It Takes Two To Tango: The implied contract of the Internet is broken.
It’s time Publishers acknowledged their role in the acceleration of Ad Blocking as media coverage reaches fever pitch.
The Internet has been set alight in recent weeks with the rising trend of Ad Blocking. Despite the software being around for years, this graph from Business Insider highlights that the rapid acceleration started back in 2013.
This past week saw the release of iOS 9 and with it the first time we’ve seen Ad Blocking getting baked into the operating system layer. The resulting number of digital column inches dedicated to it in the past week is starting to feel like all out hysteria. A quick look on Google Trends suggest that I’m not mistaken.
The issue is multi-faceted, however my intention isn’t to provide a rounded view of the entire situation. Rather it is to bring to the foreground an aspect of the conversation that I find the most distasteful, and one that we’re unlikely to see highlighted in the articles we’re reading.
with iOS 9 and content blockers, what you’re seeing is Apple’s attempt to fully drive the knife into Google’s revenue platform
Oh, and if you’re not happy with Apple News, you can always turn to Facebook’s Instant Articles, which will also track the shit out of you and serve unblockable ads inside of the Facebook app, but from Apple’s perspective it’s a win as long as the money’s not going to Google.
This is the dynamic to keep in mind
Hey, if things do get better, consider turning off that ad blocker, okay? Otherwise I might have to start looking for a real job.
By blocking ads, you are depriving content publishers (like us, hello!) of advertising income and insights into what readers want.
Whilst none of what is being said isn’t pertinent, there’s an overwhelming tone weaved throughout all that is being written that publishers are suffering at the hands of big tech companies, the IAB, marketing companies and consumers which are actually being called “thieves” for using Ad Blocking software. In everything I’ve read, there’s a party in all this that isn’t receiving or accepting any scrutiny for their role in what’s happening.
Publishers aren’t taking responsibility for their own actions despite being one of the key architects of the situation they find themselves in.
“A roofer listens to this [taps his heart], not his wallet”
In my opinion, Publishers need to own up to being short sighted. The commodotisation of digital display media and the first age of ad blocking threatened revenue, and in response they began to adopt increasingly intrusive ad formats.
Case in point, YOC mobile and similar mobile display networks have been exploding in popularity over the last 18 months. These are networks that peddle those really intrusive, full-screen mobile ads that have close buttons that never seem to work. They generate 10%+ click through rates, media agencies love them because big numbers always go down well with clients. On the other side of that click, I’ve seen client sites get bounce rates of over 90% and average session durations of under 8 seconds which paints only one story, that the people who did click through to the client site never had any intention of doing so. The business value that lies in tens of thousands of people miss clicking an ad for your brand and immediately closing the browser or finding the back button escapes me.
I won’t dwell on it too long, the ‘poor user experience’ associated with digital display advertising is well covered in the articles I linked to, but please indulge me one more to focus on. Video advertising has also been exploding in the last 18 months and with them, a horrendous trend of ads that are longer than the actual ‘content’ that people want to see. If you allow 90 second video ads to run in front of 30 second clips, you deserve to go bankrupt.
Now the point is (sorry it took a while), the choice of which ad formats to accept and incorporate into their user experience is up to the publisher. They aren’t forced to accept really awful advertising experiences, they choose to because they come with higher CPMs and because they’re greedy and because they screwed themselves when they started selling remnant inventory to blind networks, that were never really that blind. Even in 2007 blind network sales reps were phoning up media buyers saying:
“I shouldn’t say this, but I can sell you inventory on [Insert premium publisher] for under £1 CPM!”
So we did. By the truck load. We’d go to client meetings with the premium publisher’s name on the media plan with the blind network name in brackets next to it. Clients loved us, we were paying a tenth of what the inventory was being sold direct. [Disclosure: I was a digital media buyer from 2006–2008]
The sad irony is the whole purpose of a blind network, from a publisher’s point of view, was for this to not happen. They were pitched as minimising wastage without cannibalising premium inventory, but for many it didn’t end up working like that.
Now, as with the really annoying and awful and stupid advertising formats that publishers have been choosing to work with, it was also their choice to commodotise the normal, friendlier ‘standard’ ad formats by selling through blind networks.
Publishers have been complicit in their own downfall, and the recent media coverage has completely failed to address this, reading more like thinly veiled threats to their readers that “if you don’t stop this, the content will stop and I’ll be out of a job”. Instead of looking for sympathy, publishers should be apologising for resting on their laurels for the last 10 years and maintaining the status quo of poor digital advertising standards.
After all, providing a good user experience on their website is certainly more their duty than the IAB’s, or a marketing agency’s.