Union is strength, said Abraham Lincoln and although he may not have been talking about latter day multinationals, his sentiment remains true today. Without working together, the advertising industry will struggle to contain the ad-blocker. The knock on effects are troubling for brands, media space owner and consumers alike, as online ad spend fails to cover the cost of content because, frankly, it doesn’t work as well as the print ad industry it is supposed to be replacing.


The problem with advertising online, is that the quality is so variable as to have completely depleted trust in the medium as a whole. We haven’t yet moved on from nasty pop-ups, supposedly respectable outlets installing malware and ads that, through positioning, trick us into clicking on them. This is underhand behaviour and it left web users, understandably, deeply suspicious of online ads.


Good online advertising is spoiled by association and, it is worth reiterating, all of us suffer as a result.


Enter the Coalition for Better Ads which has been set up to, ostensibly, improve the quality of advertising. No doubt partly true, but it has also got ad-blocking squarely in its sights. The biggest news about this coalition, is the names of the organisations that are behind it. With Google, Facebook, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, the IAB and the World Federation of Advertisers (to name just a few) sitting at the table, the coalition has numbers and heft. Facebook and Google alone account for the majority of online advertising (outside of China). So when they indicate that they are all going to sign up to a points based system, based on extensive consumer research, to find out what constitutes bad ads (in the eyes of the consumer) and rout them out, we’d imagine that they will go on to have some success in forcing ads online to get ‘better’.


Whether or not this actually results in fewer people using ad-blockers remains to be seen. I have a sneaky suspicion that when people are increasingly used to receiving their online content ad-free (ad-blocking will be used by 30% of UK web users by next year), it will be hard to convince them to accept any advertising, no matter how ‘good’ they become.


As a relevant aside: Adblock Plus, the most popular ad-blocker, has tried to have its cake and eat it on this issue recently. Having originally made a name for themselves as the premium (and highly effective) ad-blocker, they then created the Acceptable Ads Initiative; a program which encourages white hat behaviour among advertisers and media space owners (while monetising the service by charging larger entities for the service of whitelisting entire sites). Which worked well up until the point where they very recently decided to get into the lucrative supply side of online ad serving with the Acceptable Ads Platform: an automated service which would allow publishers and brands to place acceptable ads in front of the young, tech savvy and normally difficult to access, sought-after Adblock Plus audience. Ads that, from the get-go and across platforms, were certified viewable and not a pain in the backside for consumers.


Except at the very same conference Adblock Plus announced this, Google and AppNexus (a massive online programmatic ad serving company) severed relationships with the ad-tech company Adblock Plus are going to use, and twisted the knife with a couple of juicy quotes (AppNexus being the choice: “AppNexus does not work with companies like Eyeo (parent company of Adblock Plus); we regard their business practices as fundamentally harmful to the ecosystem. Essentially, Eyeo, via its Adblock product, erects toll booths on a public road and siphons off advertising dollars that should be going directly to publishers. We hold that practice in low regard.”)


On top of which, as successful as Adblock Plus has been with users, it is by no means the only ad blocking choice out there. The more the company attempts to cosy up to the ad industry, the more users will simply abandon and go to the competition (the comments on their own blog pages are a good indication).


So, an ad blocking company that is trying to muscle in on the ad industry, which is itself borrowing ideas about acceptable ads, both of whom are fighting over an increasingly disdainful audience. Yep, we aren’t sure how this pans out either.


By Oliver Brown