Could A Responsible Publisher Kitemark Counter Ad Blocking?

I suspect there are few people who admire BuzzFeed's clickbait articles with warnings that "number 6 made me cry" or "you won't believe number 8," but their chief executive has pointed out an uncomfortable truth that all in the media need to come to terms with. When Jonah Peretti warns that publishers have brought a lot of ad blocking on themselves, you kind of have to admit that he is right, at least partially.

The answer is quite clearly that advertising that is less intrusive needs to be prioritised over advertising that gets in the way and slows down the reader experience. But how would anyone know? Responsible publishers are let down by the rogue sites that shower you with pop-ups and video ads that blare out automatically. Could it just be possible that if we could sort the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, then people could choose just to block the sites that we all find annoying?

It's only part of the answer, because I truly believe there are people out there who want to have their cake and eat it. They want free content but don't want ads getting in the way, no matter how unobtrusive they are. However, for the half of blockers who cite their motivation as getting rid of intrusive advertising, how about the olive branch of a "white list" of publishers who minimise spots made available to advertisers and who do not engage in any tricks to get clicks nor cover up content with obtrusive messages.

It's a simple idea and there would be a lot of work required but when you look at the big news publishers, the huge sites that we all go to every day, they are mostly the good guys. So why not have a kitemark or some sort of vetting system where a body, such as the AOP, could provide certification that the ads are as unobtrusive as possible? White and black lists are common for content, whether for age-related access or for preventing brands advertising next to inappropriate content, so why not for advertising practices?

It would allow ad blockers to offer a filter for avoiding ads on sites that are obtrusive, and the list would presumably be a very useful tool for brands looking to buy direct or even for networks to offer an option where brands could chose to only buy space on sites bearing the kitemark. Perhaps it would need to be done the other way with a list of sites to avoid. Whichever way it would work best, it's must be worth trying. Either way, reputable publishers would have a way of showing they are a good place for brands to put their ad budget in to at the same time as possibly convincing ad-blocking software to let down its guard when users visit it.

Usually when an industry faces a widespread boycott -- more than one in three Millennials block ads -- its wise gurus get together and come up with a response. I don't see any sign of this happening in publishing. The first step in dealing with any problem is acknowledging it exists and that you contribute to it. The next is tackling it and what better way than encouraging good housekeeping among publishers which could be rewarded by them being let through the clutches of ad blocking software that wants to play ball?

I can't see a better way, a clearer clarion call than certifying reputable publishers. Even if it's not a 'yes' or a 'no' on whether they are obtrusive, because not everyone can agree on the term, they could still be given a score and then it's up to end users and advertisers.

If you still think it's not worth the effort, consider this. I asked the IAB UK to elaborate on the finding that more than one in three millennials who block ads. Given that males are more prevalent blockers, I wanted to refine this to how many male millennials block. They weren't able to provide a figure because it would make the redefined user group too small to be statistically relevant. However, I will lay you a bet that it will be going on for 40% or more and will continue to rise until advertisers will only have visibility of half the market.

Before everyone gets tarred with the same brush, it's time for the industry to let the good guys shine, isn't it?

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