IAB Talks About Consumers, But Doesn't Listen To Them

A reader of this column invited me as his guest to a digital conference for local publishers two weeks ago in New York, hosted by Borrell Associates.   Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO Randall Rothenberg was giving a speech on Adblock Plus, and my reader (thank you, Lubin) thought I would enjoy hearing it.

We settled into the large ballroom filled with 500-plus attendees just as Rothenberg took the stage.  His first slide made me throw up a little in my mouth.  It started with “IAB: Putting users first.”  

In the “about” section of the IAB Web site, there is an elegant 125-word description where the word “consumer” is used zero times.

Rothenberg then shared and sourced IAB research on the top reason consumers are choosing to download ad blockers.  He called it the “hundredth monkey” phenomenon. The number-one reason consumers are blocking ads is because of a herd mentality in which Web site users do something because others are doing it, he explained.



The IAB CEO describes the consumers the IAB puts first as monkeys who can’t think for themselves.  

I found this reason for ad-block use puzzling.  I also found it strange that the IAB research study Rothenberg sourced to support this claim is from September of 2014.  The data is almost two years old.  The number of people who have downloaded ad blockers has grown by 64% since that study.

I suspect the reasons why may have changed.  Industry experts I speak to say the number-one reason people download an ad blocker is simple: speed.  Imagine boarding a plane where no one has carry-on luggage.  That’s how much faster the Web experience feels when the weight of a Web page is reduced by blocking ads and the coding attached to them.

On slide 11 of his presentation, Rothenberg then shared the top-five reasons he and the IAB believe ad blockers hurt “marketers, publishers and consumers.”  The first four reasons are related to how advertisers and publishers are negatively affected, and the fifth reason addresses consumers.  

The IAB says it puts the consumer first — except in this case, where the consumer is fifth.

The reason ad blocker use negatively impact consumers, according to Rothenberg, is that it “reduces choice and increases costs.”  His first sub point read, “Media diversity is threatened.” His second sub point was “Subscription fees replace ad-supported content.”


The Internet is nothing if it not bloated with choices.  If a few hundred thousand Web sites disappeared tomorrow, no one would notice.  Consumer choice isn’t taking a meaningful hit with the rise of ad blockers. 

Rothenberg also contends consumers will have to pay for content they currently get for free.  On what planet are consumers paying for run-of-the-mill Web content?

His speech ended with the IAB’s new acronym on how publishers should battle ad blocking because, Rothenberg said to the crowd, “that’s what you’ll remember.”  He quickly revisited the old acronym of L.E.A.N introduced two months ago, and then jumped to his new one: D.E.A.L.

This acronym starts with the word “Detection” that ad blocking is occurring.  Rothenberg proudly announced that the IAB has written a script publishers can load onto their pages to find out how much ad blocking is occurring.  

The consumer the IAB puts first is frustrated with the speed in which Web pages download  — and the IAB is encouraging publishers to add more weight to their pages.

The IAB CEO closed by telling the crowd he couldn't stick around for questions because he had to catch a flight to Paris to give this same speech.  The room groaned with mock sympathy.

I wish the IAB took on companies that flood our ecosystem with fraud the way the association's CEO battles one company that challenges his beliefs.  I wish the IAB looked at ad blocking as an opportunity to set policies that helped stop obvious bad ad practices. I wish the IAB approached fixing the problems plaguing our industry by believing what its CEO shared on his first slide.

13 comments about "IAB Talks About Consumers, But Doesn't Listen To Them".
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  1. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., March 17, 2016 at 12:03 p.m.

    Awesome piece. I find the IAB's hypocrisy almost as bad as its choice of acronyms. It seems like a group of people talking to themselves and supporting each other in their collective denial.

  2. Gayle Moss from On-Mark-IT, March 17, 2016 at 12:11 p.m.

    You nailed this one Ari!  Someone needs to fire the CEO of the IAB.  Maybe replace him  Scott Cunningham, senior vp of technology and ad operations at IAB who said, "We messed up."

    Rothemberg can't seem to stop creating even more of a mess.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 17, 2016 at 12:20 p.m.

    Excellent piece, Ari. Of course, we all realize that the IAB has to espouse some of the positions it takes as it was never organized to be a consumer ombudsman. Eventually, the IAB and digital sellers, generally, will recognize the need to pause and create a truly advertiser- and user- friendly experience as this is the only path forward. The longer everyone procrastinates and tries to suppress ad blocking without dealing with the root causes---and I believe that the disruption of the user's ability to access and navigate content is at the top of the list---the worse the situation will get.

  4. Doug Robinson from FreshDigitalGroup, March 17, 2016 at 1:18 p.m.


  5. Todd Garland from BuySellAds, March 17, 2016 at 2:04 p.m.

    Painting AdBlockPlus and similar technologies as the villians here is a waste of time, resources, and valuable energy that should be spent against the actual issue here: Ad tech has eroded consumer trust and betrayed publishers. I would rather see my yearly IAB dues spent on investment in publisher-side education and overall regulation of ad tech companies. I wrote about this and some more in a post recently titled "It's Time For Ad Tech To Evolve":

  6. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, March 17, 2016 at 2:14 p.m.

    @ Todd @ Doug @Ed @ Gayle @ Paolo

    Thanks for YOUR support -- beleive me these columns hurt "my own business" far more than it helps but I can't and won't stand idly by as the IAB leadershio continues to dig our hole deeper.  It is so time for a change.

  7. Christian Sandlin from SEVEN Networks, March 17, 2016 at 3:37 p.m.

    I actually just wrote this article in response to IAB's DEAL initiative. It seems that advertisers want to blur the morality of paywalls by saying they are "creating a dialogue." In the article I call it more of a speech. The consumer has nowhere to voice their side of the argument during any of the scenarios DEAL puts forth. The only end goal of DEAL is to get ad blockers turned off. It doesn't do anything about consumer complaints.

  8. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, March 17, 2016 at 4:04 p.m.

    @ Christian -- well said -- very true -- makes my headline even more on point -- thanks for that validation and for sharing that inisght

  9. Christian Sandlin from SEVEN Networks, March 17, 2016 at 4:30 p.m.

    Of course. I agree with you completely; I'm glad there is a spreading perception that these practices are bogus. Instead of directing vitriol at the consumer, they actually need to assert some sort of authority over the medium rather than those with monied interests. The Times, MSN, and BBC just got hit with ransomware ads. It's a continuing trend, and I have yet to hear advertisers consider it an epidemic. One of these attacks could devastate the internet and only make people turn against them further.

  10. Christian Sandlin from SEVEN Networks, March 17, 2016 at 4:33 p.m.

    Actually, I should say that the IAB needs to address their image through the medium itself. Fix the security issues, allow people to turn off tracking, and make videos skippable. Perhaps consumers would be able to legitimize their monied concerns.

  11. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, March 17, 2016 at 4:38 p.m.

    @ Christian -- I formally nominate you for IAB president

  12. Gayle Moss from On-Mark-IT replied, March 17, 2016 at 5:10 p.m.

    I second your nomination Ari!

  13. Christian Sandlin from SEVEN Networks, March 18, 2016 at 11:38 a.m.

    I'm on the other side!

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