How to solve the ad blocking question

Ad blocked

If you run ad blocking software on your computer or mobile device, you’re either preventing the appearance of obtrusive, annoying ads that sometimes block content and add code that slows down the loading of the site you’re visiting, especially on mobile devices; or you’re strangling the revenue lifelines of companies who need to advertise to keep their businesses running, or enable media companies to keep paying for great journalism.

That’s pretty much what the current situation looks like, divided into two camps – the for and against.

I’m very much in the ‘for’ group as I think advertisers need to make their advertising compelling enough that visitors want to see it or, at least, don’t mind it; and publishers need to vastly improve the overall visitor experience by presenting great ads in ways that aren’t intrusive and annoying.

To me, it does come down to a single matter, as I wrote in a recent post on the subject:

Up your game, web advertisers and publishers! Make your ads such that people like me don’t mind them (at least); or can be influenced by them in a way that makes me want to engage with them (at best). You need to be thinking of your advertising as relationship-building content. Quartz has a good model.

It’s a touchy topic, sparking passionate argument from either side of the chasm.

The Guardian thinks customized ads can stem ad blocking, according to a report by Digiday.

[The Guardian’s global revenue director Tim Gentry] believes publishers are in with a better chance of mastering ad blocking if they align their approaches. “Publishers can’t fix it on their own,” he said. “Collaborating can create more options to offer users either a customized ad experience or a different type of value exchange.”

Bravo! Finally an influential mainstream medium proposing a solution rather than complaining about ad blocking.

And in the UK, mobile operator EE is considering giving smartphone users the power to control the advertising they see online, according to a report in the Telegraph:

Olaf Swantee, EE’s chief executive, has launched a strategic review that will decide whether the operator should help its 27?million customers to restrict the quantity and type of advertising that reaches their devices, amid concern over increasingly intrusive practices.

The review will look at options for creating new tools for subscribers that would allow them to block some forms of advertising on the mobile web and potentially within apps, such as banners that pop up on top of pages or videos that play automatically. EE customers could also get the ability to control the overall volume of advertising.

A great step forward if this happens!

There’s another side to the coin, too, according to Edward Snowden as reported by Mashable, who says it’s your ‘duty’ to install ad blockers:

[…] As long as service providers are serving ads with active content that require the use of Javascript to display, that have some kind of active content like Flash embedded in it, anything that can be a vector for attack in your web browser — you should be actively trying to block these. Because if the service provider is not working to protect the sanctity of the relationship between reader and publisher, you have not just a right but a duty to take every effort to protect yourself in response.

So there’s a technical imperative where the internet service providers should be part of the solution.

But news comes of a backwards step from Yahoo which is restricting access to some users’ email accounts that use ad-blocking software, according to The New York Times:

On Friday, dozens of people took to web forums and social media to complain that they were blocked from their Yahoo email accounts unless they switched off their ad blockers. The issue seems to have first appeared early on Thursday when “portnoyd,” a user on the AdBlock Plus online support forum, was served a pop-up with an ultimatum: Turn off your ad blocker, or forget about getting to your email.

Yahoo confirmed the reports, which were discovered by Digiday. Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., did not say how many users were affected. “At Yahoo, we are continually developing and testing new product experiences,” Anne Yeh, a Yahoo spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This is a test we’re running for a small number of Yahoo Mail users in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, I think there’s some simple steps advertisers themselves can take that go even a little way to being part of the solution and that don’t require huge effort or expense, as I noted in a brief conversation on Twitter last week in response to this concise comment on a Nieman Labs report on ad blocking:

Turbulent waters continue to swirl but there are glimpses of calmer seas ahead.

(Image at top via MarketingLand.)