Unblock Chain

Murphys Law Bham Ad BlockAnother week, another slew of ad blocking news. Last Wednesday, the Government got involved when Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, speaking at the Oxford Media Convention, weighed into the argument, saying: “I completely understand the concern that a lot of people have expressed to me about the expansion of ad-blockers. This practice is depriving many websites and platforms of legitimate revenue. It is having an impact across the value chain, and it presents a challenge that has to be overcome. Because – quite simply – if people don’t pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist.”

He stopped short of talking about banning ad blockers, but said he plans to host a round table with representatives from all sides of the argument to discuss the issue in the coming weeks. No doubt Shine’s voluble CMO Roi Carthy is chomping at the bit, waiting for his invitation to arrive.

A couple of days later, the Telegraph and Trinity Mirror’s Birmingham Mail revealed themselves as the latest publications taking a hard line on ad blockers. Both publications are showing messages to ad blockers telling them that they need to either whitelist the site or disable their ad blocker completely to access the content. No word from Trinity Mirror, but the Telegraph says results so far have been positive.

Then yesterday, more news from the IAB, which, of course, has a heavily vested interest in digital advertising being seen by, and influencing, the people it’s designed to reach. In October last year, it launched its LEAN initiative, a set of guidelines designed to help advertisers combat the rise of ad blocking.

In case you missed it first time round, the ‘L’ stands for Light – ads should be of limited file size with strict data call guidelines in order to avoid excessive page load times. The ‘E’ is for Encrypted – ads should be https and SSL compliant in order to assure user security.

The ‘A’ is for Ad choices support – all ads should support the Digital Advertising Alliance’s consumer privacy programs. Finally, the ‘N’ stands for Non-invasive/disruptive. The idea here is that ads should supplement the user experience, rather than disrupt it.

Yesterday, to supplement LEAN we got DEAL, a complementary set of guidelines to help publishers combat ad blocking, in which it is recommending a 4-step approach to publishers, as follows. They should:

Detect ad blocking in order to initiate a conversation
Explain the value exchange that advertising enables and maintains
Ask consumers to change their behaviour
Lift restrictions or limit access, based on the consumer’s response to this.

This, in effect, is what publishers like Trinity Mirror, The Telegraph – and others who took the initiative before them like Wired and The Independent – are now doing, and with encouraging results. When the IAB released figures last week showing that 22 per cent of British adults are making use of ad blockers when they go online, it also revealed that 54 per cent of people questioned by YouGov for its study said that they would switch off their ad blocker if  a website said it was the only way to access content, with the figure rising to 73 per cent among 18-24 year olds.

This to me, makes perfect sense. I accept that the ‘Turn off your ad blocker or do one’ argument will work better for some publishers than others, particularly those with more unique, long-form content, as opposed to news that you can get almost anywhere else on the web.

But ever since the ad blocking debate started, I’ve held the view that the alternative school of thought: ‘Make the ads more engaging and people will turn off their blockers’ is pure hogwash. For starters, how will they see the ads in the first place. As I mentioned in a previous piece before MWC – where ad blocking was inevitably high on the agenda – publishers need to stand firm with a united front and explain the value exchange to those people who want to access their content for free without having to put up with the ads. Once they understand that the ads fund the free content, they will be much more prepared to accept them, I think.

In the meantime, I thought that if the IAB can keep coming up with acronym-led approaches to beating ad blocking, then why can’t I? So I’ve come up with an alternative, 7-step approach, or message at least, which also goes by an acronym formed from the first letter of each part of the message to the ad blockers. An added bonus, I think, is that is accurately sums up most publishers’ attitudes to ad blockers. It goes like this:

Please remove your ad blocker
If not we won’t let you access our content
See what we did there
So now what you gonna do?

Our content is valuable, we can’t give it away for free without ads
For goodness sake surely you can see that
Finally, you get it.

Not as snappy as LEAN or DEAL perhaps, but who knows, it may catch on.