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Why the ad industry will never win the war on ad blockers

Matt Kapko | Jan. 29, 2016
The head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau came out swinging against ad blockers this week. Instead of even attempting to fairly distribute blame for the chaotic state of the ad industry, the executive pointed his finger everywhere else but at IAB members.

Rothenberg strongly disagreed at the IAB event, saying ad blockers "indiscriminately obstruct" everything from "vital political opinions" to "other intelligence necessary for the functioning of democratic capitalist societies."

IAB admits it lost track of user experience

On the flip side, the IAB CEO also suggested ad block tech may ultimately help the market. "Ad-block profiteers have done this industry a favor," he said. "They have forced us to look inward — at our own relentless self-involvement — and outward, to the men, women, and children who are our actual customers."

Rothenberg referenced a mea culpa issued by IAB's senior vice president Scott Cunningham last October, in which he admitted advertisers and technology providers had collectively "messed up" and "lost track of the user experience" amidst rapid changes throughout the industry.This crooked path led the digital ad industry down a "headlong rush to subvert industry standards" and eventually "lock out competitors in the $600-billion global ad industry," according to Rothenberg.

"The result has been breathtaking innovation — but also suffocating chaos," he said. "Multitudes of could-be formats and wannabe standards crowd screens, interrupt consumers' activities while impeding the delivery of desired content, create supply chain vulnerabilities, generate privacy concerns, and drive fears about data security.

Rebecca Lieb, an industry analyst and advisor, believes the diminishing efficacy of online display advertising is at the core of this issue. "Consumers aren't willing to accept the bargain they've struck with traditional media: you get content if you consume ads."

Ad blockers funnel money away from publishers, but people knowingly use the technology because online ads are so disruptive, repetitive and unappealing, Lieb says. For this reason and others, every brand executive Lieb recently interviewed for research on the topic said they plan to cut back on traditional advertising and focus more on content marketing in controlled media channels and on social media.

Stubborn advertisers drag their feet as consumers push back on bad ads

People want experiences, not just poorly targeted ads, according to Lieb, and they don't want ads to hinder those experiences. "They want to be addressed on their terms, with content they are interested in," she says

When ads appear on smartphones, for example, they cover large amounts of display space, which means it takes users more time to find the information they want. In situations such as this, advertisers completely ignore the concept of user experience, according to Tien.

The advertising industry could earn some much-needed goodwill if it just stuck to a "Do-Not-Track" standard, according to Consumer Watchdog's Simpson. "Simply honoring Do-Not-Track requests, which all browsers can send, would go a long way toward restoring the industry's credibility," he said.


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