The L.E.A.N. (Light, Encrypted, Ad-choice supported and Non-invasive) Ads initiative from IAB Tech Labs is perhaps the best attempt at solving the ad-blocking dilemma.
How often have you gone to a Web site to see an ad block your view of the page, or waited patiently for a page to load while hundreds of blinking, jumping, flying and otherwise annoying ads jumped across the screen trying to get your attention? After this last holiday season, I (like many of you) am also still haunted by re-targeted ads that – while smart enough to figure out what I browsed – cannot seem to figure out that I’ve already purchased the product, and insist on offering it to me over and over again.
Even if you are in the ad business (like I am), you have to admit there must be a better way for publishers to make money and for brands to engage with consumers without annoying them.
It’s been interesting to see the industry’s reaction to this growing controversy, ranging from denial (“only a small number of people block ads” or “we only pay for ads that actually serve so we don’t care”) to other more drastic measures. For example, some publishers say they will simply block their sites to anyone with an ad blocker installed. And others are thinking about legal action against ad-blocking software vendors.
It reminds me of the ongoing controversy around Uber. Everyone ranging from city councils to taxi associations and cab drivers are tossing bricks at Uber lately. Yesterday as I landed at San Francisco airport and was waiting for my car, I saw a cab driver cut off an Uber driver, wave his fist angrily and yell out “@#$% Uber”!
Speaking as a consumer, I like Uber. It is convenient, inexpensive and solves my problem of getting from point A to B. I travel to New York frequently and, as much as I sympathize with taxi drivers whose livelihoods are threatened by the swarms of Uber drivers, I have to say the number of times a taxi driver has simply refused to take me because I wasn’t heading to where he wanted to go to was very frustrating.
The point being, consumers don’t stop using a new product or service just because the incumbents may get hurt. All you have to do is remember the initial uproar over streaming services, YouTube, programmatic media and just about every big disruptive technology that hit the market.
Give the People What they Want
I would strongly urge publishers, brands and others who are impacted by ad-blocking technology to simply do what your consumers want: deliver more personally relevant, less annoying ads.
Many consumers actually like (or at least don’t mind) ads — they serve the purpose of letting them know about products they want to purchase. Moreover, surveys show that upwards of 75 percent of consumers prefer ad-supported Internet sites with free content.
The problem is that for more than a decade now we have been bombarding users with irrelevant ads. Why do I need to see an ad for a woman’s product that I definitely don’t use? Why do I need to see an ad for a product I just purchased? Show me ads for things I am likely to want, and I will reward you as a brand by buying from you.
Ads themselves are clearly not the problem. Advertising has been around for centuries in newspapers, magazines, billboards etc. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, this was the very first print ad that appeared in 1704 – more than 300 years ago. I am sure we can all agree it looks awful.
Newspaper ads, however, didn’t disappear — they just became much better. And today’s newspaper ads are now in full color, usually in designated sections (like classifieds) or at least placed where they are obvious and not mixed with content to trick customers.
Go L.E.A.N.! New Digital Guidelines
In today’s now dominant digital advertising market, the L.E.A.N. Ads initiative from IAB Tech Labs is perhaps the best attempt at getting to the root of the issue, i.e. awful and annoying ads.
Introduced by IAB Senior Vice President and Tech Lab General Manager Scott Cunningham late last year, the L.E.A.N. program (which stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad-choice supported and Non-invasive) introduced principles “to help guide the next phases of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain.”
L.E.A.N. means ads that load quickly without slowing down the page. Ads that respect a user’s desire to consume content on the page. Ads that recognize user rights to privacy and security. It sounds like a lot, but the technology to achieve these goals already exists today. In fact, we at Jivox have already begun building support for L.E.A.N. into our digital ad platform, with brand new features announced at IAB’s 2016 Annual Leadership Event.
Most ads today are also still being developed the way Web sites were developed in the early ‘90s – as large blobby files where lots of code and assets are stuffed and, when served, compete with the page’s content and slow it down. Newer cloud based “dynamic” ad technologies are solving this problem by serving up only the minimal set of assets and code needed for the ad to render. If ad-serving platforms just used the same technologies that Web sites have been using for years, making ads “lean” becomes possible.
Better for Consumers, Better for Our Industry
So the issue again is not advertisements themselves, just bad ones. So let’s try and make them better, more creative and more visually appealing while loading quickly, not blocking content, not hiding within content and lastly relevant to the individual consumer viewing the ad.
Consumers are not to be ignored on this. For decades, they have been pelted with largely irrelevant ads on TV and print without any recourse. If you are wondering why they were tolerant of those ads but are fighting back against similarly irrelevant digital ads, the reason is simple – they can fight technology with technology, namely with the introduction of ad-blocking software. They are also sophisticated enough these days to know that digital platforms have the power to make ads they view much more relevant and personalized.
Truly personalized ads are intelligent, offer relevant products and services customized to the individual, and are able to tell whether a product has already been purchased. But they can also go deeper — suggesting products and services consumers may be interested in based on prior purchases, their geographic location, the weather, etc.
Online giants Amazon and Netflix have been using personalization very effectively to offer up products and movies tailored to individual needs. In fact, 75 percent of Netflix videos watched are as a result of personalized recommendations by Netflix – and no one is complaining about that. So why hasn’t the digital advertising industry followed suit?
As an industry, it’s time we stopped acting like angry cab drivers waving our fists at ad-blockers. Instead let’s offer consumers better ads with a greater online experience. Then we will not have to disable ad-blockers…consumers will do it themselves.