COMBATING AD BLOCK: A LOT OF DEAD ENDS AND THE IDEA OF A FAIR VALUE EXCHANGE

It is no secret how immensely unpopular online ads are among users. This is at least in part due to an excessive over-loading of websites with ads and the ad industry trying new ways to capture the user’s attention by employing ever more invasive ads. This development has led to increased usage of ad blocking technology, of which the dwindling ad revenues for virtually every online media publisher is now the direct fall-out. The Interactive Advertising Bureau, the single most important authority on ad standards, recently released a statement admitting that “we messed up. […] we lost track of the user experience”. With their new LEAN Ads Initiative (Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads) they set out to right everything that is wrong with online advertising. And this basically boils down to having fewer, safer and less invasive ads. Whether or not this will halt the decline in ad revenue for publishers remains to be seen. As well as who will even be on board.

Ad Re-Insertion

In a recent interview Joe Barone GroupM Managing Partner, Digital Ad Operations, claimed Ad Re-Insertion was the least consumer-friendly option to combat the widespread use of ad blocking software. Ad Re-Insertion is one of the newer trends within the digital advertising industry to find a desperately needed answer to shrinking ad-based revenues. By re-inserting ads publishers try to show originally blocked ads to users by taking a detour via Content Delivery Framework (after the ad server route failed). On first glance, this sounds like the long awaited solution to the ad blocking dilemma, but practically it faces a couple of problems.

“Ad Re-Insertion is the least consumer-friendly option available.“ — Joe Barone

The technical setup process for ad re-insertion goes beyond what traditional online ad serving requires. While this might not be a problem for larger media corporations, small and medium sized publishers need to invest additional resources. An even greater downside is the risk to the advertiser’s brand. To put into perspective, re-inserting ads means forcing brand and product promotions on to users who have specifically opted out of receiving ads. The unexpected and forced ad might not sit very well with the users and result in a negative user experience. And in the worst case, that negative perception might then be associated with the promoted brand or product itself.

There are of course other strategies publishers pursue in order to generate revenue. One of the more traditional is the subscription model. Asking users to pay for the content is as straightforward as it is risky. With the plethora of freely accessible online content many publishers find it hard to convince users to pay, though. A new initiative by Germany’s largest online news outlet Spiegel-Online called “Spiegel-Plus” now combines content from the print and online version and uses the Later-Pay technology. With Later-Pay users get prompted with a cost per article, but can read free until they have accumulated a 5,00 EUR bill in total — read now, pay later. What sounds good on paper has yet to prove it’s viability in practice. Several publishers stated that their users do not go for this new payment model but instead read until their initial budget is used up only to never return (or just continue to consume the free content instead).

Fair Value Exchange

These different approaches show that there is no perfectly user-friendly way to monetize online content. You either have to inconvenience your users with ads or ask them to pay. It’s either or and nothing will change that. What is needed, though, is an open discussion about value exchange. Only when a fair, mutually beneficial value exchange between user and publisher takes place can an open and free internet survive. Publishers need to communicate very succinctly, that their content is not free and that the user’s help is required to keep it coming.

ATG Ad Block Prevention

Now, how do publishers effectively communicate a fair value exchange proposition? The first step must always be an improvement of the user experience. In regards to video ads, the ATG Ad Tech Group has developed a new technology that informs users, that they cannot access the content when they are using ad blocking software. Without complete view of the single premium video ad, the content will not load. This new solution allows publishers to lock specific content instead of the whole website. So publishers may choose which content to offer for free and which for an ad view. In this manner, users have the choice to disable ad block or only use the free content. At the same time awareness is created for the monetary issues publishers face.