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The Dilemma of Ad-Blocking Software

  |  April 19, 2001   |  Comments

The ad-supported publishing model seems to be under attack. But what if publishers go out of business because they can't support their pages with ads?

If you had asked me a few months ago how I felt about ad-blocking software, I would have responded the way anyone would expect an online ad buyer to respond. I probably would have spewed venom and equated Web surfers who use software like WebWasher and AdSubtract with the folks who steal cable TV.

Software that strips ads is a threat to the ad-supported model for publishing Web content, and I do think that ad blocking on an ad-supported site is tantamount to stealing. However, I'm trying to keep an open mind, and I think marketers should at least hear the concerns of those in the the Web community who have actually paid money for software to avoid being marketed to.

A recent article by Terry Lefton in The Standard discussed ad-blocking software as it relates to new ad formats, particularly the larger ad sizes like Disney's "Big Unit," skyscrapers on The New York Times, and CNET's "Big Boxes." Such large ads, according to the article, tend to slow download speeds.

It is not without irony that the 39K HTML page on The Standard, on which Lefton's article appears, came across with an Oracle skyscraper (17K), a MasterCard banner ad (9K), a Barnes & Noble MasterCard ad (12K), an HP 88 x 31 button (maybe a couple of kilobytes), and about 7K worth of house ads from The Standard. And I wouldn't point to The Standard as an example of an overcluttered site. I've seen much worse.

From a 33.6 Web surfer's perspective, it's kind of a pain to download 47K worth of ads to view 39K worth of text. From a marketer's perspective, it's even more of a pain to place an ad on a page on which the ad competes for attention with not only the content, but also with the offerings of several other advertisers.

Some publishers are dealing with both of these issues proactively. Check out this page on News.com. Sure, there's a huge Flash ad in the middle of the page, but it's the only ad on the page. This strikes me as a terrific compromise for all parties concerned. The publisher still gets to monetize the page, the advertiser gets a less-cluttered environment, and the consumer gets the content he's looking for without tying up his connection waiting for ad elements to load.

Will more publishers move toward a model with fewer ads? That remains to be seen. Even after reconsidering the ad-blocking issue, though, I'm still on the publisher's side of the fence. I think it's selfish to cut off the publisher's revenue stream while still enjoying the benefits of the content that is funded with advertiser dollars.

Sure, I think publishers should do a little more to keep the ads from getting out of hand, but that's no excuse for running a digital end-around and blocking the ads entirely. If you're running ad-blocking software, consider this: You're taking money out of the publisher's hands, slapping her in the face by taking her content anyway, and placing money in the hands of third-party software developers who have no real claim to any revenue that stems from the publisher-consumer relationship.

Publishers should be more considerate of their low-bandwidth consumers, but, at the same time, consumers should hold up their end of the bargain.

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Tom Hespos

Tom Hespos heads up the interactive media department at Mezzina Brown & Partners. He has been involved in online media buying since the commercial explosion of the Web and has worked at such firms as Young & Rubicam, K2 Design, NOVO Interactive/Blue Marble ACG, and his own independent consulting practice, Underscore Inc. For more information, please visit the Mezzina Brown Web site. He can be reached at thespos@mezzinabrown.com.

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