Million Dollar Homepage

Ad-blocking is the new normal. With the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) having launched its LEAN Ads program worldwide, I look a little closer at the initiative — and what it implies for the future of online advertising.

While I agree with the the­ory of the LEAN ini­ti­at­ive (which stands for light, encryp­ted, ad-choice sup­por­ted, and non-invas­ive), the imple­ment­a­tion leaves a little to be desired. Less place­ment oppor­tun­it­ies for pub­lish­ers and more con­straints for dis­tri­bu­tion plat­forms seem an Orwellian reac­tion to an industry still reel­ing from the arrival of HTML5.

pagefair-mapToday, almost one in five Inter­net users in the UK (and rising) have an ad-block­er installed. Advert­ising rev­en­ue is being wasted on unseen ads, ad fraud and ‘bots, while scripts, videos and bloated band­width are inflat­ing mobile data plans. The tar­get audi­ence and brands are cry­ing ‘foul’. And although LEAN addresses some of these tac­tic­al con­cerns, it fails to address the broad­er problems.

For­tu­nately, there are ways through this thorny prob­lem but, much like glob­al warm­ing, we’re not going to like it; agen­cies, dis­tri­bu­tion plat­forms, pub­lish­ers and cli­ents are all going to have to work togeth­er if we’re to move forward.

Firstly, as always, we need to get cre­at­ive. Take the humble 200kb online ad; often del­eg­ated to art­work­ing teams, many with mea­gre budgets, fast turn­around times and low expectations.

Incor­por­at­ing digit­al innov­a­tion, such as dynamic/rotating con­tent; lever­aging speed using Con­tent Deliv­ery Net­works as well as pro­gram­mat­ic and oth­er user-tar­get­ing tech­niques; and devel­op­ing con­tent-led cre­at­ive — instead of just con­tain­ers for con­tent deliv­ery — may even­tu­ally endear the user to brands and increase engage­ment. This approach will cre­ate ads that evolve and can last an entire cam­paign — sim­ul­tan­eously redu­cing media spend while increas­ing click­throughs. Block­ing ad-block­ers is a road to nowhere.

Secondly, lead­ers in this area (such as Guard­i­an Labs) are invit­ing users to become part of the equa­tion. An exten­sion of the IAB-approved ‘AdChoices’ concept, Google’s Con­trib­ut­or plat­form for Double­Click (which is yet to roll out to the UK), allows ‘sub­scribers’ to pay a monthly fee to remove ads. How­ever, this will only work if all ads are removed in the sub­scrip­tion, and the profit mod­el replaces the rev­en­ue stream (and doesn’t increase it). If there’s one thing online busi­nesses should learn, it’s that trans­par­ency is key to success.

crystal_page_load_timesLastly, pub­lish­ers, cli­ents and media plan­ners seem to have opted for quant­ity, not qual­ity. Those that work harder with their part­ners, lever­aging brand depth instead of reach, to gain the first-mover advant­age (redu­cing impres­sions and incor­por­at­ing native/sponsored/branded con­tent) will be the first to reap the low-hanging fruit; leav­ing com­pet­it­ors, pay­walls and ad block­ers scram­bling in their wake.

There has been some size­able changes in the digit­al dis­play industry in 2015, but for a long time users have always wanted the same thing from advert­ising: make it use­ful.

Show me what I need, just before I need it. 

Most users don’t want to block all advert­ising; they just want to see advert­ising that is appro­pri­ate to them (by defin­i­tion, ads not inten­ded for them are — at the very least — poorly tar­geted). We have many more cre­at­ive digit­al tools to enable this to happen.

The industry has ali­en­ated our cus­tom­ers with irrel­ev­ant advert­ise­ments force-fed to them en masse — let’s work hard (and togeth­er) to get them back on board.

They’ll thank us for it.

“Mil­lion Dol­lar Homepage” © 2005 Alex Tew
“Ad Block­ing Usage by Coun­try”© 2015 PageFair/Adobe
“iOS Page Load Time in Seconds” © 2015 Mark Wilson/Beta News