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'Pretending ad blocking will disappear is a mythology' – AdBlock Plus on the IAB fallout

After it was controversially uninvited from the IAB annual leadership conference, AdBlock Plus' Ben Williams calls on the industry to stop the mud-slinging and work together to solve the problem of users ignoring ads.

I’ve already said my piece on how the US Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) dis-invited us from its forthcoming Leadership Conference. So there’s no reason to spend time turning the screw once more or speculate about what its reasons for doing so might have been.

I’ll never know anyway. The IAB has only given oblique statements to the press, and our emails and calls have been met with silence. It does indeed seem strange that the IAB has chosen to bar Adblock Plus from participating in the event, especially following our attendance last year. We have always had strong relations with the IAB in the UK and Spain, participating in events hosted by or associated with the IAB in both countries toward the end of last year.

But oh well. Haters gonna hate, eh?

On another level though, we at Adblock Plus never wanted to post that blog entry. Our intention was to continue a conversation whose goal, at its simplest, is finding acceptable ads for users who have opted out of traditional online ads. In fact, I just got back from a great Media Post event called the Reckoning, which was full of advertisers and publishers. In addition to that, we held an event of our own recently in New York to address the future of the Acceptable Ads initiative; a 'European' version is coming up on 2 February in London.

The unintended result of my IAB blog post has been an outpouring of name-calling and mud-slinging from advertisers, publishers and even some of our fellow extension makers shamelessly trying to get some press. This is typical, and tragic, because we’re all once more ignoring the needs of the most important party in this media feeding frenzy: users.

Following the meteoric rise of ad blocking, the challenge ought to be how to address actual human beings who have chosen to turn off ads. Pretending that ad blocking will disappear is a mythology even the most tone-deaf advertisers don’t allow themselves to fantasize about anymore; instead, why not take ad blocking as a demand for a better user experience that we can all deliver if we listen to users?

ABP addresses the needs of users and gives them a better web experience by providing the option of customizing their surfing with a nimble, multipurpose tool. That is to say, we don’t just allow them to block ads; they can block trackers, block malware domains, eradicate the ubiquitous “Like” button and even write custom filters to block, well, most anything.

But blocking all the things is not our focus. From the evidence we have it also doesn’t need to be. The recent survey we commissioned of Ipsos polled 6,000 people across the US, Germany and France showed that while the vast majority find certain ads extremely bothersome, they also find less intrusive formats to be just fine.

The advertising industry needs to begin catering to its audience and working together (even with us!) to find out what users want.

There are other options of course. Big publishers such as Germany's Bild and City AM have imposed ad blocker blockades. This sort of blunt action is of course their right; but does it help us get any closer to actually discovering profitable ads that are also acceptable? Seems more like kicking the can if you ask me.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Some publishers are opening their eyes to what the audience and the large uptake in ad blocking is saying about users’ interaction with content. The Huffington Post has begun to reduce some of the more intrusive ads and “doubling down” on native ads, for instance. According to Ms Huffington herself: “Brands want to be around content that resonates. The more ad blocking becomes a big issue, the more brands are looking for emotionally resonant campaigns, and not just the typical banner ads.”

While going native probably shouldn’t be the entire answer, properly labeled and differentiated native ads can be positive. But the overwhelming point is her willingness to experiment in the interest of user satisfaction. That’s really what Acceptable Ads is at its heart.

Since we’re talking about the IAB, I would be remiss if I did not mention their efforts to listen to users. The Lean initiative is a valiant idea to set guidelines for ads that are light, encrypted, Ad Choice-supported and noninvasive – that’s the acronym anyway. I’m anxiously looking forward to its realization.

Efforts like that are the ones we need, even if they apparently didn’t want to talk about it in California. It's better to emphasise a culture of ad blocking providers and publishers collaborating to improve the end-user experience, in turn generating trust between the two. Let’s stay focused on that, and put down the next handful of mud.

Ben Williams is manager for operations and communications at Adblock Plus