Commentary

The Trumping Of Adblock Plus

I met the executives from Adblock Plus at a roundtable gathering in New York a few months back.  They came across as well-intended people, authentic in their defense of the consumer.  They came across likable — if that should even matter.  What does matter: They came across as smart.

They are, however, guilty of being a bit naïve about the online advertising industry they have commandeered.  That will get adjusted over time as they gain more ground between advertisers and publishers.

The vitriol coming at them from the online publishing community —  including, most vocally the IAB president — reminds me of what former Online Publishing Insider columnist David Koretz used to say.  He would point to the participant arguing the loudest in a high-volume conflict and say, “The lady doth protest too much.”   

Is Adblock Plus doing something that much different from what Google did to publishers?  The latter showed up and sat right between consumers and publishers. Google then picked publishers’ pockets by helping themselves to their content and using it to lure and capture consumers before they entered a publisher’s turnstile. Google then made money during this hostage takeover by selling ads.  

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Adblock Plus has situated itself  between consumers and publishers by building an ad-free room that millions of people have freely chosen to enter. Then these smart guys locked the door, put up some velvet ropes, and became bouncers, charging a cover to publishers to enter provided they wear “acceptable” attire.   

This strategy is brash. The IAB president calls it extortion. I think it’s genius — and ironic that the opportunity Adblock Plus is exploiting could only exist because the online publishing industry continues to treat consumers to an awful Web user experience.   

You can assume online publishing executives and association presidents are not blocking ads. You can also assume they visit a fair amount of Web sites during their workweek, so they see plenty of pop-up ads and ad units that expand over content. They get treated to video ads that auto-play with sound. They visit sites that have an ad-edit ratio that insults the term ratio.  They click on links to “read more” and are then treated to Web pages that bump and grind before they properly load.  They see creepy ads from advertisers who have spied on their Web behavior.  They see ad creative that promotes belly flab and toe fungus remedies, as well as “sponsored content” that features disturbing images with misleading headlines.

You can also assume online publishing executives and association presidents visit Web sites from their smartphones, so they know how much worse the Web ad experience is on a mobile device.

So it’s safe to assume publishing executives and association presidents are aware the online ad experience is awful.  These are also really smart and savvy businesspeople who know the best defense is a good offense, so they attack the ethics and morality of the people attacking their business.   That works really well in politics, but it’s not going to work here.

Adblock Plus has more work to do.  The transaction it offers publishers to get “white-listed” lacks clarity and shows a lack of knowledge of the ad sales process.  The company’s messaging and pricing may need to be refined to better suit the publishers it plans to charge.  Clearly publishers believe the price needs to be lower than the 30% of revenue Adblock Plus thinks it can tax.

This fight is not about business ethics or morality.  It’s about leverage and money — and the volume of this conflict is driven by a lady who doth protest too much.

6 comments about "The Trumping Of Adblock Plus".
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  1. Andrew Budkofsky from Rolling Stone, March 3, 2016 at 12:12 p.m.

    Consumers are always going to win out.  They want their privacy, and they want to be able to control their experience when they're online.  Is that such a big deal?  Publishers should accept adblocking technology and work with them to offer solutions that satisfy their revenue needs, as well as the user expereince.  Of all the dialogue going on out there about adblockers, I'm not reading anything about how the advertisers are thinking about better ways to get their message across (i.e. better creative) or how publishers are monetizing their content via micro payments. 

  2. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, March 3, 2016 at 12:22 p.m.

    Good point Andrew -- right now the talk is all a "reaction" to the attack Adblock plus has pulled off -- this will all sort itself out I hope -- but to me, the solution has alway been so simple -- limit every page view to ONE single advertiser -- allow that advertiser to occupy two ad units simultanously, and then make sure the ads stay in their box.  Clean, simple and advertisers will see the value because the clutter/competition for the user's attention which brings out all the non sense, will disappear.  Thanks for reading/commenting.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 3, 2016 at 1:55 p.m.

    Advertisers and content are codependent. When one side - over powers the other, something is going to give. In this case the vast amounts of money from the advertising side tipped the scales to the bottom. In other words, everybody, that is the $$ side,  can't have everything it wants all the time. Fortunately, there are solutions and choices that can be made now which will work in the long run. Otherwise, they both will lose.

  4. Andrew Susman from Emoto, March 3, 2016 at 4:02 p.m.

    This, as usual, is a wonderfully written gutsy article by Ari Rosenberg.  One minor note: Notwithstanding David Koretz's literary excellence. I'd still prefer to credit Shakespeare's Hamlet with "The lady doth protest too much.  

  5. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, March 3, 2016 at 4:23 p.m.

    Andrew, thanks for the compliment and both myself and my wonderful editor Phyllis are both at fault here and we will both feel bad I promise you that -- of course it's a Shakespear quote but the way it was included and written in my column doesn't make that as clear as one should -- thanks for the teaching moment and spending time with my column.

  6. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, March 3, 2016 at 5:38 p.m.

    I've spent A LOT of time talking to users one-on-one.  Going to wrap that up soon with a formalized focus group study by a third party.  

    EVERYONE from age 10-80 is annoyed by the interruption of experience.  Pre-rolls are the worst offenders.  If octagenarians had the technical werewithal to install Ad-Block Plus, they would.  

    If I want to get millennials really riled up, I give them a few key Rothenberg quotes.  Even people at agencies admit to deploying ad blockers.  

    As one avide sports fan told me, "It takes me fifteen minutes to watch ten minutes of video on ESPN.  Every week it seems they steal more of my time."  

    The business has got to change.

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