Why Does Randall Rothenberg Still Have a Job?

If the rate of people who stopped eating corn tripled over a two-year period, would the head of the National Corn Growers Industry still have a job?  If 41% of Millennials decided to stop drinking coffee, would the president of the National Coffee Association be under any pressure?  If the National Football League experienced close to a 70% drop in attendance in just one year, would the commissioner of the league still be the commissioner?

The answers to these questions are obvious. So why, when consumers are blocking the serving of ads at these alarming rates, is the head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau still employed?

The IAB will say in defense that the ad-blocking issue is over-hyped, and then point to the annual digital ad revenue number of $50 billion as a way to dismiss any concerns.  The big lie there, of course, is that 43% of that total comes from search, which the IAB has had zero influence on -- other than cashing Google’s membership check.  



Here’s the truth: The online display advertising industry is a catastrophic failure because the IAB has condoned and promoted publishing behavior that has led to this ad-blocking epidemic.  Ad-blockers have given consumers a voice in the online ad world -- and that voice is loud, it is clear and it is filled with venom.

Track our behavior without our consent and serve “targeted” ads that make us feel stalked.  

Block you.

Serve us ads that cover up the inferior content we read mostly to kill time.  

Block you.

Force auto-play video ads down our throats, so we have to race to find our mute button.  

Block you.

Serve us flashy ads that slow down the page load.

Block you.

Allow anyone to buy ads through exchanges, so our computers get infected with malware.

Block you.

Serve us too many damn ads on a single page of content.  

Block you.

Ad blocking is not a universal media problem -- it’s an online advertising problem.  TV viewers give television ads a shot -- just ask Geico, IBM and Direct TV.  Moviegoers don’t sit outside a theater when ads are playing.  Magazine readers don’t turn away from ads when they turn the page.  Even radio ads get a listen.  Ad blocking is an online advertising problem we created -- and one we deserve.

A successful publishing formula has a pecking order. Consumer needs are paramount to those of the advertiser.  When this relationship is constructed that way, consumers accept advertising as part of this arranged marriage.  Instead, the IAB has promoted and supported ad policies that put advertisers on a pedestal and the needs of consumers in the servants' quarters.  Blocking ads is the consumer’s way of asking for a divorce.

In a few weeks, Randall Rothenberg will stand up in front of crowds during the MIXX Conference.  He will talk about all that has been accomplished, and will likely point to new challenges like ad blocking as blasphemous, and explain how technology will win this war.  He will wave to the crowd as if he’s won America’s Cup -- when in reality, he is the captain of the Titanic.

The irony of all ironies: At some point, the only ads that won’t be blocked will be impressions served to non-human traffic. That’s when our industry will reach its pinnacle of selling clients utter bullshit.

Ad blocking is neither a phase nor a trend.  It’s online display advertising’s destiny -- and the most pathetic part is, we chose it.

21 comments about "Why Does Randall Rothenberg Still Have a Job?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 10, 2015 at 1:21 p.m.

    Well said, Ari, but isn't there a chance that publishers and the larger industry entities will decide, at long last, to organize themselves like a legitimate ad medium, with strict rules about ad clutter, ad placement, ad visibility, sensible "tracking" practices, etc----before advertisers ---real advertisers who want their messages actually seen----decide that they had better stick with TV, despite its problems?Or am I just whistling "Dixie"?

  2. Ken Margolis from Ken Margolis Assocoates, September 10, 2015 at 1:47 p.m.

    Shalom Ari and l'shana tova, I am surprised that the editorial did not blame DVRs and TiVo ad skipping on Randy too, that would have made it worth the read for me. The Head of this dragon is fed by the revenue earned by the interests and revenue sources of leaders, companies and sponsors of the Funding sources of the IAB. I think Randy has many masters and tames the dragon well.

    While there are many, one initiative that watched unfold in 2010, 2011 with Randall Rothenberg and the IAB staff was well planned and had impact was the rally and fly-ins to Washington DC and the "I am the Long Tail project". I am not saying the outcome was good or bad but the plan and industry PR was well executed and its in support of the publishers, small business and the ad network food chain (

    I am glad Randy is in there with our industry that is filled with so may obstacles, vetting of campaign fraud and accountability and value of media. Since its inception the values of IAB's Board reflect its actions, initiatives and policies.  They say any press good or bad is good press, for business and the IAB any money is good money… While I want a better industry and products and am with Ed Papazian's comment, Ad blocking may just be the mother of inventions the creates the next wave disruptive technology that will add fresh funds to our mill and keep us employed and I am ready to see it roll in and build our economy.  
    Kind regards,
    Ken Margolis

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 10, 2015 at 2:22 p.m.

    Divorce, more like a permanent restraining order. Greed created this problem. And because that is party of human functions, only laws can control it whether we like it or not. In this case, the laws must be made internally in the media world and wouldn't bet on it. They put their hands into the mouth of an alligator and got bit. And the more M&A's, the more ads, the more rules wane, the more profit they make and more control they have over content, the more advertorial. Long live ad blockers until promises are made with no intention of keeping them, change your mind to lift them.

  4. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, September 10, 2015 at 2:47 p.m.

    My first reaction upon reading this is that the author may have misplaced a few important chapters of "How To Win Friends And Influence People".

    But setting that aside, is the criticism valid? I don't think so.

    First, "ad blocking is an online advertising problem we created" is BS. I'm the first to complain that most digital advertising is anti-creative and that publishers have cluttered pages with junk and javascript that makes sites all but unusable.

    These are good reasons to block ads. But in all human behavior, there are always the "good reasons" and then there is the "real reason".

    What's the real reason people block digital ads? It's (drumroll, please) BECAUSE THEY CAN.

    If an easy, "click-here-to-install" plug-in existed to block TV or radio commercials, does anybody seriously believe they wouldn't be used? I can guarantee that they would even be used during the Super Bowl, when in theory people "tune in to watch the ads". (Which is more BS, but I digress...)

    Advertising is always an unwanted guest and -- if we're honest -- it always has been.


    Advertising is the guy who corners you at a cocktail party to sell you life insurance. It's the telemarketer call during a romantic dinner. It's the fire ants at the picnic.

    None of that is Randall Rothenberg's fault.

    And none of that would change one bit if he took every bit of advice in this piece, and decided to use his bully pulpit to fight to the death against the tactics that work (albeit clumsily) for everybody in the ecosystem.

    Online advertising is thoroughly imperfect. I have a few billion ideas about how we can make it better. For example, radically fewer and shorter ads, sold at radically higher prices would be a good start.

    But in any case, Randall Rothenberg isn't the problem.

    In fact, I am positive the industry would be far worse off without him, than it is with him.

  5. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 10, 2015 at 4:45 p.m.

    @Tom -- not interested in winning friends.  What I have always been interested in is creating a publishing medium that is better off than when I entered it and that is just not the case at all.  My column today was harsh yet truthful and at the core is the IAB stance on privacy -- when this became a self regulated mission that was based on users "trying to figure out" how to opt out of tracking instead of making it an "opt in" for better more targeted ads -- the IAB threw consumers under the bus and now consumers are literally running away because "they can" and because "we gave them a reason to" -- Randall Rothenberg deserves the scrutiny I laid out in this piece.  It's nothing personal, but I grew up like many of you, in this publishing business and to watch our leaders ignore basic principles to chase short term revenue gains has been an insult to all of us so I do not aplogoize for insulting them back with this column.

  6. Chris Carter from AAM, September 10, 2015 at 5:11 p.m.

    Ari, this is obviously an ancient generational feud between those Rosenbergs who had a lisp and those that didn't.

  7. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, September 10, 2015 at 5:13 p.m.

    This is McLuhan's 'Law of Reverse' in plain view.

  8. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 10, 2015 at 5:40 p.m.

    All kidding aside Chris, this is not a feud.  Randall Rothenberg is a pro, a gentlemen, and he wrote one of the best books I have ever read about advertising "Where the Suckers Moon" -- but his publishing beliefs are misgiuded and he has steered this ship into the ground.  It's time we woke up to that fact instead of using Google's success as a cover up for our obvious blemishes as ad display industry and pretend all is well.  It's not. It's awful.

  9. Benny Radjasa from Armonix Digital, Inc., September 10, 2015 at 7:06 p.m.

    Moviegoers don’t sit outside a theater when ads are playing, yes its true because they are a captive audience.  Movie goers can only wish if cinemas start movie on advertise time so they can skip as much of the ads.  A class action lawsuit in 2003, illustrate this point, what if that law suit survive and the cinemas loss the lawsuit.

    IAB is comtemplating going for lawsuit against ad blockers.  Here we are at another crossroad. 

  10. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 10, 2015 at 7:11 p.m.

    "IAB is contemplating going for a lawsuit against ad blockers" -- Benny, that's my point -- IAB thinks they are at war with consumers instead of being in a relationship.  This can all be fixed so easily but instead they will fight and we all lose.

  11. Angelina Eng from Merkle, September 10, 2015 at 11:11 p.m.

    The issue I have with this article is that it implies that the IAB and Randall are responsible for policing and telling publishers and vendors what to do. But that's not what they do. They bring together industry experts to help set standards, identify issues and help to educate the people in the Industry about what we should be concerned about and through collaboration we all figure out solutions. They rely on membership fees and event attendance.  They are not in a position to tell publishers how to design and code their sites. They have no say in how ads are built or created. They provide guidance, best practices and recommend solutions but each organization is responsible. If anything, the tech vendors that publishers, advertisers and solution providers use are to blame for not making this a priority and protecting their customers from being victims of ad blockers and bit fraud.  Ad servers, content management systems, verification tools, site tech solutions need to step it up and figure out better tools to enable their customers to identify ad blockers and bot fraud.   The IAB formed the Tech Lab to enable organizations to cone together to help figure out how to combat, but they can only make progress if there are more participants that can offer up their time and expertise to do so.  

  12. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 11, 2015 at 8:35 a.m.

    Angelina, the IAB is in position to guide the industry and they did so with their efforts on DNT -- their guidance focused on helping the advertiser at the expense of the consumer and that's why we are in this position.  Your position/comment calls "publishers" victims of "ad blockers" and that's where you lose me -- if publishers respected site visitors from the very beginning, this would be a non issue.  Sure, some people would employ ad blockers anyway but the majority not but now all those pop ups, all those auto prerolls, all that tracking is all coming back to haunt us. 

  13. Peter Horan from Horan MediaTech Advisors, September 11, 2015 at 8:43 a.m.

    My first question is why MediaPost would allow you to waste perfectly good electrons with this nonsense. It makes less sense than most the the junk that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth. The reality is that under Randall's leadership online advertising has become arguably the first or second most important tool for marketers (TV is still there at the top). He was the first to talk about the importance of taking friction out of the system for planning and buying media. The IAB has helped to create structures and procedures that have enabled marketers to spend more and more money in online media. Onine ad revenues have grown from a small R&D budget to about a $50B business.  This has happened because of--not in spite of--Randall's leadership.  He has created strong working partnerships with the boards of the trade groups for advertisers (ANA) and agencies (AAAA).  The IAB has grown in impact and sophistication under Randall's leadership. He has also been a strong voice in Washington, DC for the online ad industry in front of Congress and regulatory agencies. 

    Like everyone else who has skin in this game, I am deeply concerned about ad blocking. It represents a fundamental break in the economics of media. However blaming Randall for this is like blaming the governor of California for the drought. I am also concerned about fraud and many other things.  And, I for one, have alot of confidence that under Randall's leadership the IAB will continue to create a better business environment for our industry.

  14. Mani Gandham from Instinctive, September 11, 2015 at 11:20 a.m.

    Actions speak louder than words, and it applies to this industry more than any other. Lots of talk but everyone's looking the other way when it comes to making that next quarter revenue look good on paper vs doing things right. In fact most of the companies and execs quoted on lots of the articles about "the future" are behind some of the most intrusive and questionable ad practices happening today.

    So the question is, as always, what's going to change? IS anything going to change?

  15. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 11, 2015 at 11:41 a.m.

    Amen Mani.  And @Peter -- I deserve your insult -- my column was abrupt to say the least but to say it has no validity is turning a deaf ear on the practices we have embraced as an industry that have greatly contributed to the terrible user experiences leading this ad blocking revolt. 

  16. David Brown from Strategic Media Associates, September 11, 2015 at 3:35 p.m.

    Bravo Ari, I think you make some very valid points.  The long term best way for publishers and advertisers to preserve and grow profitability is by taking better care of the customer experience.

  17. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 11, 2015 at 4:44 p.m.

    Thank you David.  This was a very difficult column to submit yet I stand by everything I said so I appreciate your endorsement -- I have received quite a few emails mirroring your thoughts and at the same time, comments above reflect a different perspective -- which makes this so interesting and frustrating as someone inside the industry.

  18. Adam Tuttle from _, September 11, 2015 at 5:06 p.m.

    Such a great topic. Its all about the easy money. The entire ad tech ecosystem was built for quantity not quality. As soon as it became more about volume and scale than efficacy or value, it was inevitable that we'd cut our noses off to spite our faces. The vast majority of fraud and annoyances happen via the programmatic channels. The vast majority of funding has been (wait for it) into the programmatic channels. The pipes, the processes the middlemen became more important than the medium. And guess what that did? It forced the hundreds of entities with giant funding to pursue volume and growth. Instead of sustainability, it was scalability. Instead of creativity, it was data mining and optimization. All the data in the world is meaningless if you cannot either get the consumer to pay attention or react... and that's where we are. In a world that valued quantity over quality and efficiency over efficacy.


    The IAB is not to blame but they are complacent. But they're a political org and this is a technical problem and never the two shall twain...


    The solution is coming but its not going to be driven by a trade org or by a shift into yet another metric. It will come by force and in this case, the ad blockers and Apple and Firefox are forcing the bad actors to adapt or die. I for one say good riddance as the overwhelming majority of ad tech players are simply parasites who exist solely for their own benefit.  

  19. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 11, 2015 at 5:09 p.m.

    Adam, I heart you.  Thank you for expressing so clearly what I, and so many others believe.  You are 10000% correct.  A+

  20. Edward Omeara from MediaHound, September 14, 2015 at 11:59 a.m.

    Wasn't Greg Stuart CEO of the IAB when he and Rex researched advertising performance variables, and published that wonderful but contentious book called What Sticks?  I suspect Rothenberg remembers it too.  Happily Greg resurfaced at the MMA gig refuses to dismiss data and research driven results.

  21. Barbara Lippert from, September 15, 2015 at 5:01 p.m.

    Sadly, users are taught to flick away online ads immediately, as if they are some sort of mosquito ( if they they have not already blocked them.) And they usually deserve the flicking. I like the idea of fewer ads served at a much higher cost. 

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