Call me a hopeless optimist, but I suspect the solution is not the one advocated by my MediaPost colleague Sean Hargrave, who earlier this week said that ad-blockers are the “digital equivalent of shoplifters” and called U.K. publication City AM “pioneering” for fighting back, only showing blurry text to anyone using an ad blocker.
Look, Sean. Can I call you Sean? Escalation is not the answer. In fact, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which the landscape has shifted -- a fundamental misunderstanding of the fact that our underlying paradigm needs to be rebuilt, and in the process we will likely need to discard many of our old assumptions.
The old paradigm had a clear delineation between camps: the content distributors are the givers; we viewers, humble receivers. By the grace of ABC, NBC, CBS did we tune into prime-time television for free; through the largesse of others did we receive inexpensive access to quality print journalism. This generosity came at a cost: We were tithed for our attention, a small offering to the church of advertising to keep the whole system running.
The consumers of content had no say in that content. We had no alternative means of access. We had limited alternative options. We had no way of shaping the experience to our liking.
This was the paradigm of yesterday. It’s a paradigm that not only sees ad-blockers as the digital equivalent of shoplifters, but also presumes that the best way to fight them is through force.
But that is not today’s paradigm — which has publishers and viewers, sure. But the delineation is not so clear, and the receivers not so malleable. The consumers do have say in the content. We have alternative means of access — in fact, abundant alternative options. We have nearly unlimited ways of shaping the experience to our liking.
In this paradigm, the solution is not aggression but collaboration. It is not advertiser-centric but reader-centric, viewer-centric. It is not unilateral in power, but bilateral.
The old paradigm was Advertising-As-Ultimatum: Watch my ad or don’t watch my show. The new paradigm is Advertising-As-Agreement: Either we agree that you will show me a reasonable level of appropriate advertising, or we understand that I will either take my eyeballs elsewhere or build a tool to circumvent you.
When you were a kid, your parents would say things like, “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’re not getting dessert.” That is a fair and reasonable exchange when someone else controls both your destiny and your resources. But it is not a fair and reasonable exchange between equals.
The current focus of the ad industry (understandably, to be fair) is on the ads: We have to make them better or stop people from blocking them. But the true focus should be on understanding the paradigm shift. It’s not about the ads. It’s about the reader. It’s about the viewer. It’s about the fact that attention can no longer be forced but instead must be earned, regardless of whether your outlet is subscription-based, pay-per-view, or totally free.
To stop the ad-blockers, forget about the ads and think about the people who experience them. It’s the dawn of a new paradigm, and the customers are in charge.