Moral debate vs better ads to offset adblocking

By Alison Lowe | 2 December 2015

This first appeared in the AdNews print magazine. You can read it all below but if you want it as soon as it goes to press, you better subscribe here.

The best hope of overcoming adblocking is initiating a conversation about how using such tech is morally wrong, and to educate consumers who are unaware that online content is funded by advertising and without ad support it will suffer.

Frustration over adblocking is running high among publishers. Sorosh Tavakoli, senior vice president of ad tech at Ooyala, the analytics and video startup acquired by Telstra for $US270 million in mid-2014, said adblocking presently amounts to an ever-evolving “cat and mouse game” driven by “mafialike” companies looking to cash in.

Australian media owners have talked about ad-stitching, or "server-side ad insertion” as a workaround for adblocking, building ads into content on the back end rather than on the browser side.

Ooyala is currently in Australia spruiking a plug-in to its video and ad tech platforms that works to prevent the use of third party adblockers.

Tavakoli equates adblocking with stealing content and told AdNews: “It's unclear if you'll be able to circumvent adblocking in the way we are in the years to come. It's a bit of a cat and mouse game. We're able to circumvent it today but it's costly.”

As such, a “moral debate”, educating the broader public about the issue is necessary, Tavakoli suggested. “I think anyone who goes and downloads something illegally feels bad to some degree; they know they're doing something wrong. With adblocking, it's like 'Have you seen this great thing? You can block the ads. It's amazing!'” he said.

Alice Manners, CEO of IAB Australia, agrees that audience education is necessary as not many people “completely comprehend” that ads fund online content.

Revealing the peak trading association for online advertising is planning a survey in 2016 to ground its action in this area, Manners nonetheless argued that a two-pronged approach is needed if adblocking's rise is to be abated.

“Publishers must step up and take responsibility for the user experience, to identify and understand what is annoying to their audience … let's focus on optimal user experience,” she said.

Looking ahead, IAB Australia has plans to work with publishers on this through a soon-to-be-launched program called L.E.A.N. ads (light, encrypted, ad choice supported, and non-invasive).

Last month, The Guardian began testing an initiative that blocked access to content for people using adblockers, showing a message asking them to support the site in other ways if they don't want to see ads. Mi9 is doing something similar.

Guardian managing director, Ian McClelland, said that until publishers “vastly improve the advertising experience”, appeals to morality and awareness-raising will fail to do the trick.

“We know they don't want ads to interfere with their consumption of the editorial so we have to respect that and be elegant in the way we integrate ads into products and services,” he told AdNews.

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