“No problem!” I replied cheerfully. I was seven.
Aunt Trudi arrived, and handed me the chocolate box. I promptly took it to my room, ate half of it, and hid the rest in my drawer.
I was stunned when my mother discovered my deception almost immediately. What is she, some kind of magic ninja? I was even more stunned when she didn’t let me compete in the gymnastics tournament. Sure, she’d said it, but I couldn’t fathom that she meant it!
This is the nature of seven-year-olds: surprised by the obvious. Stunned by easily anticipated outcomes. Confused by the exact thing we all knew was going to happen.
Grown-ups, as it happens, are not much better.
The newspaper industry is falling apart. Independent journalism is in crisis all over the world. Online advertising is both broken and bubbled.
And readers are installing ad blockers at unprecedented rates.
Give us the chocolates, they say. Do not eat them yourselves. We hold the power here.
Others agree. The Interactive Advertising Bureau, the World Federation of Advertisers, and "South Park” have all issued dire warnings about the consequences if the ad industry doesn’t manage to think of the people on the other end of the ads as, well, people.
To far too many publishers and advertisers, we are not people. We are less than human. We are not customers. We are a Cost of Goods Sold that happens to be free, mere inputs to be packaged and monetized.
Since we aren’t customers, we don’t need a customer experience. Since we are less than human, we don’t need a human interface. If there is a problem, the blame can only lie with us: for not knowing our place, for not participating in the manner that others decided we should.
This is what publishers are really saying when they berate the blockers (“We oppose ad blocking,” says New York Times CEO Mark Thompson), or when they block the blockers (the UK’s City AM shows blurry text to those who attempt to visit the page with ad blocking activated).
And -- without suggesting this was malicious or intentional -- it lends a certain irony when they infect the blockers with malware. A recent breach at Pagefair, which The Economist and 500 other publishers use to block ad blockers, meant visitors to those sites were exposed to a malicious remote-access tool.
With every new installation of an ad blocker, with every new survey or study, with every new industry exec (like Google’s top ad salesman) confirming the dire nature of the situation, publishers and advertisers are being warned: Give us the chocolates or you will not be going to the gymnastics championships. Except it’s not the gymnastics championships, is it? It’s their entire business model, collapsing.
There are some industry bright spots. Gawker Media head of programmatic Eyal Ebel has said ad blocking makes sense to him from the perspective of consumers and that Gawker will not fight ad blockers head-on. A Belgian ad agency, Boondoggle, is using ad blocker detection software to recruit creatives who understand how miserable the typical ad experience is. Around the world, people are applying effort and sensitivity to finding creative ways to make online publishing sustainable.
For the sake of the industry, we can only hope that other publishers follow in their footsteps -- that they are better at predicting eminently predictable consequences than a seven-year old is. I’m not so sure they are.