Ad Blocking: Where Did It All Go So Wrong?

When you sit down with Aunt Ginny and Uncle Lewis this holiday season and the inevitable, “Now what do you do again?” question is posed, take a deep breath, take a sip of wine, and declare proudly, “I’m in advertising, remember?”

Hopefully a spoon of mashed potatoes isn’t whipped at your head.

Where did it all go so wrong? It’s gone wrong for consumers – hence the mashed potato projectile. It’s gone south for advertisers – ask any of them if their life is “easier.” If the idea of ad blocking really does take off – the IAB’s own research says 34 percent of adults are using ad blocking – man, it is going to go really, really badly for publishers.

I’ve been in this industry since Al Gore invented it, so is this yet another sky = falling prediction? I guess the larger question for “industry insiders” is why are there doomsday predictions seemingly every week? We seem to miss, time and time again. Ad choices? Whoops. Fraud? Rampant. Viewablility? Almost there, almost there…

The systemic issues exist because there’s simply too much money on the line for everyone involved. Whether it’s the $9 trillion in consumer spending each of us want to capture, the $350 billion US advertising game we’re engaged in, or the $8B in online fraud that is perpetrated, these are very, very big numbers.

My team roll their eyes when I say this, but it holds true for the entire digital ecosystem in that we need to slow down, to speed up. Here’s why:

  • Consumer Trust – Shame on all of us. If you haven’t had the opportunity, watch this spectacular South Park clip. Ad blocking doesn’t solve the often terrible user experience of
    the web in many instances.
  • Democratized Content – User-generated content: remember that term? It has perceived value because it’s supposed to be authentic and trusted. Let’s be honest though. Does it look good? Does it tell a good story? I miss a certain level of production quality, editorial slant, and plain old good storytelling.
  • Revenue Models – I don’t plunk my credit card down for very much web content. Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Lewis certainly won’t either, but they happily paid for the newspaper to get dropped on the doorstep. Ad blocking doesn’t address the real problem of paying for something valuable.
  • Storytelling – The nexus of good storytelling is a mix of great creator perspective which will undoubtedly be “sponsored” by an advertiser. Less ads, real data collection, transparent advertiser participation, partnership dollars and oh yeah, consumer trust, will be the byproduct.

We need to have open conversations as publishers, advertisers, and consumers to actually solve this problem instead of reflexively fighting against it. Ping me at to sit down and have a frank conversation about value exchange. I’ll bring Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Lewis.