Whatever you think of the companies behind the ad-blocking phenomenon, you have to hand it to category leader AdBlock Plus. They don’t shy away from the fight…er…discussion. In January at our “The Reckoning” event in Washington D.C., their Head of Operations Ben Williams joined our panel on the topic on the very day the IAB cancelled their attendance at its upcoming event.
And Tuesday at the winter Programmatic Insider summit, Mark Addison, AdBlock Plus Minister of Special Affairs, weathered successive waves of doubt, challenges and snark during a panel discussion and later in an offstage roundtable. The session is worth highlighting here, so find the full 45-minute exchange among Mark, industry veteran and former Yahoo GM Dave Zinman (now COO of RadiumOne) and DigtasLBi SVP of Media Technology Carol Chung here.
My take on the onstage exchange is that the two sides are still talking past one another at this early stage of posturing. Zinman was forthright in confronting Addison with the charge I hear often among publishers that the AdBlock Plus business model is extortion. He claims it extracts a 30% tax on publishers that agree to its terms for getting whiteboarded. Zinman likened it to a store owner being visited by local mob thugs who comment the owner “has a nice shop here, shame if something were to happen to it.”
Addison acknowledged that pure ad blocking is too blunt an instrument and argued that his company is trying to represent consumer consensus on what a fair ad-for-content value exchange is. Until now, consumers have not had much input or choice in the process. Publishers alone are determining acceptable experiences. They are crowdsourcing acceptable ad practices and bringing them to publishers as a means for getting whitelisted. He insists that both CPMs and CTRs are improved under these guidelines.
My feeling was that Zinman’s position was too intransigent and didn’t even acknowledge what the IAB does -- that digital advertising “messed up” in making the user experience bad enough to invite such draconian countermeasures. There is an argument of power and control going on here. Publishers generally are reluctant to cede the definition of an “acceptable UE” to someone outside their business. AdBlock Plus, however, is scampering so quickly and a bit incredibly for the moral high ground even as they make money from a problem they activated.
Zinman recommended aggressive response from publishers, including blocking ad-block users from accessing content or just using the empty ad space to remind these visitors that they are “stealing” content. He also recommended that publishers step up their tracking of the same user across devices, because it usually is unlikely even though ad blockers were deploying these tools across all platforms. If a publisher can’t get them on one screen, it is likely they can break through on another.
In an especially interesting point, Zinman suggested that the major metrics firms comScore and Nielsen might consider excluding traffic that uses ad blockers from the monthly metrics. Many publishers are afraid to turn away blockers for fear of reducing their monthly traffic scores. This idea would make publishers bolder in negotiating with blocked users.
One thing is clear from this discussion. The combatants are clearly only in the first rounds, still taking one another’s measure.