Publishers Get Tooled Up In The Fight Against Ad Blockers

Taking the fight to ad blockers is the only way that today's free publishing model can work online, So, it's great to see the IAB Tech Lab roll out an ad blocking detection script alongside guidelines that publishers should take a "DEAL" approach to countering the issue.

That's a D for Detect, E for Explain (the ad-supported model), A for Ask (for software to be disabled) and an L for Limit (what the person can otherwise view). These guidelines make perfect sense and address the issue that some publishers have never quite had the tech knowledge to implement a system which tells them that ad-blocking software is being used. Without the D for Detect in the DEAL scenario, you can't move on to the rest of the process. It's fair to assume that this is why there have only been a handful of publishers already warning ad blockers that they need to disable their software to receive free content. It's no coincidence that these have been media giants with the necessary in-house or agency skills to detect, inform and warn.

With this open script made available by the IAB Tech Lab today, publishers of all sizes can add a few lines of code to their site to tell if someone is the equivalent of a digital shoplifter, seeking to consume content without fulfilling their side of the bargain by allowing ads to be displayed. People will argue until the cows come home about whether people who use ad-blocking software realise that there is this unwritten agreement that they get free content in return for being exposed to advertising messages. However, most research shows that the majority of people understand this and ad blockers are simply just trying to get round the deal or have been put off by bad advertising practice.

That's why it's interesting to see the IAB repeat its guidance from the autumn that publishers should only run LEAN ads that are Light, Encrypted, Ad Choice Supported and Non-Invasive. In other words, the advice that should stop people turning off ads is already in place and now, nearly half a year later we have guidance for how advertisers can spot if ad blocking is going on and how they should then approach explaining the ad-supported model with a request to be whitelisted or for the software to be disabled. 

Now that this missing tech part of the puzzle is in place and there are established guidelines on how to implement the open-source code, publishers have the ability to stick to the letter of their industry's guidance and insist, if they choose, that their content cannot be consumed without ads. 

I still wonder why more publishers don't offer an ad-free version of their sites, rather like many app developers offer for those will to spend a pound or two to upgrade from a freemium service. This would put to the test the theory that some people simply don't want to be advertised to. That's fine -- but they still need to pay for the content and so an ad-free news site, for example, for a fee would make them choose between accepting ads and sticking to their guns. I think the vast majority would just whitelist sites they value rather than pay and instead put up with the ads. The irony is, if it's a site that someone truly respects, it's unlikely to be one of those annoying click-bait, pop-up operators laden down with intrusive ad units.

So the missing piece of the puzzle is there. All IAB UK members now have access to the code that will allow them to detect ad blocking. It's now up to publishers to be more bold and stop allowing digital pickpockets to get away with stealing content without the ads. A handful of big names have shown the way. It's time for the industry to follow their lead. 

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