The issue of ad blocking brings up a lot of questions, with very little in the way of true solutions. Publishers are losing revenue, and brands and agencies are increasingly having to come to terms with the fact that consumers are actively avoiding their marketing messages.
At the iMedia Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, Michelle Burnham, head of media at NeuroGym, and Shenan Reed, president of digital at MEC, joined iMedia's Chris Arens on stage to discuss how the industry can come together to combat the issues internet users have with advertising. Arens opened the panel with a few alarming statistics:
- 28 percent of people in the U.S. who use the internet browse the web with ad blocking
- More than 200 million users globally are using an ad blocking technology or plug-in
- 41 percent of adults aged 18-29 (the digital natives) say they use ad blockers
- 89 percent of people who use ad blocking do it because of the user experience
- $21 billion in ad payload will be lost to ad blocking this year
"This is the biggest boycott in the history of humankind -- and it's growing," Arens said. Indeed, when South Park dedicates a three-episode series to satirizing a topic -- as it recently did with ad blocking and online advertising in general -- you know that the problem is real.
"Ad blocking is a bigger problem than we want it to be," Reed said. "I think it's going to work out, but we have opportunity as an industry to help it."
Burnham said that, as an industry problem, ad blocking ranks only moderately on the urgency scale. But that's because ad blocking itself isn't the entirety of the problem. "It's a symptom of a disease we need to cure," she said.
The disease? Bad advertising -- bad advertising that disrupts and offends the users, rather than serving them. The problem has been exacerbated by certain publishers and direct marketers who value impression volume at all costs, but the effects are being felt across the industry.
Reed equated the current state of advertising to that of a whiny 3-year-old and his parents. At first, a parent might get mad at the incessant noise and nagging. But eventually, the parent learns to simply tune it out. Like those parents, consumers have chosen to ignore advertisers until they improve their behavior.
The path toward remedying the situation starts with the brands, Burnham said. It starts with brands developing messages of value to consumers. It's then up to publishers to create the right environment for those messages, and then for ad tech to help glue it all together. To date, most ad tech has focused on optimizing ROI for the advertisers. "But what if we change the model to optimize the user experience instead?" Burnham asked. "People are, in general, less willing to accept advertising. We need to solve for that."
While both Reed and Burnham agreed that ad blocking won't necessarily lead to the death of the banner ad, they also agreed that ad blocking does suggest to need to find a way to have deeper conversations with the people who have opted out of traditional advertising. Thus, brands' content plays must be stronger than ever.
Reed also noted that there is a need and opportunity for marketers to educate consumers. Just as the music industry actively reminded people that content piracy takes money away from the artists who produce the music they love, marketers must also remind people that advertising funds the content creators who deliver the news and entertainment they value. Some will opt toward subscription models that eliminate advertising, but many more will not.
But education and alternate models will only take the industry part of the way, Reed concluded. "Beyond that, we need to get rid of some of the crap that is dragging this industry down," she said.
Lori Luechtefeld is publisher at iMedia Communications.
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