Those who follow my writings here may have noticed that I have strong opinions about two issues: ad blocking and agency transparency. And it would be fair to say that my viewpoint is, let’s say, different from those espoused by most industry bodies, the ANA being no exception.
During that session, Liodice managed to rankle me -- not once but twice. Going in reverse chronological order, at the every end of the session, Liodice summarized the recent study the ANA commissioned to explore agency transparency. Having said enough about that recently, let me just point out that the ANA’s requests are going to do nothing more than foster animosity between advertisers and agencies.
But what really raised my hackles was a series of comments about ad blocking, aimed at consumers. Liodice began with a seemingly hopeful and conciliatory tone, by stating that the current ad-blocking crisis is a reflection of consumers “voting to say they don’t want irrelevant advertising.” The tone took a more accusatory turn when he said that consumers “don’t understand the value exchange,” “don’t care about our business model” and “grew up with the middle name ‘free.’”
For a few moments I was encouraged when he pointed out that advertisers must “put the consumer user experience at the front lines” and uttered a few mea culpas like “we’re jamming everything on the page” and “we have to rethink the way we do business.” And my enthusiasm grew when he said that “we need to give consumers far more choice.”
Alas, my growing bubble of enthusiasm was burst when he described his idea of giving consumer more choices, to create three different platforms from which consumers can select to: (1) gain free access to content, in exchange for accepting to be subjected to all the advertising; (2) agree to pay a little bit and accept some amount of advertising; or (3) pay a lot in return for not getting any advertising.
What I heard in Liodice’s proposal is that consumers should be willing to pay for the benefit of not being annoyed while they are trying to consume content. Is this what advertising has come to? Is this the kind of relationship that advertisers want to establish with consumers? Is this their view of the value of publishers?
These comments, and the subsequent comments about agency transparency, left a terrible taste in my mouth. Fortunately for me, the session ran up to its time limit, so there was no time for audience questions -- or I might have embarrassed myself with some scathing, unprepared remarks.
Instead, having taken a couple of days to reflect on the totality of his remarks, I have come to realize that, rather than anger, I should feel pity for Liodice, and for the hole into which the ANA has dug itself.
Put simply, the behavior of the ANA reflects the chaotic mess into which advertising is finding itself, and the continued detachment that many advertisers are creating from consumers, especially in the digital domain.
In its frustration, the ANA is now also threatening to ruin the relationship between advertisers and agencies -- who should be credited for having driven phenomenal advances that are highly beneficial to advertisers. At the same time, advertisers are ruining their relationship with publishers, by placing increasing performance demands and driving prices down through commoditization, and essentially contributing to the decline of the online publishing model.
In the future, Liodice and his colleagues would be well-advised to stop at the sentence “let’s give consumers more choices,” and try to use their collective wisdom and intellect to come up with some real choices.
And perhaps, before further criticizing advertisers for practices that are no different from the practices of most companies represented by the ANA, they should think about ways to change their own behavior so that agencies are encouraged to provide increasing value, and that publishers can thrive without compromising their standards and annoying consumers.