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Is a truce possible in the ad-blocking war?

Taylor Armerding | May 3, 2016
The rhetoric between online advertisers and ad-blocking companies remains incendiary. But both sides say there may be a middle ground – less intrusive, less bandwidth-hogging ads that put user experience above all else.

John B. Strong, chairman and CEO of Adaptive, and Justin Bunnell, CEO of AdSupply, in a joint statement to CSO, said consumers do have a choice – they can pay for ad-free content like that on HBO, or watch other sites, like CBS, for free because it is supported by ads.

It is essentially stealing from websites, they said, “to consume their products and then deny them payment. Would you not agree that streaming sites like Napster a decade ago were wrong to provide a way for consumers to cheat musicians out of their royalties? There is very little difference here.”

Rhetoric aside, the reality for the online ad industry is that many more than 500 million consumers (AdBlock Plus is not the only ad-blocker on the block) disagree with Rothenberg: They obviously view ad blocking as giving them freedom and choice, plus a measure of security, rather than robbing them of it.

Even some in the online publishing world agree, and say the ad industry is only getting what it deserves. Performance Pricings Holdings founder Ari Rosenberg wrote in Online Publishing Insider last fall that, “(When) consumer needs are paramount to those of the advertiser … consumers accept advertising” – what he called “an arranged marriage.”

The opposite is happening, he wrote. “The online display advertising industry is a catastrophic failure because the IAB has condoned and promoted publishing behavior that has led to this ad-blocking epidemic. 

“Ad-blockers have given consumers a voice in the online ad world – and that voice is loud, it is clear and it is filled with venom.”

Consumers, he wrote, are fed up with targeted ads that make them feel like they are being stalked, with auto-play video ads, with large ads that slow the loading of pages and especially allowing the purchase of ads through exchanges, “so our computers get infected with malware.”

It doesn’t sound like there is much room for agreement. But, apparently there is.

Even Rothenberg, after he got through trashing “ad-blocking profiteers,” acknowledged that they had, “done this industry a favor. They have forced us to look inward at our own relentless self-involvement, and outward to the men, women and children who are our actual customers.”

And Scott Cunningham, general manager of IAB Tech Lab, began a blog post last October with a mea culpa.

“We messed up,” he wrote. “As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.”

Cunningham was emphatic that, “digital advertising (is) the foundation of an economic engine that, still now, sustains the free and democratic World Wide Web.”

“But,” he wrote again, “we messed up … we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves. This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.”


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