Facebook’s move to block ad blocking software, marketers find themselves at a crossroads: go for broke with ads regardless or give consumers what they want: targeted, relevant ads? Greg Isbister, CEO and Founder of Blis, explains why things have to change
Following Facebook’s announcement that it has updated its tech to prevent ad blocking software from working on the social media giant’s desktop site, the debate surrounding ad blockers has once again been ignited.
For the social network, ad blockers not only present a risk to its revenues, but as Facebook ad chief Andrew Bosworth told Business Insider, the move is something they “really believe in,” adding that “for us, it’s a very principled stance on how Facebook should be delivered.” According to Facebook, this measure goes beyond safeguarding revenues, and instead is designed to tackle broader industry issues and look at how Facebook users can use ad controls to make its adverts better.
In the past year alone, consumers have used ad blockers to vent their frustration with interruptive and annoying ads, with an estimated 80 percent of mobile users currently using them or desiring to do so in the future. This in turn has placed publishers’ primary source of revenue under threat, casting doubts over the future of the advertising model which has been instrumental in keeping the internet free at the point of use. Some leading publishers, such as the New York Times, have started testing out “various approaches” to combat the rise of the technology, with messages prompting ad block users to either whitelist the NYT’s website, or opt for a digital subscription.
However, as both the NYT and Facebook have recognised, at the heart of these decisions is an over-arching commitment to improving advertising and addressing consumers’ frustrations. As Bosworth noted, “disruptive ads are an industry problem, and the rise of ad blockers is a strong signal that people don’t want to see them,” acknowledging that “ad blockers are a really bad solution.” This sentiment was echoed by NYT President and CEO Mark Thompson, who commented at the IAB Ad Blocking Summit that “to a significant extent, the root cause of digital ad blocking is digital ads and the way many websites deploy them on their sites.” Thompson also observed that to tackle the ad blocking threat, industry wide action will be vital.
The importance of quality content
As this highlights, the industry needs to look at the wider picture, and recognise that ad blockers only exist because of poor quality advertising. With a huge 71 per cent of ad block users stating that they would proactively whitelist sites that meet “acceptable” criteria, it’s clear that high quality, personalised content, served at the right time and in the right location, is the industry’s most valuable weapon in the war against ad blockers.
However, with the rush to automate and “scale” digital advertising, creativity and relevance have been thrown out the window by many marketers. They seem to have forgotten that each purchase decision is as much emotional, as it is logical. Just delivering thousands of ads with no regard to how awful, irrelevant and disruptive they are, is clearly not going to win over consumers.
The goal of the advertising ecosystem must therefore shift to providing content that adds to the user experience, showing users what they wish to see and benefit from. This will curb ad blocker usage and soften consumer opinion toward these advertisements.
How Can This Work?
There is an ideal scenario for both marketers and consumers; and when we look at it, we can begin to see how consumer/publisher unity can be achieved.
The scenario: consumers accept a free service in exchange for agreeing to view advertisements, and then see highly personalised, targeted advertisements delivered to them at an appropriate time. This could be a sponsored post—educating users on a new product, quick advertisements letting them know about local services during their commute, or slower rich media advertisements delivered to their tablet/pc when they were relaxing at home and in an environment more receptive to lengthy ads.
The consumer would find these ads useful and/or entertaining, sharing items that they may not be aware of and purchase points if they are interested in buying. In turn, the advertisements would be interactive and receptive to consumer feedback, sharing only content that the consumer wants to see. This will increase the likelihood of future purchases and ad real value to the consumer’s online experience. A win-win in an ideal world.
Facebook’s goal is ultimately to achieve a similar scenario, via ad preference controls, to give consumers more influence over the type of adverts they’re receiving. While users will see the same amount of ads, they should be more relevant and targeted, benefitting consumers, Facebook and the advertisers themselves. As Bosworth commented, Facebook is aiming to “provide a middle ground,” and they hope to “form more and more of a partnership with consumers, where we’re providing them with ads that improve the experience and that they don’t feel the need to block.”
A sustainable solution to the ad blocking challenge
The industry as a whole can learn a lot from Facebook’s model, however with the social network experiencing pushback from ad blockers such as Adblock Plus, it’s clear that the latter hasn’t yet lost its power. Facebook’s initiative, and those of other publishers, to place more emphasis on what the consumer wants should be supported by an industry-wide push to ensure that the right adverts are served to the right people, at the right time, and in the right location. Through this approach, adverts become interesting, engaging and valuable to consumers, discouraging them from deploying ad blockers in the first place. This in turn drives ROI for marketers and revenues for publishers, and enhances the overall user experience, presenting a sustainable solution in the long term.
Greg Isbister is CEO and Founder of Blis