Commentary

The Ad-Blocking War Will Leave Us Stronger

Tech innovation is a blood sport, and the fight for digital ad quality and deliverability has taken center stage in the minds of many advertisers, publishers and ad-tech providers this week.

With the arrival of support for ad-blocking software in the popular Safari mobile browser, the debate about the ethics of ad blocking has grown louder. Ad blockers are not new in advertising and the sky is not falling — though it seems things really could be changing.

The real question in the back of everyone’s minds is, “Whose proverbial stock is on the rise in the wake of iOS support for ad blocking, and who’s positioned to lose?”

So instead of soft-shoeing around that issue like so many other pundits out there, I’m taking the question head-on. Here we go.

Who Stands to Lose?

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.

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The analysts at Civic Science gathered research from a representative sample indicating that 54% of the United States population believed themselves to be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to install an ad blocker on a smartphone or tablet. Civic Science responsibly issued its report with caveats indicating that the actual impact would likely be much lower, but the App Store ad blocker download spike confirms that a chord’s been struck.

A wave of increasing mobile and desktop ad blocker adoption will sink those heavily invested in mobile and desktop display advertising — both the buyers and the sellers. Advertisers entrenched in that game, and ad-tech companies supplying everything from cookie tracking all the way to the demand side platforms (DSPs) at the heart of delivery may already be in over their heads.

Who Could Win Big?

Advertisers and technology providers who are responsibly gathering more user data and properly leveraging it to improve targeting are now stationed in the driver’s seat. This includes a range of mobile app ad technology providers, as well as the data management platforms (DMPs) focused on connecting the dots.

But there’s more to the winners’ story. The truth is, the vast majority of display advertising is spam. Most of the time, the ads we see as we traverse the Web are being targeted in broad strokes. In many cases, they’re not being targeted at all; instead they’re being served to imaginary users that fit publishers’ typical visitor profiles.

It’s no mystery that shoppers 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.

The Big Winners Will Win Through Native Relevance

I believe 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 in the best interest of everyone: publishers, advertisers, and consumers.

Today, the most transparent exchange of personal data for personalized experiences is happening on native social  platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. They all provide clear personal value to their users in exchange for varying levels of relevant, contextualized information. They protect that information and obscure it appropriately before sharing it with advertisers. They have earned the trust of billions of global users — and they lend that trust to their advertisers in powerful ways. Native social advertising, which has mobile audiences in spades, is now more than ever the winners’ domain in digital.

Not every ad-tech provider and advertiser  is ready or able to make the leap to native relevance. Many are married to the first generation “spray-and-pray” model of advertising, and we’ll see more casualties as this blood sport takes its toll.

Meanwhile, 100% of the more than 1.25 billion Facebook mobile app users can still be reached natively, without any sign of ad-blocking technology on the horizon.
So, advertisers, thanks for reading. I guess I’ll see you on Facebook, or Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest. I think you get the idea.
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2 comments about "The Ad-Blocking War Will Leave Us Stronger".
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  1. Michael Snow from Intermarkets, Inc, September 24, 2015 at 2:04 p.m.

    Everyone is going lose if the issues around ad annoyance and ad blocking are not resolved.  Even social networks who rely heavily on content from publishers that it's users share.

  2. Kenneth Hittel from Ken Hittel, September 24, 2015 at 4:49 p.m.

    You're taking this "head-on"? Then why am I not seeing the name Google in this piece? Isn't this what ad-blocking on Apple's Web browser really means -- blocking Google-served ads (& of course lots of others as well, though they are merely contingent casualties)? 

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