Ad blocking continues to be a pressing concern for the digital advertising industry, threatening to render the work of display advertisers redundant while cutting off a crucial source of publisher revenue.
The objective of the All Parties Digital Advertising Conference last Thursday (April 14) was to bring together key stakeholders under one roof to discuss and debate critical challenges and potential solutions to the ‘crisis’ at hand.
A series of presentations and panel sessions bore witness to a host of viewpoints as representatives from the likes of AdBlock Plus, the IAB UK, Trinity Mirror, Maverick Planet, Appnexus and Metro took to the stage.
PerformanceIN took the chance to speak to AdBlock Plus, Adyoulike and PageFair to gauge a summarised perspective from three very different standpoints, which can be heard in the video below:
Yahoo’s vice president of EMEA, Nick Hugh, began the conference agenda from the ground up, breaking down the issue and putting the industry’s current reaction so far to the jury.
Hugh revealed that mobile native advertising now represents Yahoo’s chief source of ad revenue, asserting that mobile advertisers should drop display entirely in response to rapidly-changing browsing behaviours, the rise of social discovery and a surge in video content.
Short-term solutions to the issue included whitelisting services offered by ad-blocking companies and messaging users directly, while the long-term plan embodied a more carefully-filtered approach to vetting what content is deemed ‘blockable’. For the second option, putting the consumer first in every respect was the point most frequently returned to.
The senior director of market research company Ipsos, Tara Beard-Knowland laid down the statistical basis of the day’s conversations, citing interference (57%), irrelevance (56%) and annoyance (69%) as the major reasons consumers have to install ad blockers, while over a third (36%) would disable them in order to access desirable content.
From the World Federation of Advertisers, its director of legal and public affairs, Adam Gagen, compared ad blocking and its approximated 200 million-strong user base as “nearly as popular as Twitter”, which claims 304 million users monthly.
Gagen called consumers “the new policy-makers”, before questioning the future balance of power between Telecom companies, regulatory bodies or ad blockers themselves, ultimately calling the issue a “world of possibility” where “digital advertising opportunities are increasing”.
‘It’s not a war’
Unsurprisingly, it was a panel debate with AdBlock Plus’s head of business development, Christian Dommers, alongside the IAB UK’s CEO Guy Phillipson and Metro’s digital director Martin Ashplant which sparked some of the day’s more contentious discussion.
Highlights from this included Dommers insisting “it’s not a war” between the Eyeo-founded plugin and the display advertising industry, adding that it’s “a basic right for every citizen to protect themselves from certain threats on their computer”.
As the helmsman of news publisher City A.M’s move to be the first UK newspaper to limit access to users of ad blocking software, Ashplant was equipped to take the publisher perspective, stating that on the most part the sector is being “punished” for “shoddy” experiences had elsewhere.
Consumers are not just going to turn them off, he argued – it’s up to publishers to take action.
Pressed around regulation, Phillipson stated that in the future there could an “industry-wide charter”, based on fundamental consumer-based research, on which non-conforming advertisers that damage the industry’s wider reputation could face a potential ban.
Phillipson continued that this would be a “staged process” reliant on the availability of tools to accurately monitor it, adding that the so far “industry has a pretty good record with self-regulation”.
The overall tone of the day was constructive, with many regarding the rise of ad blockers a “wake-up call” with which to act on to develop a more user-focused, less-intrusive experience which consumers won’t be inclined to automatically shun.
However, while the tone remained measured and diplomatic throughout, some genuine concerns over revenue were betrayed in statements calling out certain ad-blocking companies’ assertions to be concerned in the ‘evolution’ the ad industry.
“These are commercial businesses, they’re out to make money they’re not ‘caped crusaders’ despite what they say,” commented Ashplant.