Earlier this week, as part of this site’s ‘Ad Blocker Week’, PerformanceIN posted a piece tackling just what the recent reported surge in ad-blocker usage meant for the online publishing industry – one that relies heavily on display ad formats as a key source of revenue.

The piece drew the conclusion that it’s now up to the publishers to innovate their way out of a conundrum formed partly by their own making, but there’s little doubt that not all members of the industry share that same perspective.

To draw a more definitive answer, PerformanceIN headed to one of the industry’s biggest annual gatherings – the Association of Online Publishers’ Autumn Conference – playing host to extensive roster of news organisations, tech companies, agencies and advertisers.

PerformanceIN put the subject of ad-blockers to the experts to find out just where the industry stands. Here’s what they said…

Do you think the danger of ad-blockers has been overhyped?

Lolly Mason, head of publisher development EMEA, Celtra: It’s very hard to tell at the moment; it will be interesting to see if there’s a drastic change or whether the percentage of ads that are blocked continues roughly the same as it is. I expect there will be a bit of an increase with Apple’s recent changes.

Damien Marchi, global head of content, Havas Media Group: The danger is real if your point is one that is attached to the traditional model, that it is true that ad-blockers really challenge the usual business-model that govern the link between media and advertisers. On the other hand, if your view is that digital brings disruption anyhow, which is our point of view at Havas, I am more positive and see ad-blockers as an opportunity for brands and publishers to truly turn to content marketing, and producing great pieces of content that audience will want – and will reject ad-blockers for if they prevent them from accessing it.

Andrew Buckman, MD EMEA, OpenX: Ad blocking clearly poses a concern for publishers, with around 150 million consumers now using ad blocking technology. However, ad blocking software is also a risk to consumers – many of whom don’t realise that advertising funds the free internet and, without it, content will need to be paid for by the reader. There is a lot of hype around ad blockers but it should be taken as a wake-up call by the ad tech sector to put the user at the centre of the debate.

How do ad blockers affect your area of publishing directly?

LM: As part of my role, which is with our ad propositions, so anything that affects publishers negatively also reflects me and my role negatively as well, so we want to help them to maximise their inventory and also to come up with ads that users actually don’t object to as well. So on the one hand it means there’s a bit more call for them to do something interesting and creative, so that maybe consumers will feel less inclined to work with ad-blockers. On the other hand, it potentially means less traffic, which potentially means less revenue all round.

DM: It is a real disruption. But not the first one and not the last one. We live in a world where turbulence is the norm. If you don’t get used to it and are ready to change your “old” ways of doing, you’ll have a hard time.

AB: At OpenX, we believe that finding the balance between frequency and relevancy of ads on any given website or mobile screen enhances the consumer experience and ultimately keeps content free. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.

Are we going to see innovation as a result?

Richard Reeves, business and commercial development, AOP: The solution is not to ‘block advertising’ but to apply rigorous standards that safeguard the consumer’s ability to access quality, trustworthy, original content. If that requires publishers and the wider advertising community to remodel to create new standards, that negate the need for ad blocking technology, then that is what must be done. The important priority is not for some ill-conceived reaction but for all parties to first understand all the implications, to consult, and to consider the most appropriate direction to move the discussion forward toward resolution, collectively.

LM: Yes, people will start to look at how to create better ads with things like sponsored content will becoming more prominent, but in addition to that I suspect ‘innovation’ will also mean that people will start look at ways around the ad-blockers, such as working with ad servers in a slightly different way. Some publishers will start to find different ways of monetising their revenue as well – some have been talking about blocking content but we’ll see whether that comes to anything, I suspect not!

DM: I think the innovation will come in the form of better, more relevant to the audience brand content rather than bigger shinier advertising spaces.

AB: What I see, is the opportunity for the ad tech ecosystem to continue to evolve programmatic technology to ensure advertising remains a keystone of the online ecosystem and the only way to do that is to make the ads consumers see on websites and mobile apps as relevant to them as possible. 

Do you think this will still be a talking point next year at AOP?

RR: This issue is not going away, but it is up to publisher, advertising, and technology communities to agree guidelines acceptable to all parties, that are ‘consumer first’ in their application. AOP’s desire is to be both a facilitator and contributor to such discussions and is already engaged in a number of consultation processes as a priority.

LM: I strongly suspect it will be.

DM: No. Nature always finds a way back to its point of balance. And Havas is here to help brands and publishers navigate this turbulent time.

AB: I’m sure we will still be discussing ad blocking this time next year – but hopefully as a retrospective look at how consumer attitude towards advertising has changed, with the use of ad blockers in decline. However, the advertising industry should never cease to innovate to ensure brands and consumers continue to have meaningful interactions via advertising.