Industry Unification Essential To Counter Ad Blocking

One of the hottest topics today in the digital marketing world is ad blocking, with everyone discussing what it means for the advertiser/publisher/consumer trifecta. Though I think the hype surrounding ad blocking is somewhat exaggerated, I believe it deeply impacts how each of these interested groups should handle advertising online and on mobile devices.

Ad blocking tools are not new. They have been around at least since the mid 2000s when ecommerce had begun blooming world over. But it wasn’t until Apple released iOS9 that the discussion truly went mainstream. In simple words, ad blockers allow Internet users to stop ads from being displayed within web browsers. This includes search, display and video ads.

{As a quick side note, that’s covertly a step against Google’s Display business, because while ads are blocked on the browser, in-app ads are allowed – that’s one of the ways Apple makes money. While Apple has stated privacy reasons for shutting down adblocking apps that impact in-app ads, I suspect the truth lies elsewhere.}

Until June 2015, an approximate 198 million Internet users – that’s 6 per cent of global Internet users – around the world had blocked ads. While the actual number don’t yet seem big, the rate at which ad blocking software was deployed has increased by 41% from 2014. Specifically in Asia and Europe, ad blocking usage is significantly higher than the rest of the world, with France, Germany, China and India in the lead.

There are two main reasons why users are interested in ad blockers. The first is that in response to declining click through rates, many ads became interruptive and hampered the browsing experience. The second is that daisy chaining of ad calls between different companies in order to match cookies between programmatic advertising firms increased the loading time of web pages and affect device and app performance. Moreover, as the use of smartphones and tables on mobile networks increased, heavy ads that would load automatically impacted both time to display content and the amount of data consumed. Publishers had stuffed their sites with bandwidth-intensive components, with no consideration given to type of device.

In defense of the ad industry, I think that though ad blockers provide a better browsing experience, the benefits of ads cannot be ignored. All the free content we enjoy over the Internet is not actually free. It’s been subsidized by advertisers who use it as a platform to reach their audience. A natural reaction of the industry, which we are starting to see now, is to ask users with ad blocks to pay for content, or inhibit their browsing experience. While Google blamed a temporary feature on YouTube that prevented users from skipping an ad if you have an ad blocker installed on a bug, it might well have been a trial run to see if the increase in revenue on YouTube made up for the loss on regular websites.

The holy grail, however, is not getting users to pay for content, or to sue ad blocking software companies. Paid content is definitely a good strategy for large publishers, but in the long term, subscription based content linked to use of ad blocking tools will not help anyone. Besides, large publishers will start monopolizing the paid content dollars, which spells doom for smaller publishers and blogs.

Since one of the core problems is with cookie mapping between different programmatic platforms, in my view, a better solution is to appoint an independent industry body, like the IAB, to act as a single point broker of cookie mapping. Anyone company who wants to build a cookie map can go directly to the IAB rather than having to build a cookie map with all other programmatic partners. This system has the added advantage of having a single point of refereeing bad players in the ecosystem. Turning off their access to the cookie map will cripple any modern ad tech firm, and the threat of doing so will ensure that everyone stays within the established boundaries.

The rising adoption of ad blocking tools has the potential to severely impact publishers and advertisers, and eventually end users who are consuming the content. The online media industry has to deal with it by using innovative solutions rather resorting to a potential lawsuit against ad blockers. IAB’s initial < a href=”″>LEAN (Light; Encrypted; Ad choice supported; Non-invasive ads) guidelines response aimed at providing the next phases of advertising standards for the digital supply chain across the world is a good first step in the right direction, but will only address one of the two core issues I highlighted in this post. The next step needs to be to change the way in which data pipes are currently architected in the ad tech world.

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Data-Driven Digital Agency and Independent Trading Desk