What does the IAB’s ‘DEAL’ plan mean for ad blocking?

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The IAB released a new set of recommendations for publishers to deal with ad blocking, an industry issue that’s expensive and expanding. Can it help?

We all know ad blocking is a big, astronomically expensive problem in the industry. Unfortunately for advertisers, it’s also a growing one.

According to a January survey commissioned by Retale, 57 percent currently use an ad blocker on desktop computers. Among millennials, the number is even higher: 63 percent. The prevalence of ad blockers is significantly lower on mobile, though it’s also on the rise.

Earlier this week, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Technology Laboratory released a new primer recommending a course of action for coping with ad blocking. At the same time, the tech lab released a new ad blocking detection script allowing its members to see who’s using ad blockers on their sites.

“[These developments] will open the door for transparency and meaningful dialogue with visitors using ad blockers,” says Scott Cunningham, senior vice president of technology and ad operations at IAB, as well as general manager of its tech lab. “We believe that a combination of tools and the DEAL approach to communication with consumers will allow publishers, big and small, the chance to cut through the blockade, ensuring the strength of the open, ad-supported Internet.”

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Somewhat of a sequel to LEAN – the IAB’s guidelines calling for ads to be light, encrypted, ad choice supported, and non-invasive – the new recommendations are known as DEAL.

The four-point acronym encourages publishers to detect ad blocking to initiate a conversation, explain the value exchange that advertising enables, ask for a change in behavior, and lift restrictions (or limit access) depending on the consumers’ choice.

Roman Karachinsky, chief executive (CEO) of News360, thinks the ad blocking issue is too big to be solved neatly with a set of suggestions. However, he believes in the IAB’s plan for publishers to engage readers in conversation.

“If I am using an ad blocker, how much effect am I having on my favorite websites? That’s something that’s very hard to quantify for a reader,” he says.

“The most important thing publishers have to do before even thinking about combating ad blockers or informing the people who use them, is to make sure they ads they do have are good and not destroying the reading experience,” he adds. “If it is, no matter how effective your pleas for help are, they’re not going to work.”

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The kind of ad formats that are widely-agreed to be disruptive include the large pop-ups with the near invisible X’s and the classic “shoes following you around the internet.” Karachinsky describes himself as “bullish” when it comes to native ads; in addition to being immune to ad blockers, they also provide more value to the reader beyond simply not being annoying.

In September, The Washington Post experimented with making articles unavailable to anyone using an ad blocker. But as many users may not even realize that ads are the reason they have access to free content in the first place, people may have interpreted that as, “Oh, The Washington Post is being mean.”

More recently, The New York Times embarked on a similar test, though its pop-ups let readers known that advertising helps fund journalism, making a connection that may not have been there before. Amit Joshi, a data scientist from Forensiq, adds that giving the user more insight, rather than just calling a blanket ban on ad blockers, could help the publishers in the long run.

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“It’s a better and smarter way to treat your users, rather than making them see ads.

The reason ad blockers because so prevalent in the first place is that users weren’t getting the experiences they desired on websites and the better solution is to get that trust back,” he says. “Once the trust is broken, it’s a lot harder to earn it back. As users start whitelisting certain domains as trust is gained back, I think the use of ad blockers will start dropping.”

Nothing happens overnight. Just as you didn’t gain 20 pounds in a week, you can’t lose them in a week. The same is true for ads; nobody installed an ad blocker after seeing their first annoying pop-up.

The IAB is encouraging publishers to engage users in conversations. That won’t make them all turn off their ad blockers en masse, but it is a step in the right direction.

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