The solution to ad-blocking? Don't run crap ads
As some industry commentators suggest that the Internet might have to turn its leading business model on its head, Flipping Pages Media founder Peter Houston argues for a more simplistic approach to the ad-blocking problem: don't run ads people want to block.
There has been a flurry of reports recently on the growing trend for consumers to use ad-blocking software. On Newsline last week, Colin Strong of market researchers GfK wrote about finding solutions to the threat of revenue lost when consumers block advertising.
There is some debate over the number of people that actually go to the lengths of installing software to block online advertising. Colin quotes figures from 10% to over 40% in specific publishing sectors. If that higher figure is even close to correct, online publishers have a real problem.
Retaliatory software that blocks the ad blockers - it's out there, but probably not.
Native advertising - yes, but there's only so much space for sponsored content.
Alternative revenue streams - definitely, over reliance on one source of cash is a bad idea and if publishers can exploit paid-content models they should.
Another potential solution is personalisation - ad targeting based on data profiling - but that raises the concern that advertisers and publishers are overstepping the mark when it comes to targeting promotions using personal data. Anyone that has visited a website only to be mercilessly stalked by its ads for the remainder of their onward journey across the web understands how creepy that can be.
GfK's research shows that for many consumers there is a limit to the extent to which they are willing to accept personalisation. As Colin says, there comes a point when targeted advertising no longer improves and consumers get turned off.
His proposed solution is the development of the 'intention economy' where customers manage relationships with brands by controlling access to their own data.
Placing customers at the centre of their own personal data is an interesting idea, but we are a million miles away from that. God love the average consumer, but some of them are still typing URLs into Google's search box instead of their browser address bar. These people are going to manage their own data profiles in the cloud?
The immediate problem to be solved is the general dislike of online ads. Or at least the dislike of what the Media Briefing's Patrick Smith calls "the intrusive, interruptive nature of CPM-driven online advertising."
To put this a little less politely: People don't like 'bullshit' advertising - advertising that is "Superfluous, unnecessary...cluttered, clunky or needlessly complex...intentionally deceptive or insincere", as defined by Brad Frost in his 'Death to bullshit' presentations.
Whether it's ads following us around the Internet, pop-ups getting in the way of content we want to view, takeovers hijacking our browsing time or just jarringly irrelevant banners interrupting our online experience, too many online ads are annoying people.
The easiest way to deal with the trend for ad-blocking and the resultant threat to revenues is to stop packing your sites with ads that your audience wants to block.
The only reason ad-blocking software has any traction whatsoever is because publishers have put short-term revenue gains ahead of their audience's interests. The industry can cry foul and fume with righteous indignation at readers' attempts to throttle their golden goose. But it was publishers that broke the age-old media contract - eyeballs in return for free content only works if you don't abuse the eyeballs.
So here's the solution to ad blocking: Don't overload your sites with irritating advertising. Don't make your readers play 'whack-a-mole' with interstitials. Don't shoehorn your content into a narrow strip below leader-boards, between skyscrapers and below pop-ups. Above all, make sure the ads you display are relevant to the audience accessing your content.
The first magazine I ever worked on ran to 400 print pages a month. Three quarters of those pages were advertising and not one person ever complained. Why not? Because every single one of those ads was absolutely in tune with the reader's interests, valuable in its own right to an audience that wanted relevant information, whether that came from an advertisement or article.
What's the solution to ad-blocking? Run ads that help your audience achieve what they want to achieve - no one's going to block an ad that offers them something they want.