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Ad blockers will make better marketers

Ad blockers present an opportunity to deliver a better advertising experience, a panel at a media conference in Sydney concluded. Instead of seeing ad blocking as being in opposition to the advances in programmatic advertising, representatives from agency and publisher side, as well as tech providers, agreed ad blockers will ultimately make better marketers.

“There is a great opportunity in all of this,” Danika Johnston, National Digital Commercial Director for Mamamia told the room.

“From an agency perspective, it’s a chance to address our craft and lift our game. I agree that it’s more of an opportunity than it is a threat,” said Imogen Hewitt, Head of Strategy at Havas Media.

Still David Osborn, Vice President, Asia-Pacific for AppNexus, was quick to point out the unavoidable challenges ad blocking throws at those in the online space. “I agree that it represents an opportunity. But we’re going to spend a bunch of years figuring out what to do about it while more and more young people, 18- 24’s – really important for us to market to – will continue to block ads. It is a pretty bumpy road in front of you,” he said.

Hewitt agreed with Osborn saying: “There are whole pools of people who we can’t talk to and that, I think, is purely the problem.”

When asked whether ad blocking constituted extortion, Osborn said: “I don’t think the companies creating ad blockers are unethical. They’re making money solving a consumer need. It’s disruptive and that’s a good thing. Think of past disruptive technologies such as Napster. That created a decent chunk of time where consumers were dabbling, stealing, pirating all sorts of content and then out of the ashes came Apple and innovation that we hadn’t seen in a very long time.”

close-up view of young woman checking her mobile phone with ads blocked on the screen. All screen graphics are made up.

Life after online display

While programmatic display is getting all the attention right now, the publishers on the panel including Johnston, Melina Cruickshank, Chief Editorial and Marketing Officer for Domain Group and Ed Harrison, CEO of Yahoo7 and chairman of the IAB, made the point that display isn’t the only way for brands to tell their story online. “We have so many different ways of integrating our client’s messages throughout a platform,” said Johnston.

Other approaches such as native advertising were proposed as solutions but this failed to address the issue at hand: getting around ad blockers, something Hewitt and Johnston believe advertisers are somewhat responsible for.

“As an industry, we’ve brought this problem on ourselves. It’s a self-prophesying one. We have to treat our consumers so much more intelligently. Good creative and good messaging have to engage and connect with an audience, with a consumer. If it doesn’t, then they are well within their right and they absolutely will block you. They will disconnect from your message. We educate our clients all day every day around content that has to be sophisticated and engaging. If you don’t, you lose out,” said Johnston.

Hewitt put it more simply by saying: “We transposed an old world interruption model into a new world media then failed to realise that wasn’t really going to fly.”

AppNexus’ Osborn also took responsibility for the role ad tech companies play. He said: “I raise my hand and say ad tech is exceptionally guilty of helping to create some of the problems that exist today. Ad tech companies are pixel fanatics and every ad tech company wants publishers and advertisers to put more pixels on the page negatively impacting page load times and user experience in the process. Some of that stuff is going to go away because a lot of the ad tech companies will go away, a lot of them are going to be consolidated.”

Educating the consumer

The consumer understanding of the relationship between free content and advertising is key in the fight against ad blocking.

“I turn the ethical spotlight on consumers who are, to some extent, breaking an implicit contract with people who produce quality content. The internet lifeblood is advertising and free content,” said Osborn.

Hewitt brought up research Havas has been conducting globally that looks into consumers’ understanding of the relationship between advertising revenue and free content and how it impacts their behaviour.

She said: “We talk about this ‘broken contract’ but I’m not terribly sure that we set the contract out reasonably in the first place. If you then collectively say ‘We are going to point out that our journalists are paid through advertising revenue and the content you’re receiving would not otherwise exist, are you willing, therefore, to whitelist this site in order to access its content?’ If you’re explicit about that relationship, we have found the majority of people are prepared to take advertising and, interestingly, share data about themselves in exchange.”

Softly, softly or hard line?

While the publishers proposed the softer solution of focusing on the experience for consumers improving creative and looking to integration, Yahoo7’s Harrison asked whether the time would come to take a harder line. Should publishers, for example, follow international examples and progressively blur out the content unless the user whitelisted the site?

“I don’t think you can annoy consumer, I don’t think you can tell them what to do and block them. They will just go elsewhere, there is too much choice now,” said Cruickshank.

There has been much talk in recent months of implementing industry-wide standards for leaner, better performing ads but the question remains who is responsible for this.

“It’s all of our responsibility. I certainly don’t think it’s the ad blocker companies. That’s a dangerous line to walk,” said Johnston.

“I don’t think any one company, or individual model, can decide what is acceptable. The tools have always been available for publishers and advertisers to make good decisions. Publishers who ultimately run the ads on behalf of advertisers always have the tools to make decisions on what ads to run, how heavy to allow them to be and so on,” said Osborn.

While the disruption of online advertising may well lead to a better advertising experience and consumer appreciation of the relationship between ads and free content as Osborn points out, it’s going to take a bumpy ride to get there.

Mark Abay - Content Director, Ashton Media About Mark Abay - Content Director, Ashton Media
Mark is Content Director at Ashton Media. It's his job to create interesting and engaging conference programs that stretch the thinking of our attendees. Mark works closely with our industry advisors to ensure the conference content is aligned with the needs and interests of our audiences.