The head of the IAB (the US online ad standards, research and support organisation), Randall Rothenberg, doesn’t like ad blockers. Which figures. After all he represents an industry that is currently trying to get a fair price for the content it creates, because for the moment at least it is really struggling to do that.
He has previously called ad blockers “economic terrorists”. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when at a recent Tech Crunch Disrupt event he refused to shakes hands with the co-founder of AdBlock Plus (the most popular ad blocker), Till Faida and told the audience that ad blocking “is an extortion based business and it hurts publishers.”
On the face of it, we should be on the side of the IAB. And to an extent we are. Indiscriminate ad blocking really is ‘a threat to the free web’. There is no distinction between any type of advertising, good or bad; as it all gets efficiently sucked up by the well designed ad blocker. Meanwhile the content creators and publishers increasingly wonder how they are going to afford the actual act of quality content creation. Paywalls don’t really work, stripping out the possibility of a mass audience. Asking the audience to turn off the ad blocker, politely or otherwise, hasn’t been effective either, not when there are websites recycling the same content without making the demand.
We are in the business of media planning and buying, so any format that has been effectively stripped of its effectiveness is a problem, and further down the line, at the current rate of blow and counter blow, there won’t be too much free quality content online if nothing is done.
Perhaps it is time to shake hands, and agree on a few things.
First, digital and mobile advertising got an awful lot wrong. It isn’t surprising that many users are righteously irritated (putting it politely) at the manner they have been advertised to online. A lot of it, to go technical for a moment, sucked. From bandwith hogging pop up videos that make you want to throw your device out of the window, to errant clicks that take you a thousand miles away from where you wanted to be, perhaps peaking (if that is the word) with the way that Forbes insisted you switch off your ad blocker before immediately installing malware to track you online (in lieu of anyone actually wanting to subscribe); the process seemed to go against everything that a century of effective advertising practise had taught us.
On the flipside, quality content has to be paid for, and advertising, delivered with respect for the audience, is the best chance of that happening.
IAB themselves are trying to deliver new online advertising standards that will push for improvements in the industry, and hopefully removing the need for ad blocking through a better experience for users, via The L.E.A.N. ads program (Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads). It is, according to the IAB:
…principles that will help guide the next phases of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain.


Elsewhere AdBlock Plus themselves are pushing their own standards, the Acceptable Ads Initiative. Ads that comply can make it past the basic block and, in a neat monetising twist, if an organisation complies, it can apply (and pay) to be whitelisted.

It’s interesting how they almost present the same argument but from different perspectives, each vying for the right to say how an ad should be served digitally. Whatever happens it is clear that, for all of the advances in ad tech that digital and mobile have given the industry, the future might be based around the quaint premise of treating the audience with a little respect.
By Oliver Brown