Ad-blocking is a cultural challenge, not a technical one

It’s time for some ‘nudge’ thinking or choice architecture to help reframe the proposition to consumers, Dominic Mills believes.

Rather late in the day, it seems to me, the ad industry has woken up to the threat of ad-blocking. Most of this has been provoked by the launch of iOS 9.

Even the mighty Goldman Sachs has weighed in, and when the ‘vampire squid’ takes an interest in something, it’s really time to worry.

In fact the problem has been around for a while, but the industry has been asleep at the wheel. About 18 months ago, I sat on the panel discussing the problem with industry figures, one of who ran a trading desk.

When he returned to his office, he did a quick straw poll of his staff and, to his shock, found that they all used ad-blockers. Doh!

What is absent in the debate, curiously, is any attempt to reframe the issue. And I don’t just mean by those for whom every cloud has a silver lining – i.e. printed versions of newspapers, magazines and outdoor (more on which later) – or even PR/owned media – all of which share one unimpeachable virtue: they can’t be blocked.

If you read some of the stuff coming out of the IAB, you’d think they’re coming at it the wrong way. The UK arm seems to think the problem can be solved by ‘improving the user experience’ – which I take it is shorthand for making the ads better, not following consumers round like stalkers and showing a modicum of self-restraint when it comes to frequency. Fat chance.

Meanwhile, the US arm, in what sounds like complete panic, has been talking about legal action, and fluffing itself up into a a state of righteous indignation about the immorality of the ‘racketeering’ approach employed by some ad-blockers.

Of course some of it is racketeering. But moaning about it isn’t going to help, because the thing about racketeering is that the ‘victims’ are complicit in it. The publishers are as keen to do ‘whitelisting’ deals with ad-blockers as the latter are to hoover up the money.

Both approaches are daft. Who decides what constitutes ‘better advertising’ such that consumers are only too pleased to turn off their ad-blockers? Brian Jacobs summarises the argument beautifully here.

And as for the idea of taking legal action? Don’t make me laugh. Have they forgotten the disastrous way the music business went about tackling piracy a decade ago?

The problem, I think, is that the ad industry frames the issue as a technical one, that can be solved just by tweaking a few formats here, and channelling everything into native.

But it needs to be reframed as a series of overlapping cultural issues. Some people just don’t like ads; some think we live in a free culture, where they don’t have to pay for stuff; some hate data intrusion; some people don’t understand the way ads fund free content; and some people just don’t care that it does, and don’t care that their behaviour places the media they consume at risk.

On the latter, by the way, it will be interesting to see if the debate about ad-blocking widens to include the BBC’s digital activities. As long as consumers can go to the BBC for news/entertainment, the ability of the commercial media to fight back by blocking the adblockers is circumscribed.

But that is a whole other question.

… read on at

Originally posted by Dominic Mills at Mediatel Newsline
28th September 2015