After years and years of money losses, strong criticism and even lawsuit threats, the marketing industry has finally found who’s to blame for ad-blocking – itself. At least that’s what the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) posted yesterday admitting that the industry had “messed up” with its hunt for data and profits.
“Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty” wrote Scott Cunningham, senior VP-technology and ad operations at the IAB, in a long-awaited self-critical text. The post hints that marketers finally seem to acknowledge what’s driving users to install ad blockers en masse – a greedy monetization of the Web that has sacrificed the user experience just for profit.
A confession like the one made by the IAB shows that the current war on ad-blocking has failed. The years where the only thing that mattered was to display ads at all costs should be behind us now. Ad-blocking, for better or worse, has showed us that the way to monetize content on the Internet has to find the balance between more discrete and tolerable ads and the user experience. Here’s are some of the potential scenarios digital marketing will face that ad-blocking made possible.
Goodbye, free content?
Since the early 2000, digital ads served a basic purpose – to fund the content of thousands of sites around the Web. Essentially, we get free content from a lot of sites thanks to advertising. Unfortunately, intrusive ads got people tired – and thus the rise of ad-blockers began. And as more and more people started to use them, advertising revenue for many sites started to fall.
This has already spawned some alternatives to digital advertising, like subscription-based sites and paywalls. But in an Internet era when we all grew accustomed to getting all kinds of contents for free, the amount of people willing to pay for it (regardless of its quality) is at its minimum. Since those alternatives aren’t working, where could we go from here, then?
The disappearance of lots of sites seems drastic but it’s certainly a possible scenario. Some have suggested (and even implemented) to start moving towards acceptable ads following a certain guidelines. But for ad-blocker lovers even this seems unacceptable. Googling something and finding paid results at the top, as “acceptable” as they might be for marketers, can be a dealbreaker for certain people that has seen an Internet without ads is at reach. The question is, of course, at which price.
Listening rather than ordering
Up until a few years ago, marketers were sort of like the dictators of the Internet. Want to read some content or watch a video? Sort through 3 different popups and discover which play button isn’t an ad and you’re all set. Don’t want to do that? Tough luck. The line between use and abuse was quickly erased and marketers started shoving ads down people’s throats.
So, it’s no surprise that users started embracing ad-blockers and their promise of a more regulated Internet, a Web where the user was first. Having reached a critical point just now, the tables have turned. Marketers have to start listening to the audience they abused for so long. And that same audience is saying that they won’t tolerate ads as a kind of revenge for all that exploitation.
The users want to be heard and they won’t let marketers and the whole Internet industry (if there’s such a thing) ignore them. There’s a conversation about what and how the Internet should be and we’re all in the same boat now.
An end to the “eye for an eye” approach
Certain publishers that just won’t listen have started blocking ad-blocker users in what can only be understood as an “eye for an eye” approach. But while the owners of those sites might be thinking that using that method will teach ad-blocker enthusiasts a lesson, there’s a huge possibility that the whole will backfire.
It’s pretty easy to understand why – most people won’t comply with the “disable your ad-blocker to see this content” prompt and will go elsewhere to read for similar content. In the long run, sites using this approach will likely lose tons of users to their competitors. It’s tough to understand, sure, but that’s how it is. And given that users already do this, the current state of ad-blocking should bring to an end an issue that it created – blocking ad-blocker users.
What should you take from this? Simple – 2016 will be year in which digital marketing will have to reinvent itself. The needed change for that to happen is huge and the result will probably transform the Internet we know into something different. But if the process is successful and involves everyone, then perhaps we’ll be getting a more interesting and enjoyable web.