Annoying Ads Will Be The Death Of Publishers

The recent explosion in conversations about ad blockers shows that the public’s discontent with digital advertising is a major problem. Interestingly, most of the comments I have been reading about ad blockers focus on their impact on consumers and on the advertisers: Ad blockers are bad for advertisers, who “lose money” by paying for ads that are not shown. Consumers suffer because they have to put up with advertisements that interfere with whatever it is that they are doing.

But what about publishers? Some have pointed out that ad blocking is bad for publishers because it can cut one of their major revenue sources. Others have complained that the publishers’ focus on revenue is at the root of this problem, because in their desperation to generate advertising money, they are pummeling readers with unwanted, intrusive, distracting ads. But ultimately, do the publishers really suffer as a result of annoying ads?

The answer is a resounding “yes.”



A few months ago I wrote about a research experiment that was able to quantify the economic cost of annoying ads. That particular experiment focused on the immediate, negative impact of annoying ads for publishers.

I now believe that greatest danger of such ads for publishers is the long-term damage to their brands — and the impact this will have on traffic, reader loyalty, and ultimately on their survival.

Several years back, I was involved with a predictive analytics project for a large telecommunications company. We aimed to explore strategies — a combination of prevention and intervention — that would minimize the impact of viruses on mobile devices.
At the start of the project, I mentioned to our client my surprise that they would put so much effort into a problem that was entirely due to the hardware and software, which they did not control. The client pointed out that, unlike personal computers, where consumers blame the hardware or software manufacturers for viruses, in the wireless world consumers blame the carriers. For instance, if my mobile phone stops working because of a virus, I am more likely to blame Verizon or AT&T than I am to blame Samsung or Apple, or even Android or iOS.

In my opinion, a similar situation exists in digital publishing. If I am reading a digital publication and I get really annoyed about an ad, I will instinctively feel annoyance toward the publisher, not toward the brand.

In the last few months I’ve noticed a few publishers that do excessively aggressive advertising, and I've put them on my blacklist. This includes one that uses long pre-roll ads on videos with no opportunity to opt out after a few seconds, and another publisher that auto-plays video ads with the audio on. I know exactly what publishers they are — and I avoid them like the plague.

I believe that I am not alone in this sort of behavior. We form emotional associations with brands on the basis of our experience, and these associations become stronger with repeated exposure.

The repetitive bad experience in the case of annoying advertising rests entirely with the publisher, not with the advertiser. The unwanted audio or the unstoppable pre-rolls will showcase different brands — but the publishers forcing these annoying ads upon me remain the same, and my dislike for them will grow.

15 comments about "Annoying Ads Will Be The Death Of Publishers".
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  1. Steve Baldwin from Didit, September 17, 2015 at 3:53 p.m.

    This is a very strange situation. Advertisers and publishers know very well how consumers feel about advertising. Hundreds of articles are written about the issue. Everybody passes the "blame buck" to somebody else. Everyone watches and nothing gets done. There's a real "deer in the headlights" feeling in adland right now and I hope the next article on this issue comes from The Onion, because this situation couldn't get much more absurd than it is right now. Sometimes I wish the ad industry had a Trump- or Putin-class "strong man" to knock some heads together. But that's just dreaming -- this nightmare is one for the fully conscious.

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, September 17, 2015 at 5:34 p.m.

    As a publisher who page count is in the 8 figures a month, the current bigger problem is not the the ad blockers but Google.  Google started to make very unreasonable demands to tell publishers to redesign their websites and to reduce the total number of banners.  Their goal was to speed up page load speed. Google called me 3 years ago and not only demanded to take down ad location on our front page but also said to take down a competitor banner. Yes, that is more than wrong and illegal but they did it.  Then when I didn't take down the extra banners Google reduced my AdSense revenue by over half, loaded up with junk ads and reduced our first page/first spot Search rankings to page 20 or lower.  Worse at the time to redesign a complex website cost a ton of time and money due mainly to the CSS.

    So if you think ad blockers are a problem, think again.  The real elephant in the room is Google.

  3. Benny Radjasa from Armonix Digital, Inc., September 17, 2015 at 6:37 p.m.

    Ad blockers, block all calls to the ad servers IP address and or domains, not just the assets (banners and video).  Which means impressions are not being counted, so advertisers do not actually lose money or have to pay for impressions that were never delivered.  They do however lose the opportunity to engage with prospective audience, but the publishers loss are greater in such circumstances.  WeWe, the advertising community needs acknowledge our misstep and provide better products.

  4. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, September 17, 2015 at 8:02 p.m.

    I had stopped reading a few websites -- Washington Post, most specifically -- because their site and stories were taking SO D@MN LONG to load it was ridiculous. Since installing ADBLOCK and UBLOCK, it's made a world of difference, the latter even more than the former. 

  5. Benny Radjasa from Armonix Digital, Inc. replied, September 17, 2015 at 9:15 p.m.

    WaPo load time was bad indeed, but I have to give them the credit of acknowledging that, and doing something about it.  They finish their redesign 3 weeks ago and their load now is now reduced to 1 second.  Read more about it here:

    They build their own publishing suite to achieve this and  plans to license its technology as a software-as-a-service offering.

  6. Mark Moran from Dulcinea Media, September 18, 2015 at 2:26 a.m.

    I emphatically agree that many former hallowed publishing brands are essentially forfeiting their goodwill built up over decades. To me, the most profounder destruction of brand value comes from selling clicks to services that recommend articles on other sites, usually of the "12 hottest wives of NFL players" variety. It astounds me to see the number of sites I once revered aceding to this schlock to chase a buck. I am in a position of recommending websites to educators; I dragged many of them onto the Internet 7-8 years ago, convincing them there was nothing to fear in letting their students roam the web. Increasingly, I am having to tell them their fears were warranted, that the web is a cesspool.

  7. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc. replied, September 18, 2015 at 7:08 a.m.

    @steve, you are spot on. It's almost like a comedy, except that it's sad to see the effect it has on everyone.

  8. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc. replied, September 18, 2015 at 7:09 a.m.

    @Craig, I agree. I have commented in a previous post that Google is laughing all the way to the bank. By cementing their position as intermediaries they are immune from the criticism even though they make more money from digital advertising than everyone else combined.

  9. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc. replied, September 18, 2015 at 7:11 a.m.

    @Benny - good points. I had not thought of that. But I wonder if that is true in the case when measurement is done by third part vendors like moat?

  10. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc. replied, September 18, 2015 at 7:13 a.m.

    @Thomas - I tend to agree with @Benny that their site design probably had as much to do with the load time as the ads themselves. I saww a study recently showing that the actual load time on most sites does not vary significantly with and without ad blocking. Javascript/HTML5 allows you very simply to specify any item as asynchronous, which means it will not hold up the loading of other items on the page. However, sometimes I do see that poor site design leads to the page changing while you are reading it as more ads are loaded, which can be very annoying.

  11. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., September 18, 2015 at 7:15 a.m.

    @Mark, the Outbrain/Taboola model is like a cheap drug. They guarantee revenues to the publisher, which in the short term seems like a great deal. The recent shift to revenue-driven publishing organizations unfortunately tends to force managers to ignore long-term effects. And just like most drugs, the addiction is hard to kick.

  12. Dan Romanchik from Web Publishing Group, September 20, 2015 at 8:34 a.m.

    Ironically, an annoying ad popped up as I was reading this article.

  13. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel replied, September 20, 2015 at 2:40 p.m.

    Our audience has shrunk 70% our revenue down 2/3rds we ar a 100% editorial web site ...the number of ads should mot be the directory's busisness...if the contednt is relevant, unbiased, helpful and honest Google should have no say in the number or placement of ads...

    Our average click throiugh rate is almost 2% and has been for almost 20 i guess that our adience like what we are doing...

    Adveritsers that keep grinding prices have only themselves to blame when there are no places on the web to reach their potential customers...Buh Bye

  14. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel replied, September 20, 2015 at 2:45 p.m.

    there is no gaurantee to publishers ..the Per click or CPM charged these vultures should not be worth the risk of destroying what has taken years to taboola or othjer shit on our site... hmmm if they would pay a meaningful CPM just have them e me..

    Alaways wabnted to oogle at the 10 most beautiful wives of Tuna Wars 

  15. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 9, 2015 at 7:33 a.m.

    Greed precludes commerce.

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