In 2015, faced with the unavoidable evidence that people’s tolerance for crap, spammy, slow loading digital ads had finally snapped, the IAB made a pretty brave announcement. The body that sets industry standards for online advertising admitted it had fucked up, big time.
“Tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience. We built advertising technology to optimise publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession. Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty.”
The adblocking phenomenon has for some reason come as a shock to the advertising and publishing industries. The overlap of better, more widely available adblocking tools and a rising awareness of the creepiness of personalised ads combined to create a perfect storm and it didn’t take long the digital display house of cards started to tumble.
Initially the IAB didn’t rest on its laurels.
Though it holds little real power to command advertisers to clean up the way they buy, create and place digital advertising, the global body outlined new ‘L.E.A.N.’ guidelines designed to improve user experience.
But their tunes has changed.
Less than a year later, the IAB released this statement, in which it outlined why ‘adblocking is wrong’.
As abetted by for-profit technology companies, ad blocking is robbery, plain and simple – an extortionist scheme that exploits consumer disaffection and risks distorting the economics of democratic capitalism. A primary culprit is unethical technology companies seeking to divert ad spending into their own pockets.
That, to me, is at best a partial attempt to deflect attention by blaming others.
In fairness, elsewhere in the statement there’s a nod to the need to change display advertising for the better. But that’s not the point.
Why the need to apportion blame elsewhere in the first place? Why not just concentrate on our own failings? Why the need to attack adblocking and claim that it’s “evil” and “exploitative”? That’s not going to help now.
At times, our lack of empathy towards people is astonishing. We clog up social news feeds with irrelevant and meaningless ‘content’, freak web browsers out with creepy re-targeted ads and push ourselves in front of browsers in increasingly annoying ways.
And then we blame the people who choose to block these ads and accuse them of stealing from us.
It’s like a a child saying “yeah, we’re bad, but those guys are worse!”.
It’s like trying to scold the horse after it’s already bolted, jumped the fence and run to the next town!
And it’s not just the IAB acting like an ostrich. The prevailing message from a section of publishers and advertisers over the last year has been about a ‘war against adblocking’.
Excuse my language, but that’s horseshit.
It’s real ‘head in the sand’ stuff.
This isn’t about a ‘war against ad blocking’. That’s the wrong way to think about it. And if we keep thinking of it that way then we’ll go on not understanding the problems that got us here.
For the IAB and the advertising industry, it’s irrelevant whether adblocking is wrong or not, we need to just accept that it exists and it’s a huge issue caused by us.
Why waste time carping about users and blaming others when you’ve more than enough on your own plate trying to save a business model that’s burning all around you?
For once, let’s not complain, but instead try to accept and improve the root cause of the problem – our frivolous approach to consumer’s attention.
Because most of us haven’t accepted we have a problem.
Recent data released in the US would support this.
- 85% of advertisers and 82% of operators “think the mobile ad experience is positive for end users”
- 47% of consumers think “the mobile phone ad experience (for them) is positive”
- 39% of consumers “think ads are irrelevant”
- 36% blame “poor or irritating format”
- 40% “believe the volume of ads served to them are a main reason for the negative experience”
Basically, we’re so disconnected from reality that we actually still believe that the majority of people want our crappy advertising served alongside their content.
It strikes me that the solution to this problem is not about attacking adblock companies or the consumers who choose to use them.
It’s not about asking “are we winning the war?“.
It’s about being progressive and asking “do we understand why people use #adblock and are we improving their experience?”
All isn’t lost. Two-thirds of ad block users are open to welcoming ads back into their lives.
Adland and the IAB should take their own advice. We fucked up. Let’s cure the disease instead of treating the symptoms.
Let’s just focus on making better fucking ads!
Of the many pithy David Ogilvy quotes that still ring true for adland today, one in particular isn’t being heeded.
We need to remember that.