, is not always that common.

3 comments about "Publishers - Repent Now And Stem The Ad-Blocking Tidal Wave".
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  1. Steve Baldwin from Didit, August 6, 2015 at 2:22 p.m.

    Ad-blocking is now becoming a security best practice, especially given the revelations about how Yahoo was taken over last week by innovative ransomware developers. Leaving your mobile device over to unknown advertisers is a game of Russian Roulette, and yes, there are a lot of chambers, but once ad-blockers start making the cyber-security case in earnest it's going to be very difficult for the ad tech vendors to rebut it in the court of public opinion. 

  2. Will Clayton from Wiland, Inc., August 6, 2015 at 4:02 p.m.

    "Ad-Blockers - Repent Now And Stem The Content-Blocking Tidal Wave"

    I'm just kidding.  Though it is technically simple to accomplish, and I have been talking about it off-and-on for fifteen years with publishers, I have yet to see a single website withold content from browsers that can be demonstrated to be not rendering ads.

    Consumers just have the upper hand, and always will, and generally should.  Maybe if clicking a link consistently produced the thing promoted by the link this would be a simpler issue.

    Good article -- thanks!

  3. Christopher Weakley from Virgo, August 13, 2015 at 2:20 p.m.

    I use one browser at work, where I need to avoid the "hidden video playing loudly" scenario. I have an ad blocker enabled on it at all times. At home, where noise is not a problem, I use a different browser -- but I still use an ad blocker. In both cases, when a site that I like and trust asks me (politely) to disable the ad blocker, I do so.

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