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Why Opt-In Will Save Online Advertising

The IAB drew a very clear line in the sand concerning adblocking technology recently when it decided to ban Adblock Plus from attending its annual leadership summit, yet extended a speaking invitation to the Web browsing extension Ghostery. While the feverish debate over adblocking rages on, the real conversation that we should be having is starting to surface.

The rise of adblockers is symptomatic of an industry in trouble; consumers have signaled that they want more control over their online experience so now is the time for advertisers to find a better solution, instead of workarounds like forcing users to pay for content.

With the industry finally getting real about how ugly the online experience has become, I’m confident change is on the horizon. But what does that change look like?

Opt-In Advertising

Advertising has garnered a bad reputation in recent years, but with a refocus on the user, ads can be aspired again. I wholly believe that the Opt-In model is the seismic shift the industry desperately needs. It’s a relatively new paradigm so my aim is to begin an open discussion that helps bring it to the forefront.

In an attempt to define the scope of opt-in advertising, I believe that it can only exist when users make the fully conscious decision to participate in the ad experience where they might otherwise not have the choice. From a publisher and ad network perspective, opt-in is an unspoken promise to the user that their needs will be met, including but not limited to:

  • Complete Transparency – Every ad experiences should be crystal clear, zero misunderstanding that they are choosing to engage;
  • Great UX – Consumers want a better digital experience and that means ads that are minimally invasive. In fact, the IAB recently introduced a new set of guiding principles dubbed L.E.A.N., which calls for design that is “light, encrypted, ad-choice supported and non-invasive.
  • Data Security – Consumers should have complete power over how their data is collected and used.
  • Engaging & Relevant Ads – Ads should be enjoyable and impactful for consumers, and they should be from brands that they know and love.

Of course, opt-in is not a flawless solution. There are tradeoffs and it will be an unwelcomed change for many. For starters, there will be a drop in top-level ad impressions – something that publishers are sure to fight against but that advertisers should ultimately embrace. Because consumers are actively engaged and receptive, each impression becomes that much more valuable. In reality, it presents a great opportunity for advertisers to create fewer, better ads.

Another obstacle will be targeting, or lack thereof. However, we’ve found that when users have a clearer understanding where their data is going and how it’s being used, they typically want to participate. In fact, 65% of our users have opted to share targeting data in order to receive more relevant ads on Goodblock and Tab for a Cause. By introducing a more transparent approach, the consumer-advertiser relationship can become a mutually beneficial one.

What’s Working Now

Forbes.com recently made headlines by directly asking readers to turn off their adblocker in exchange for an “ad-light” experience. Instead of a workaround to the blocker or forcing the users to pay for the content, the publisher was transparent in its request and offered a new experience as a tradeoff. And the experiment worked – Forbes was able to monetize 63 million ad impressions that would otherwise have been blocked. Of course, what constitutes an “ad light” experience is debatable, and should ultimately be decided by users.

The model is already gaining momentum with a number of 100% opt-in technologies on the market including TrueX, where consumers initiate the brand experience so they only see an ad if they want to, and Ghostery as mentioned above, and Goodblock.

Looking Ahead

In my estimate, the opt-in model has the greatest potential to remove the pain points that consumers are feeling, and the friction it’s causing with publishers and advertisers.  

It will be particularly powerful on mobile where user attention and real-estate is more limited, and users demand a cleaner and faster UX above all else.

Although this approach is likely to neutralize total conversions as we know them today today — only serving 100th of the total impressions — the net gain will be greater efficiencies for the online industry as a whole. With user feedback an active component of the system, advertisers will gain deeper insight into the consumer mindset to build a level of brand affinity that has yet to be achieved.

And through an acceptance of the experience, aversion to the current state of intrusive advertising that has created the adblocking surge will naturally disappear.

-Giovanni Berber

An abridged version of this post originally appeared on MediaPost