Ad Blocking and the Who US?? Mentality

Having worked on the media side of the house for a good part of my adult life, I’ve watched the ad blocking debate quite closely. I used to make money off ads, so I know the feelings that are going on in the heads of the people who are now trying to equate ad blocking with stealing.

But the issue has far more facets than what most people have covered, and so it’s worth diving in a bit.

Back in my TNW days, I handled the ad partnership between Federated Media and our site. Every week, almost without fail, there was an ad or a campaign to which I had to say no. It wasn’t FM’s fault. They were just trying to do what was best for their company, as one might suspect. But often times what’s best for their immediate bottom line falls directly against the path of what’s best for a site’s readers.

It’s just business. Advertisers, more often than not, want the most obtrusive thing that they can buy because they’re stuck in a mentality that has been with them for decades. They see any potential annoyance as acceptable collateral damage for the clicks that they will get. So in most cases, the problem start and ends with the advertisers themselves.

But step two falls into the responsibility of the ad providers. Networks like The Deck do their best to only run ads that aren’t annoying or obtrusive, and given the prices that they command it seems to be working for them. But most other agencies will allow and try to justify popovers, full-screen takeovers, non-skip video ads and anything else that they can in order to maximize face time with the audience. I’ve even seen ad sales reps go so far as to turn an advertiser’s request for a reasonable ad into an eventual monstrosity.

The third link in this chain is the publications. At TNW, my friend Martin Bryant and I would painstakingly review every non-traditional ad placement request that came in. If it wasn’t a standard banner ad, it had to pass our gut check. More often than not, they didn’t. They were anti-reader and we never wanted TNW to feel that way. But many other publications don’t seem to care. Whatever puts money into their pockets is what will fly.

That “greed” is not without reason. Many of these publications rely solely on advertising dollars to live. They need to walk the advertising tightrope delicately because the demands of advertisers and the coaxing of ad agencies is constantly pushing into the direction of being more invasive as ad blindness continues to expand.

So what needs to change in order to overcome the inevitable? It’s relatively simple:

1 - Publications need to diversify their income. Yes, that’s a difficult task, but the idea that ads will continue to pay the bills is foolish at best. Now would also be a good time to find a way to rise above the pack. Competing on which outlet can tell the same story faster is a fool’s errand. Finding a way to provide content or context that others can’t is the way forward.

2 - Ad agencies and advertisers need to find a better way to measure metrics than tracking pixels. Even native ads (sponsored content) use tracking pixels and they’ll be blocked. Fortunately most analytics software can still tell you the number of visitors who read a page, and hyperlinks still work as they always have, allowing conversion tracking.

3 - Writers need to figure out who moved their cheese, then find a way to continue doing what they love. If they’re good at it, then they deserve to be paid. But simply screaming “STOP, THIEF!” (all due respect to Dan Primack) isn’t going to accomplish anything other than making them look self-entitled.

Yes, I get it. I’m no longer on the media side of the house, so it’s easy to sit here and throw stones. But I have indeed done my time in the trenches, and I know a lot of great writers who should continue being able to do what they love. I want success for the advertisers, for responsible publications and for writers who are worth their weight.

But simply yelling around about how everyone else is wrong isn’t going to make anything right.


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