Open Letter to Adblockers: We Can Carry the Industry Forward
by Roy Rosenfeld, CEO of Stands.
Stands is the provider of Fair Ad Blocker. Fair Ad Blocker allows users to choose a charity to whom money will be paid–and that encourages more than 90% of those who use the ad blocker to view some ads!
To rise above being an “old-fashioned extortion racket,” (in IAB’s Rothenberg’s words) the ad blockers of the world wide web need to make serious changes. So do publishers. The IAB’s recently released primer on ad blocking aims to outline tactics that publishers can use to offset their losses to blocking, while simultaneously “giving consumers a clear understanding of how ad blocking affects the free content value exchange.” To that end, it proposes 7 tactical responses for publishers to pursue.
The Best Recommendation
Among IAB’s recommended tactics, only the last provides a viable path forward. Tactic #7, “Payments to Visitors,” brings consumers explicitly into the free content value chain in a meaningful way, promising them some measure of control. The IAB notes that it “may generate a virtuous cycle, ”and I think that’s exactly right.
A fair web must include advertising as the payment model for free access to content. But if the advertising ecosystem wants to solve “the adblocking problem,” it needs to frame the problem differently. The problem goes beyond ad blocking. It runs deeper than a simple disdain for ads. What it boils down to is that users are demanding more control. Control over their information, their privacy, and the businesses that they support. Fix those, and consumers are willing to pay.
Remember Your Users
It’s no surprise that adblockers are proliferating. The main reasons are:
The overall experience. An enormous amount of ads hurts the online experience by overloading the browser and slowing it down.
Privacy concerns. The current advertising ecosystem tracks users’ behavior across and retargets them. Blocking ads reduces tracking and improves privacy.
Ad-generating Malware. Malware injects ads into pages, hijacks clicks, and creates random popups. Horrifying. This drives ad blocking adoption.
Some claim that ad blocking is unnecessary. Users can easily apply ad blocking only on abusive websites, use browser-supported options like Do-not-track to prevent tracking, and employ Anti-virus software to fend of malware. But that’s not the case.
Anti-virus programs don’t catch up with the ad-injecting malware. Do-not-track was muddied by the media industry. Users experience the web as a whole, so when some parts of it abuse the user experience with too many or too intrusive ads, everyone suffers.
The Need for Better, Long-Term Solutions
Users demand control, and ad blocking is the control tool that is widely available, as blunt as it is. Now that users are in control, publishers must come to terms with it. By recognizing the true motives of ad blocking, we can begin to see why any solution that wrests control away from the user will not achieve long-term viability.
The IAB understands a lot of this which is why it rightly highlights risks relating to user response:
* How will users react if they are blocked?
* How will they respond to advertising being pushed through an ad blocker?
Ad blocking, being a client-side technology, can circumvent almost any solution originating at the publisher’s web server.
Think Locally, Solve Globally
When a single publisher solves some of the problem by using one of the proposed tactics, that publisher is only solving the problem for themselves specifically. When each publisher has to do the same thing from scratch, the message will soon be worn out on users and its effectiveness reduced.
Going down this “arms-race” path could be catastrophic. The IAB states risks to that degree, by noting that “There’s a risk of raising awareness of ad blockers,” “There’s the definite possibility of shrinking total audience for a site that implements access denial,” and “The practice of re-inserting ads may result in ad-blocking software escalating their technology and filters in order to block the re-inserted ads. The arms-race will make things worse—for everyone.
But there’s another option.
Respect Consumers’ Rights and Pay Publishers
There’s a path that could lead to a better future for both users, who are obviously interested in free access to diverse content online, and for publishers, who needs ads to keep the lights on. And the IAB is suggesting a version of the best solution at the end of their primer: Payment to visitors.
Being respectful of users, of their time, of their data, and of their wishes is the only viable long-term solution if one understands the deep desire for controlling the experience users have today. Paying users shows an understanding of the new dynamics of online ads, even though paying users directly might not be the best way forward.
By giving users control and benefiting them for being fair, a sustainable model gets born. More than 90% of Stands’ users, who actively searched for an ad blocker, have opted in to ads. My conclusion is that if you give people a choice, they make the right choice. But we have to give them the right tools to make the right choice.