As Technology Defeats Ad Blocking, Online Ads Must Improve

A roundtable of key cross-industry stakeholders has put forward a four-point plan to rescue the credibility of the online advertising experience in the face of ad blocking, intrusive tracking, and poor metrics.

Representatives from the World Federation of Advertisers, the World Economic Forum, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe met in London this month with other key stakeholders — advertisers, agencies, consumer groups, publishers and a government representative.

All parties agreed on four main points: the user must have immediate tools to reject and complain about advertising; only a limited number of premium advertising slots should be displayed; use of contextual targeting should be increased to end over reliance on behavioral tracking; and better metrics of advertising success are needed to improve online advertising.

Companies such as anti-ad-blocking firm PageFair, which put together the roundtable event, have developed the technology to bypass ad blockers altogether. And services like AdBlock-Plus routinely allow ads that meet nonintrusive criteria.

Chris Payne, public affairs manager and head of the digital advertising unit at the WFA, said, “There is a big question around whether consumers would be comfortable with marketers and agencies trying to shoehorn advertising back into the experience without them choosing to have it happen. Bypassing could be the best way to further frustrate consumers, and that is an outcome we would wish to avoid.”

PageFair’s head of ecosystem, Johnny Ryan, however, said the ability to bypass ad blockers is a way to clean up the web, by reinstating only a small number of premium ads. “The dawning technological irrelevance of ad blockers should not allow a return to the situation before ad blocking,” he said. “It’s not [PageFair’s] job to decide what quality is — we need to make sure a legitimate set of parties does that.”

The discussion addressed the importance of allowing consumers to express their frustrations without resorting to ad blockers, and the responsible use of data to avoid clumsy tracking behavior.

Poor metrics, it was agreed, reduce the incentive to make good online ads. Mr. Payne said, “Ultimately, how we measure success within the industry will affect behavioral change. The industry has struggled to come up with metrics that reflect the real value of advertising in the eyes of the consumer. Current indicators of success, such as pay-per-view, aren’t necessarily indicative of a happy consumer.”

Individuals and groups at the meeting are now presenting the four-point plan to peers and colleagues as they work out a way to put it into practice.

Dr. Ryan added, “Hundreds of millions of users have rebelled against the status quo in advertising. We are seeing the collapse of the mechanism that has supported the diversity of content on the open web since the 1990s. Blocking is an opportunity to undo the mistakes of the first 20 years of advertising on the web.”

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