Much has been made of the IAB’s decision to ban Adblock Plus from attending their annual summit. But honestly, can you blame them?
The IAB isn’t a governing body. It’s a trade association that lobbies on behalf of its members. And its members tend to be online publishers and agencies that have been feeding ad exchanges questionable inventory (and then buying it) for years, creating many of the problems that they claim to be the solutions for. As it turns out, getting paid to solve the problems you’ve helped to create can be a pretty good business model.
AdBlock Plus sounds like the victim here, but let’s face it: They aren’t innocent, as they have taken money from some of the internet’s biggest advertisers to get whitelisted on their service.
The real victim has been the consumer. The ad industry has created its own biggest weakness — a horrible experience for the consumers whose actions pay their bills. It’s not the bad creative; we all survived the '90s. It’s the hundreds of calls to ad servers and exchanges on every page we visit, slowing down the internet for hundreds of millions of people, even on the fastest of connections. As every ad impression gets sold to the highest bidder, pages take longer and longer to load, even as entire generations are getting weaned off of web pages. So the experiences we do have stick out.
Traffic, harder and harder to come by these days, is bought and sold as well, creating a cesspool of "visitors" to websites that aren’t really visitors at all, but bots or transients who close their browsers and immediately go back to whence they came — or let’s face it, Facebook.
The ad industry has made its bed, and now it has to lie in it. The problem is that it’s also lying to itself by sacrificing all of digital’s promise for preserving an ad economy that probably is bigger than it should be. Subtract fraud, subtract bots, subtract arbitrage, and you’re left with an ad economy that’s too small to support its current size. So the entire industry continues to spend its time and energy to keep it afloat. We’ve seen this happen in other industries many times before.
What the ad industry should be doing is letting the display-ad economy correct itself, and rebuilding a new mobile and video ad economy from the ground up, but upon a foundation of what we’ve learned.
But the industry won’t evolve without your anger. Channel that anger into demanding new solutions for new problems. If you need motivation, here’s what to get angry about, in no particular order.
Get angry about fraud, bots and viewability
Numerous studies indicate that around 40% of ad dollars are wasted on fraudulent impressions or views. What other industry would ever accept this without massive changes? Instead we continue to obfuscate the real problems and have panels at conferences to discuss the situation without any real action. Demand higher standards from publishers and agencies. Push advertisers to a place where their money will be better spent. Nothing’s perfect. But 60% of perfect is unacceptable with the technology the ad industry has access to.
Get angry about the media overwhelming the message
Another reason the ad industry is in this mess is because it let "big data" overwhelm the big idea. The coexistence of the two should make both better. Instead, big data led to big targeting, which led to big business for media companies but big problems for consumers.
Privacy issues were magnified, page load times got longer, and ad formats got more interruptive. If you’ve been to the Cannes Lions over the past couple of years, you can see that creativity no longer makes the ad industry go around. When you innovate creativity you get transformative storytelling. When you innovate media you get things like high-frequency trading, and automated ad auctions. I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying that media innovation should be in service of delivering results through creativity and innovation not spiting them.
Get angry about the erosion of respect for UX
Ad blocking went mainstream because user experience became so universally poor that people would abandon webpages before they even loaded. When calls to ad servers become more important than audience, you know the priorities are out of whack. In a world where we can get nearly anything (including our entertainment) on demand, the advertising industry must respect the user experience. We are nearing the end of an era of interruption, no matter how hard the industry tries to hold onto it. Find ways to add value to people’s lives. At the very least, don’t be annoying. Don’t let your short game overwhelm your long game.
Get angry about the slippery slope of distrust
Here’s the bigger picture: If consumers continue to distrust, or worse, block advertising because it’s become nothing but a nuisance giving no value in return, a key part of the content business breaks down. If the content business breaks down, we get less content, or have to pay more for it. With less content, or content at higher costs, the news business starts to fall apart. Without the news business, journalism can’t hold people, businesses, and governments accountable.
If you want proof, go pick up your local newspaper. Oh, wait. You can’t because they probably stopped printing it. Content and media companies, consumers, and advertisers need to be a well-fed, three-headed, co-dependent organism, or we’ll start to lose other cornerstones of culture and accountability. We can’t afford to not figure this out.
I’m not asking you to get angry because I want your vote. I’m asking you to get angry about a system that, left unchecked, will take us places that nobody wants to work at anymore, much less live in. The ad industry needs a chip on its shoulder again, and maybe ad blocking (not Adblock Plus) is the catharsis it needs to transform.
The problem is bigger than one browser plugin and can be solved without them.
The question is, are we angry enough to solve it?
Ian Schafer is founder and CEO of Deep Focus.