I’d Like To Teach The World To Ad Block
This post was originally published in The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today.
I wish I could go door to door and help people install ad blockers. Door to door, like Don Draper meets Johnny Appleseed, but for ad blockers.
It may sound like I’m a turncoat selling out my own profession. So before you start yelling, here’s the high-level argument:
- Most of what ad blockers would block was junk/fraud anyway. Digital advertising is in a crisis — or a “subprime state,” if you will. In addition to a flood of near-valueless, low-viewability impressions, fraud is everywhere, whether as bots or ad injection. The race to the bottom seems to have reached its destination.
- The short-term pain suffered by quality publishers, will be outweighed by the long-term benefit of a more accurate representation of how much real human attention there is.
- Ad blockers are easy to detect, so publishers can easily ask consumers to turn them off. And for quality content, people will.
- Consumers are paying for mobile data usage, and even non-fraudulent ad technology creates horrible user experiences and egregious load times. Consumers should have more control over their own data, so resetting the industry to an opt-in advertising model would be a good thing.
For all of my colleagues in the publishing industry who are now expressing moral outrage, let me ask you this: Do you feel the same about your DVRs? You can’t stop the fact that consumers are in control of their media experience, or that quality content has lost to tonnage and fraud the way the system is currently rigged, but you can work to adapt. You can look at ad blocking as an opportunity to reset the relationship with your consumers.
Ad blockers should be an industry-wide wake-up call. The situation with digital advertising is so dire that the only fix might be to reset. Start at zero. And how do we do that? We create a world where every consumer has an ad blocker. Then, we focus on how to earn consumers’ attention. To ask them to opt into quality advertising rather than dealing with a world where they’re opting out in every way they can.
A little talked about fact about ad blockers is that it’s pretty easy for a publisher to detect when someone is using one — just see the latest news about Yahoo Mail restricting access to ad blockers. And then they can simply ask that users turn off their ad blockers — which, if the publisher has valuable content and isn’t offering a terrible ad experience, users ought to be willing to do. This means that high quality content could get people to opt in to enable ads, maybe after making a couple of promises that the publisher won’t abuse the relationship.
And that’s why I’d like to make sure any ad blocker I advocate has:
- The ability for a consumer to “whitelist” quality publishers to disable ad blockers. For example, I trust and value NPR.org, and I want to support its content, so I’m happy to enable its ads. On the condition that I’m offered…
- An alert to let me know that more ads are loading than what I see or have agreed to, or that my personal data is being collected or used without permission.
When ad blocking extensions have these two features — and some blockers already have them — then, yes, I will undergo my grand effort to ensure every browser has an ad blocker.
The ideal result is to reestablish a healthy, fair contract between publishers and consumers with regard to advertising. A consumer gets valued content in exchange for explicit permission to borrow their attention. If the publisher abuses this, asks for too much attention, or degrades the experience too much, then the consumer will find another path.
If everyone’s got an ad blocker, we’re at that “blank slate” phase and we can start to rebuild. What’s going to make consumers want to turn off their ad blockers? That’s the question we should be asking ourselves.