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Eli Mandelbaum
Eli Mandelbaum 20 January 2016
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How To Survive The Ad Block Armageddon

One of the biggest misconceptions about ad blocking is that this is a debate over whether or not users should see ads.

Ad blocking has been one of the industry’s hottest topics in recent months. In the fall, Apple brought ad-blocking extensions to Safari via iOS 9, and just last month, Asus partnered with Adblock Plus to introduce ad blocking as a default on its devices.

We brought together leaders in the industry to discuss ad blocking trends and the ramifications they may have on advertising as we know it. The discussion kicked off with the focus right where it should be: on the consumer.

It’s time to face facts. No one wants to sit through preroll.

In an ideal world, context is king. Advertisers only deliver the right ads to their audience. But that’s not always (or perhaps even often) the case. Throw on top of that the fact that our private information is being hacked, and it’s no wonder people are flocking to ad blocking. We’re simply losing trust in the internet.

Even if 99% of publishers out there respect their users and adhere to brand credibility, all it takes is one terrible experience for consumers to slap an ad-blocking bandaid on that problem. Suddenly, they’re living in a world without ads. No one is forcing them to unblock them, and so they don’t. Downloading an ad blocker is just the easiest solution.

Consumers (especially those of the younger generation) are getting used to free access. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix, there’s been a shift toward clean, lean experiences that don’t waste a second of their time. We’re seeing a generational shift in perceptions about the price of content. And a shift toward subscription models may follow.

We’re at the tipping point where we need to figure out what to do next. And in order to do that, we have to really listen to consumers when they say, “I don’t like the way you’re talking to me. I don’t want this type of communication.” That’s the first step.

Don’t worry about the battle. Win the war.

One of the biggest misconceptions about ad blocking is that this is a debate over whether or not users should see ads. Ultimately, the real debate is about who should be the ad gatekeeper or as I like to say the "Cyber-Mafia".

When Google started its whitelist in 2010, it inadvertently created a business model that has become what ad block is today. Now, anyone can roll out an ad blocker and start making money because they’re acting as gatekeeper. It has essentially become a battle over control of users.

To some participants in our roundtable, this practice is simply extortion. In the specific case of Taboola, the content recommendation platform used to be blacklisted by AdBlock. Now it pays to play. Welcome to the Cyber-Mafia.

On the other side of this is another tech giant. Apple has stepped in to support ad blocking and open up that ecosystem. This may be Apple trying to stick it to Google or it may just be another way to improve the user experience (or both). At the end of the day, this a game of hardball, and we advertisers and publishers are stuck in the middle.

So what do we do? Maybe publishers put their foot down and say, “If you use ad blockers, then you can’t see our content.” Maybe they create their own ecosystem via mobile apps and say, “We don’t care about ad blockers because no one can come in and mess with the experience we’ve created.”  Or maybe they circumvent the ad blockers by rewiring everything to be served from their own sites. Meanwhile, advertisers can use this as an opportunity to think about how to raise the bar and create better ads.

No matter what, there’s going to be a lot of fallout. In 18 months, the majority of US computers are predicted to have ad block. But that doesn’t mean advertising will go away. It just means it will have to be done the right way. There will be a fundamental rewiring of how internet communication is done. The industry simply must adapt around ad blocking and use it as a catalyst for a better future. This armageddon will lead to an evolution.

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