Ignorance: the cornerstone of the ad blocking issue

Ad blocking is such a hot topic right now, not only because it’s such an expensive problem – Adobe and PageFair estimate a loss of $21.8bn in global ad revenue this year – but one surrounded by so much mystery.

The central theme of the issue is a series of misconceptions. One common example of ignorance in the ad blocking conversation is that consumers don’t realize how they benefit from advertising, which helps to make much of the Internet’s content free.

“We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the value exchange in which advertising is the center,” says Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). “It’s true [that consumers may not realize advertising value] but it’s not sufficient because consumers have not been active creators of that value exchange; they’re passive recipients.”

Some people don’t make the connection between advertising and free content and others simply don’t care; they just don’t want the ads bothering them. But we can’t put the onus on the user to suddenly acknowledge the value of advertising.

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“What can be done is looking at the technical components of quality, things you can address as an industry, such as ads that contribute to slow-loading pages,” says Rothenberg, emphasizing the word “technical.”

“You’re never going to get rid of [bad ads] in the same way you’re never going to get rid of all poverty, all crime and all litter on the streets. What we can do in an orderly society is reduce those things to a minimum so people are broadly satisfied with the overall experience,” he adds.

According to new research from MarketingSherpa, consumers know exactly how they want to be marketed to. Only 8 percent said they don’t want to be exposed to any marketing, ever.

Nearly half of the respondents said they’d prefer to receive emails at the frequency of their choosing, 38 percent said they’ll visit a company’s website when they want updates, and 20 percent prefer to learn about promotions by following brands on social media.

Scott Spencer, director of product management for Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange, believes that to truly understand ad blocking is to understand why people want to block your ads in the first place.

“Google’s opinion, the IAB’s opinion or my opinion on what may be a big factor in installing ad blockers isn’t the question,” says Spencer. “It’s asking the question of a thousand random consumers how annoyed they are from being exposed to a remarketing campaign that will be a much better indication of whether or not remarketing drives ad blocking usage or not.”

Spencer recommends a full-scale research that asks consumers directly, since what constitutes a “good” ad experience is subjective. That subjectivity leaves a lot of room for interpretation and would not be nearly as effective as a set of universal, objective criteria.

“For example, instead of just saying ads should be ‘fast,’ maybe we should be saying they need to load in under 450 ms,” says Spencer. “Instead of saying ‘non-intrusive,’ maybe we need to specify no audio autoplay.”

Other common intrusive irritants include rollovers, the surveys you have to take in order to read a news article past the second paragraph, and large interstitials (The Independent site is one culprit). Last year, ad viewability firm Moat found that “high-impact” ads are on the rise, as more brands stay away from banner ads.

High-impact ads are large and intrusive, in order to elicit more responses from consumers. However, those responses can be negative, as well.

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I followed a link to The Active Times, where I went to read about six worthless exercises I’m probably doing. Before I even had a chance to start the slideshow, a massive interstitial ad popped up for Walmart, promoting its various Swiffer products.

It was disruptive, but what made it exceptionally annoying was how I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it.

See where it says “CLOSE?” Probably not. But do you see where it says “COMMUNITY” in blue? Look right above that.

Even knowing exactly where to look now – and having perfect vision – I can barely make it out.

macys-ad

From the sidebar of an article I was reading, here’s another example of something annoying that advertisers do.

I really like those blue shoes on top. In fact, I like them so much that I bought them on Macys.com last week. Yet they continue to follow me around cyberspace.

By not exploring which of these behaviors they’re engaging in, brands risk turning more and more users off, driving them toward ad blockers. And once someone has an ad blocker, they aren’t going to switch it on and off, depending on which site they’re visiting.

What they’re doing to turn people off isn’t the only thing advertisers don’t know. It’s only recently that the term is being so widely discussed, so many don’t realize that ad blocking is hurting their conversions in the first place.

Just as with fraudulent traffic, it’s likely that advertisers realize ad blocking is a problem; it’s just not their problem.

not-my-problem

In Rothenberg’s opinion, this is all indicative of a pattern people have to “kick the problem downstream.” In other words, brands will pass the baton to their agencies, who will then hold the publishers responsible.

“What an issue like ad blocking brings to the fore is that these are collective problems that require collective solutions. By that, I mean these are problems in which marketers, agencies, publishers and third-party suppliers are all contributing. They’re either actively contributing or contributing by their ignorance,” says Rothenberg.

Of course, it’s not all about acknowledging your missteps. It all comes down to actually doing something about them.

“We beat the drum of creativity and aesthetics and design and consumer delight,” says Rothenberg. “For all nine years, the one thing I found is that everybody in the industry nods very vigorously about this and then goes back to doing exactly the same thing.”

What can I do about this?

You can’t really fight an ad blocker in a sustainable way. Sure, you can use native ads that can sneak past, but if they’re not perceived as valuable, they’re not going to endear your brand or product to anyone.

Instead of getting past an ad blocker, you should instead focus on understanding why people use them in the first place. Make your site more manageable and your ads less invasive.

Think of the platinum rule: treat people as they want to be treated. That applies to advertising, as well. With targeting, you can deliver the most relevant ads to consumers, but you can also deliver them in the most relevant ways.

If you’re a buyer, work more closely with the publishers. If you’re a publisher, work more closely with the vendors. The only way the ad blocking problem is going to be “solved” is on an industry-wide level that includes everyone.

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