To Stop The Ad-Blockers, Forget About The Ads

So we have established that the ad-blocking thing is a bit of a crisis. And we’ve looked at the measures the IAB is taking to make advertising more awesome for people -- too little, too late. What, then, might the solution be?

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.

12 comments about "To Stop The Ad-Blockers, Forget About The Ads".
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  1. Steve Baldwin from Didit, October 23, 2015 at 12:12 p.m.

    Nice take on this issue, Kaila. Frankly, I think it's about time for advertisers to step up and offer to pay consumers directly for the privilege of having ads rent their brains. Hell - I'd be willing to sit through almost anything for a few bucks. Doing this would cut out all the ridiculous and nefarious adtech middle men. Let's make advertising greater than it ever was! AND help those Millenials pay off some of their crushing student debt. Any takers out there?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 23, 2015 at 1:52 p.m.

    Greed kills. 

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 23, 2015 at 2:23 p.m.

    If advertisers offered consumers money to watch their TV commercials they would have to advertise that offer widely to get people to take advantage of it. And guess where those solicitations would appear?Yep. On TV. Even so, a lot of people who had no interest in the product would gladly take the money but not pay the slightest attention to the ads. Sorry, we are a long way from getting advertisers to, in effect, stop advertising.

  4. Mark Addison from Rocket Science, October 23, 2015 at 3 p.m.

    Beautifully stated, Kaila! Ad blockers are merely a tool that consumers use to tailer their ad experience (a large chunk of Adblock Plus users choose NOT to block all ads, for example). So it's on improving the ads and the reader experience that we should be focused. 

  5. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, October 23, 2015 at 4:26 p.m.

    I am sure I will be stoned at the alter for this, but I have started to change my mind about ad blockers. Simply I make more money with them than without them.  This will sound odd but here is why...  The true value of any online ad is not the banner but the link behind the banner. I don't need a banner to advertise my sponsors sweepstakes.  My members what to know who the sponsor is, what the sweep promotion is and the rules and prizes.  Each sweep we publish tells the members this informaiton. This is far more valueable than a banner.  I have a ton of trust with my members and my brand is based on the honesty about each promotion. 

    People don't click onto banners because there is a lack of trust.  So the ad blockers are just fulfilling a role by blocking the banner whereas take the same promotion and writing a page about why or why not they should click onto the promotion is far more powerful. 

    Thereby my Fortune clients understand about getting results can still happen online with the same exact link that they could also use in the banner.  They are happy and I am too.

  6. Christopher Weakley from Virgo replied, October 23, 2015 at 5:05 p.m.

    How do you recruit your members? (I hope it's not with banner ads).

  7. Brian Nakamoto from Tightrope Interactive, Inc., October 23, 2015 at 7:17 p.m.

    What happens when "a reasonable level of appropriate advertising" isn't sustainable for the publisher?

  8. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, October 23, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.

    I recruit mainly through Search.  Google and Bing mainly and testing Facebook.  We had a PR story campaign for about 4 years until Google killed that on search.  We receive a large number of referrals from members who have won prizes. Over 12 years, we can't narrow the figure down but there have been between $50 and $100 million dollars in prizes won on ST. For many sweepstakes is their entertainment and also a hobby. Most are middle class and working. I don't spend a dime on the 15 to 30 age market.  Last, we are rebuilting the site to meet Google standards for search, mobile and revenue.

  9. William Cosgrove from Devcode Services, October 25, 2015 at 6:24 a.m.

    I agree Kaila, First advertisers must accept that it is the consumer who controls their on and increasing offline experience today. Then and only then can they concentrate on building new business models to capitalize on this fact.

    IAB in their latest press release all but admitted to this fact when they stated that they missed the customer experience. Maybe now they realize they must adapt to this new landscape that has already been tilled and planted.

    To fight the consumer trend today to force or as some have stated find ways of fighting ad blockers is a loosing proposition. Anyone participating in this will be doing so to their own detriment.

  10. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc. replied, October 26, 2015 at 3:03 p.m.

    @brian: then the crappy publishers will go out of business and the good ones will be left. I am sure a few good publishers will perish and a food bad ones will survive, but in general, given the option to let readers vote with their eyeballs or wallets, market forces will prevail.

    @Kaila, once again, I love what you write. Sean in my opinion is lowering the quality of discourse - and as a regular MP columnist myself I find it upsetting. Thank you for providing a balanced an eloquent counterpoint.

  11. J S from Ideal Living Media, October 26, 2015 at 5:23 p.m.

    But advertising-replacement content is, um, generally awful ("Tide is just wonderful!*), undercut trust/trustworthiness, and are almost uniformly resented by users -- far more than ads.  

    Is there another solution being presented here that I am missing?


    *Paid placement but opinions are my own. 

  12. Rick waghorn from addiply, October 26, 2015 at 6:24 p.m.

    We've set out to deliver both hyperlocal ads and hyperlocal alerts. Into your location-specific mobile app.

    A warning of a terrorist incident unfolding, of a storm coming, a flood due, a pickpocket gang afoot, etc...

    Multi agency Messages designed *for my good*. 

    Why would I block a message that might, one day, save my life? Oh, and the local pizza parlour opposite my bus stop has a 2 for 1 offer... 

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