Hey IAB, It’s Time To Shake Hands So We Can Start Building The Future

As the industry struggles to solve all of the privacy and user-experience problems with ad tech this year, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about exactly how the industry managed to find itself in the paradox we’re faced with today. As hundreds of companies continue to spawn in the industry each year, consumers are opting out of advertising online at an unprecedented rate. At the same time, people are also consistently signaling that they’re okay with advertising when it’s done with respect for user-experience and tailored to their interests.

We’ve all set out to eat a slice of the advertising pie, and co-exist in an industry increasingly being described as a duopoly (Hi, Google and Facebook, how are things?!?), but we’ve entrusted our most valuable resource — content consumers — to algorithms and bots. The only barometer that measured their concern, at least until this point, has been declining revenue, lost sales, and support tickets. Publishers have continually tossed their hands in the air and blamed others in the eco-system when poor advertising experiences are delivered on their sites. Poor advertising decisions are starting to eat into publisher’s profit margins.

We should have tracked the relationship status better. We should have been less greedy. We should have been paying more attention all around.

I mean, consumers have basically been yelling through a megaphone at us for the last five years. We couldn’t hear them because we didn’t want to hear them.

Currently, who speaks for consumers?

If we had someone looking out for consumer interests, would we be in a different position today as an industry? I’m finding it hard to argue a case to the contrary. Ad serving technology needs to get better, of course, but so does our commitment to the user-experience on the other end of the ad exchange. Why is it so hard for website visitors to provide active feedback about the ads they are seeing? The difficulty for a user to opt-out of certain ads or provide ad feedback in and of itself is a user experience problem. Installing an ad blocker is the easiest way for users to provide the industry with this feedback, currently. Would we be in this situation if we had just made it easier for users to turn off ads they didn’t like? When installing a piece of software is easier than telling us to “stop sending this ad,” that’s a huge problem for ad tech companies. Why are we waking up to this fact just now?

Our team at BuySellAds is pretty skeptical by nature. It’s not something we ask about on job applications, but we’ve seemingly cultivated a healthy skepticism towards ad tech status quo across the entirety of our team. From engineers advocating heavily for better tools to obfuscate traffic data to our ad ops teams refusing to place advertisements they don’t believe in anymore, everyone has a healthy disregard for industry status quo. Still, we managed to overlook the needs of our most precious commodity from time-to-time. If there’s anything we’re committing ourselves to in 2016 as well as into the future, it’s both bridging the gap between publisher and advertiser, and restoring faith between our publishers and their readers.

One thing I’ve taken away from the news cycle this year is that this entire industry is nothing without its content consumers. No matter how much we turn this into an engineering problem, the people who take the time to consume the content our publishers are producing have very legitimate concerns about where this industry — and the Internet — are headed.

Today, the ad tech industry and the advertising industry as a whole have a role to play in redefining the future of the web. If we’re diligent in our search for legitimate solutions, publishers will be profitable again.

Make it profitable for someone to speak for consumers and only consumers.

It’s one thing to say you’re ‘consumer-first’ as a company, but it’s another thing to build an environment where someone is constantly asking teams within your company, “are you sure you want to do that?” The innovation coming out of ad tech this year has been exciting and the potential unparalleled, but I’ve been left wondering just how more amazing these projects will be once we start prioritizing the needs of content consumers at both the engineering and monetization levels.

Ad tech companies frequently align themselves with either the advertiser or publisher side of the equation, but which ad tech companies represent the consumer side? We live in a 3-sided marketplace, yet one side is woefully under-represented.

If we can give someone the responsibility of speaking for the consumers on a daily basis and take a “people first” approach, this industry will find itself back on track in no time. If current ad tech leadership would embrace the change being driven by ad blocking companies, we’d be having a different discussion right now. Why are we, as tech companies, fighting against them? Why not embrace the concerns of users and figure out how to turn them into a powerful feedback loop for the entire industry? Why aren’t we looking to build integrations with these companies to help us gather better data about poor ad experiences?

Ad block companies can help us invent a better future for ad tech. Ignoring this fact is short sighted and detrimental to the industry overall.

It’s time we all shake hands and move forwards.


Want to learn more about what the future of advertising looks like? Check out BuySellAds.