As if the newspaper industry didn’t have enough to deal with, now digital ad blocking software threatens to eat into its digital profits. Ad blockers, obviously, block ads. The reason for using them would seem to be, “I don’t want to see ads anymore…duh.” But there are more practical reasons for using ad blockers. A heavy ad load is data-intensive, meaning slow load times for users, while eating up precious time, data and battery resources. The use of the blockers may persuade advertisers to refrain from installing third party tracking scripts, which can be seen as a threat to security and privacy. Some sites have loaded so many ad units that the user experience is negative.
The IAB released an Ad Blocking Primer on 3/7/16 with strategies for publishers to persuade users not to download ad blockers. The IAB is calling it a ‘New DEAL’ between publishers and users. Does anyone else find the reference to FDR’s depression-era program in the name troubling?
- Detect ad blocking, in order to initiate a conversation
- Explain the value exchange that advertising enables
- Ask for changed behavior in order to maintain an equitable exchange
- Lift restrictions or Limit access in response to consumer choice
The New York Times is now using the IAB Technology Lab’s approach to deal with ad blockers. On 3/7/16, some users who have ad blocking software saw the message:
“You currently have an ad blocker installed. Advertising helps fund our journalism. To continue to enjoy The Times, please support us in one of the following ways”.
They are then asked to subscribe or whitelist the site. The NYT has been joined by other publishers like Wired and GQ in asking users to whitelist or subscribe to their sites, making the ad blocker stand down. Some publishers are prepared to deny access to those with the ad blocker software. Other publishers are using blockers for the ad blockers; soon someone will design a way to get around that, so it quickly escalates into an arms race.
Another IAB strategy meant to be used in tandem with the New DEAL is to improve the user experience so that ad blockers are not needed in the first place. The IAB is also promoting the use of lighter ads, once again using a cool acronym: LEAN.
- Light – limited file size with strict data call guidelines
- Encrypted – assure user security with https/SSL compliant ads
- Ad Choice Supported – all ads should support the Digital Advertising Alliance’s (DAA) consumer privacy programs. The DAA is an independent non-profit organization that addresses digital data collection.
- Non-Invasive Ads – ads that supplement the user experience and don’t disturb it. This includes covering content and sound enabled by default.
Ad blocking gets at the problem that arose at the dawn of the internet — newsgathering comes at a price. A statement from a New York Times spokesperson to Digiday reads as follows:
“We are opposed to ad blocking, which does not serve the long-term interest of consumers. The creation of quality news content is expensive and digital advertising is one way that The New York Times and other high quality news providers fund news gathering operations”.
The bargain between publisher and user has always been free content in exchange for advertising. Has the industry pushed the user too far with pop up ads, cluttered pages, and tracking?