Commentary

Ad-Blocking Horse Leaves; IAB Closes Barn Door

Have you heard? Online ads are annoying. People are installing ad-blockers at an epidemic rate. It’s a crisis, not only for advertisers but also for the entire economic ecosystem underpinning the Internet. We are semi-unintentionally undermining the entire foundation of the Web world.

But of course you know this already. Everyone has heard this. Except, apparently, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which has only just been brought up to speed -- and let me tell you, its principals are stunned.

But, to their credit, not defensive. Disheartened and apologetic, the IAB has taken immediate steps, first to acknowledge and then to rectify. Acknowledge: The Bureau’s blog post addressing the issue (for which I owe a hat tip to my MediaPost colleague Joe Mandese) begins, “We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.”

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Rectify: “Today, the IAB Tech Lab is launching the L.E.A.N. Ads program… L.E.A.N. stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads… [W]e must also address frequency capping on retargeting in Ad Tech and make sure a user is targeted appropriately before, but never AFTER they make a purchase… Additionally, we must address volume of ads per page as well as continue on the path to viewability.”

True. And true. People tend to hate ads that are distracting, interruptive and irrelevant. We much prefer ads that are non-invasive, ads that are useful to us, that answer questions, solve problems, scratch itches.

But I suspect the IAB team is about five years too late. In August, Pagefair released its annual ad-blocking report. Some interesting statistics are to be found therein, such as the fact that ad-blocking is estimated to have cost publishers nearly $22 billion during 2015. Such as the fact that there are now 198 million active ad-block users around the world. Such as the fact that ad-blocking grew by 41% globally in the last 12 months, and over 48% in the U.S.

So now, just for a moment, imagine that you are not the kind of person who would read this column. Imagine you are one of those 198 million, someone who has gotten sick and tired of having their Internet experience degraded by the invasiveness of the paid content. Imagine you are not the kind of person who has heard of the IAB.

Will the Bureau’s L.E.A.N. standards matter? Within the next year, five years, 10, within the next however long it takes to first agree on the standards and then roll them out, another few hundred million people will have given up, will have installed ad blockers themselves and severed the contract of my-monetized-eyeballs-for-your-free-content. Do you think those people will uninstall if we tell them that the ads are better now, we promise?

Or has the horse already galloped off into the sunset?

12 comments about "Ad-Blocking Horse Leaves; IAB Closes Barn Door ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 16, 2015 at 11:26 a.m.

    Perfectly correct, Kaila. But, to be fair, did anyone really expect the IAB---mainly an industry promotional organization, not a watchdog----to lead the charge?

    Yes, the horse has left the barn, but the major ad sellers are the ones, in conjunction with the larger advertisers and ad agencies, who will have to take the lead---and fast, before it's too late. "Industry-wide" comittees, and endless techincal discussions are fine but take way too much time and almost always end in compromises that render their verdicts almost useless. The important decisions should be made about what constitutes "ad visibility", how many ads per page, whether or not there are limits on "tracking"---and what limits, etc. first. Then, it's the technicians job to execute them, not the other way around.

  2. James Hering from The Richards Group, October 16, 2015 at 11:54 a.m.

    Fix the ad experience issue, then out-tech the ad blockers.  If there is value in content, the viewer has to pay - one way or other.  Nothing in life is free - even digital content.

  3. Jason Kint from Digital Content Next, October 16, 2015 at 12:04 p.m.

    That's right, Ed. We're working on this representing the 70 premium publishers.  All of our brands have a direct relationship with consumers and advertisers that is built on trust. Like with our fraud research last week, we need to continue to define and reconfirm that to the marketplace each and every day.  We've written plenty on this over the past year and we're being thoughtful on how to meaningfully address the issue.

    Billions of dollars went into ad tech without any incremental value to consumers. Not retargeting them after purchase is a no-brainer (although I do note it's not technically easy and any solution tied to even more tracking through digital fingerprinting will be a "face palm").  Consumers haven't been given proper consideration and they're speaking out.   It's a big and accelerating problem.   Solutions aren't simple but they all lie in a conversation with the audience and addressing their needs (privacy, security, performance) not in the tech alone.  I am 100% certain a tech arms race is not what we need.

  4. Jason Kint from Digital Content Next, October 16, 2015 at 12:06 p.m.

    ps the barn door hasn't moved an inch yet. it's still absolutely wide open. cute headline, though.

  5. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, October 16, 2015 at 1:18 p.m.

    Kailia aka my favorite writer on Mediapost (sorry Joe), perhaps you caught my column a few weeks ago titled "Why Does Randall Rothenberg Still Have  job?" -- I sure wish I had your tact and grace but we get to the same place -- what I fear most now is not Randall Rothenberg showing up at my door and kicking me in the shins -- but rather I think to your point, we aka the IAB and others in the "biz" are focused on getting back the people who have downloaded ad blockers instead of preventing more in doing so -- the latter is the right strategy the former is doomed to fail -- just like Nike who can't convert a consumer once they have turned 13 and have chosen their "athletic brand" -- we must focus on those who have NOT yet made the choice to block ads and not the people who already have...

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 16, 2015 at 5:11 p.m.

    Like the sign in the store: Lovely to look at. Delightful to hold. Once you break it, we mark it sold. They all created and sold and bought the onslaught. Now, they own it.

  7. Rick waghorn from addiply, October 18, 2015 at 11:19 a.m.

    All very interesting.

    I first spoke on 'bottom up' advertising models at NewsInnovation.com at CUNY in 2007; on a revenue panel alongside the likes of BlogAds, OpenX etc... For whom it was all very simple; from the top of your tech stack down, you blasted your brand message at the little folks. Who sat there dumbly, waited patiently for the pre-roll video to run its course and received your brand message. 

    Of course, the little folks are now revolting. If they weren't deemed that already... 

    They are turning your world upside down. And, to me, it's a huge question mark as to whether a RTB programmatic ad sales interface can be house-trained sufficiently to deliver an ad experience that is useful, relevant and helpful to me... Or whether a machine will continue to cock a leg on my user experience when the dollar is right.

    And if that's the case, I will block you. Time and again.

    People should read Clay Shirky's seminal essay on the Collapse of Complex Business Models this weekend and take to heart what Joseph E Tainter argues re the collapse of complex societies when one tribute too many is pulled out of a system all too short on reward.

    And what do humans do when such complex societies collapse? We build again. Simply. Locally.

    And from the bottom up...

  8. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, October 19, 2015 at 1:19 p.m.

    Ed, Ari, Jason et al,

    A large percentage of people still browse and research for purcahses on phones and pcs, then make the purchases in store. Ad targeting comes into play during the browse, especially if it takes place over a time interval rather than in one user session. So, once the old fashoned purchase (i stor) is made, the consumer will be just as annoyed by aggressive retargeting. How does the industry deal with that, where there is no online purchase to record? We can't get to 100% accuracy in this situation.

  9. Jason Kint from Digital Content Next replied, October 19, 2015 at 2:41 p.m.

    agree.  me, I would spend my time on efforts that will bring consumer trust back. Any focus on smarter (re)targeting is likely to be a bad use of time and energy. It will result in more of the same using ad tech complex to serve incumbents. Let's start with the consumers. Not those who have already boycotted ads but those likely to install adblocking in the next six months. 

  10. Kaila Colbin from Ministry of Awesome replied, October 19, 2015 at 4:39 p.m.

    Hi Ari! I hadn't read it -- thank you for sharing -- definitely complex times we live in and lots of creative destruction in our near future :) 

  11. Kaila Colbin from Ministry of Awesome replied, October 19, 2015 at 4:40 p.m.

    Thanks, Ed. I think it's a case of everyone taking collective responsibility -- which, sadly, is the hardest type of problem to solve (see "Climate Change").

  12. John Grono from GAP Research, October 19, 2015 at 6:05 p.m.

    Last time I looked on my TV screen there was one ad taking up the whole screen for the full 15 or 30 seconds.   Last time I looked at my home page there were 11 ads scattered all over it (not counting the cross-promotions and 'native' ads) that only need to be loaded for 1 second.

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