For publishers, ad blockers are the elephant in the room: Everybody sees them – no one talks about them. The common understanding is that the first to speak up will be dead—it will acknowledge that the volume of ads actually delivered can in fact be 30% to 50% smaller than claimed—and invoiced. Publishers fear retaliation from media buying agencies—even though the ad community is quick to forget that it dug its own grave by flooding the web with intolerable amounts of promotional formats.
A week ago, I was in Finland for the Google-sponsored conference Newsgeist. The gathering was setup by Richard Gingras and his Google News team – and by Google’s media team in London. Up there, in a high-tech campus nested in a birch forest outside Helsinki – about 150 internet people from Europe and the United States were setting the agenda for what is called an un-conference—as opposed to the usual PowerPoint-saturated format delivered in one-way mode. As expected one session was devoted to the ad blocking issue. (I can’t quote anyone since discussions took place under the Chatham House Rule).
Everybody agreed: ad blockers have grown exponentially in every market, and are now threatening the whole ecosystem.Their reach now extends to native advertising—which was until now relatively spared – because native ads can be managed by the publisher’s Content Management System – instead of an ad-server.
But ABP’s engineers found a way to spot and remove any phrase like ‘sponsored content’ or ‘sponsored by’. This creates pernicious side-effects – as the user won’t be able to distinguish between commercial and legitimate editorial content on websites. In doing so the Eyeo people now drift far away from their self-assigned ‘mission’ to protect users from aggressive ads—because branded content is seen by publishers as a credible alternative to invasive formats that disfigure websites.