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Ad blocking 303: Should I turn off my ad blocker?

Image of Computer Guy thinking about turning off his ad blocker

Back in March, the Interactive Advertising Bureau released a guide for publishers on how to D.E.A.L. with ad blockers, as part of the organization’s growing efforts of thwarting the rising adoption of ad blockers.

While the advice makes up a witty wordplay, just who is benefiting from this deal? Publishers or the users? The answer: A broken ad tech system.

In this multi-post series, we dive into the ad tech industry, ad blocking software and our role in transforming how users interact with ads online. If you’re just now joining the ad blocking space, be sure to check out my previous posts on how ad blockers work and how ad blockers offer an opportunity to change the future of advertising.

The IAB Tech Lab Publisher Adblocking Primer outlines tactics publishers can take in response to the growing rise of ad blocking adoption. While the whitepaper refrains from explicitly advocating one tactic over another, it does suggest publishers strike up a deal with users.
The issue with this deal is that it’s focused on changing user behavior rather than focusing on how ads behave.

Last October, the IAB admitted the industry “messed up” by caring too much about revenue and neglecting the user experience, but that they’re working on changing the advertising landscape. Actions, however, speak louder than words.

To further equip publishers – and ignore users – the IAB offered members with an ad blocker-detection script that enables them to identify how much ad blocking is occurring and allows publishers to ask users to turn off ad blocking, purchase some subscription or make a micropayment – all in exchange for access to content.

Users are already frustrated with the bad ad experiences, slow loading times and data privacy concerns. By offering publishers a script that make it easier for them to block ad blocking users, it contradicts the notion that they’re putting the user first.

As more and more news sites ban ad block users in an attempt to showcase the “indispensable character of advertising as a source of financing,” as stated by the Geste trade association, the need to fix the root of the problem (i.e. the current advertising system) is becoming more important.

Without a doubt, it’s important for Internet users to understand how they can support content they love, and it’s critical that users know that some of their favorite sites are ad-supported. However, when the alternative to ad blocking is turning ads back on—ads that violate privacy and degrade the online experience—users are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Users are asking for more control, and the IAB is telling them to just deal with it.

So how can we better address the current advertising landscape? By putting the user in the center of the ad experience and shifting to an opt-in advertising model.

Ad blockers aren’t the problem, Ad tech is

The current advertising standard is based on a cost-per-impression model that encouraged content creators to plague their sites with ads, which ultimately led to the birth of ad blockers – the “problem” ad tech is hell bent on fixing. Additionally, the current model’s susceptibility to ad fraud is expected to cost advertisers $7.2 billion this year, according to the Association of National Advertisers.

Instead of focusing on maximizing impressions, advertisers should focus on maximizing ad engagement and enjoyment. Adtech should protect a user’s data, not track them online without consent; it should be helpful, not intrusive; and it should offer users an experience, not a product or service.

Once ads have become a resource for users rather than an annoyance, the standard can shift to an opt-in model, in which users are given a choice to see an ad. While many may scoff at this model, it’s a valid solution because by offering users a choice, ad engagement will skyrocket, driving a much higher ad impression value for all parties.

With this in mind, we launched the Goodblock ad blocker, which allows users to browse ad-free or opt-in to see one ad a day for charity. By giving users control over their data and a choice to see an ad, we’re seeing vastly increased ad engagement and a majority of our users opting in to share data about themselves in order to receive more relevant ads.

By making opt-in advertising the new standard, the industry can both meet the user’s high expectations and provide value to both publishers and advertisers.

Until ad blockers, users didn’t have a choice — they were captive to the whims of a system that cared more about revenue than connecting with users — but now they have a voice. It’s now up to ad tech to listen and focus on what the user wants or ignore them and move us away from a free Internet.