Let's talk about ad-blocking: How ISBA has responded to the threat

ISBA's Ian Twinn explains how the industry body is taking action against ad-blocking.

Let's talk about ad-blocking: How ISBA has responded to the threat

ISBA, and more importantly our members, are alive to the threat of ad-blocking. We listened, talked and took action with clear and succinct guidance on ad-blocking for all our members published in December 2015, following a successful event in October 2015.

Our guidance includes a number of key actions advertisers should take, including building into their Agency Service-Level Agreements minimum page load times and frequency caps. We have also suggested to members that they should commit to improving the quality of ads and customer experience on mobile. Not always a popular message. 

The authors of many ad-blocking articles make valid points and would all be more than welcome in attending the ISBA Annual Conference where there is a session to discuss this very serious topic.  

Yes, it is a threat to the whole ecosystem, but at ISBA, our role is to ensure our members can still advertise and advertise responsibly. If advertisers cannot reach online audiences, notably the specific customers and prospects identified using return-path data, and particularly amongst younger and more tech-savvy male groups, they will simply reduce the amount of money spent in this media channel. 

But it’s not just about us; our members need to work in collaboration with their agency suppliers and partners to strike the right balance between what the consumers deem acceptable and what is intrusive or annoying.  Of course every link in the value chain has a part to play from the publishers all the way through to the consumers.

We would not rule out the possibility that clients and media agencies may need to spell out in written instructions exactly what is needed of everyone in the value chain.

As is now becoming apparent, publishers took the brunt of the blame when ad-blocking became more mainstream. However, this has slowly changed and many publishers are now taking the opportunity to enhance their sites by looking into ways of improving the customer experience, such as improving load times by reducing tracking software. Those who are in tune will understand this better than others, and will no doubt gain a strong competitive advantage and in turn serve better and more acceptable ads.

Let’s not forget that the other media channels, many of whose lunch has been so comprehensively eaten by online channels, and their very effective marketing bodies, will be fanning the flames of doubt and feasting on online’s newfound misfortunes.

Indeed ad-blocking could be seen to embody elements of extortion, or protection, to allow the ads through, depending of course on which side of the argument you are on.

That’s why we ask ad-blockers for their business plans, ownership, revenue sources, longer-term intentions and/or exit strategies.  Responses are sadly too few and suspiciously cagey. Ad-blockers tend to concentrate on the public service they are providing for users being bombarded by ads, omitting the information that they themselves make money by charging companies for the opportunity to bypass their ad blocks under the guise of whitelisting. 

Some in the industry argue that we should exclude ad-blockers from the debate. We disagree with this view.  Some of them probably want us to do just that.  They purport, with some legitimacy, to represent the consumer who is being besieged by our industry’s sometimes shameful behaviours. We certainly include ad tech in ISBA’s definition of ‘our industry’, though they are by no means solely culpable. As in matters of state, we’re surely better off in dialogue than by taking discrete positions.

To keep our members up to date we are running an ad-blocking event in March with perspectives from an ad-blocker, an ad-block blocker, a publisher, a media agency, the IAB, Google and a creative agency.

In conclusion, as an industry we have to find a fair and balanced solution that is acceptable to the consumer and to the industry. A solution that keeps the content that is consumed free because of the subsidy that ads give to sites. We as an industry do not want to see the end of ‘free’ content. This is particularly the case for smaller sites who make their living from advertisements and cannot afford to introduce paywalls. Taking away this revenue might see them disappear along with their content which is enjoyed by us all.

Ian Twinn is the director of public affairs for the ISBA.