7 ways publishers can survive in an ad blocked web

PageFair and publisher trade body Digital Content Next (DC), along with the FT plus FireFox creator Mozilla, are seeking to help the media industry better navigate their way around ‘the blocked web’ – a term they’ve collectively coined due to increased user uptake of ad blocking.

This has taken the guise of a series of roundtable talks in multiple territories across the world, with attendees including such esteemed names as Google, the European Commission, the UK Government and the World Economic Forum, along with stakeholders from each tier of the advertising industry*.

In addition, trade bodies such as the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), magazine trade body FIPP, plus the vehemently anti-ad blocking NAA have participated in the series of roundtables where other interests such as Mozilla, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have also been present.

The moral maze that has become the ad blocking debate divides opinion in the industry. On one side are those who claim the rise of the software is a result of the abusive tendencies of the ad tech industry, while on the other there are those espousing a zero-tolerance approach.

However, with estimates claiming that there are currently over 200 million users of ad blockers in the world (and rising), with the impact in terms of lost advertising dollars costing publishers $22bn last year, the need to grasp the nettle is clear.

In a blog post published today (23 May) PageFair’s Dr. Johnny Ryan says a broad consensus from the disparate group of roundtable attendees* can be summarised in the points outlined below, and further suggests they may form the basis of the IAB’s anti-ad blocking guidelines L.E.A.N.

Even as blocking of advertising harms publishers, it also creates a new set of opportunities. Ad blocking has created a part of the web called ‘the blocked web’ where virtually all ads are blocked, he says. “Even so, the technology exists to display ads on the blocked web in a manner that ad blockers cannot circumvent.”

How to approach the blocked web

1. On the blocked Web the user must have immediate tools to reject and to complain about ads.

2. Rather than restore all ads on the blocked web only a limited number of premium ad slots should be restored. This will make a better impact for brands, plus clean up the user experience.

3. The blocked web may provide the opportunity to establish a new form of above the line advertising.

4. Contextual targeting can be used on the blocked web to establish ad relevance if other forms of tracking are not practical.

5. On the blocked web, where third-party tracking is largely blocked, publishers can create new value by engaging with their users to elicit volunteered data.

6. Measuring advertising success on the blocked web with broader top-of-funnel metrics may incentivise buyers to focus on value rather than cheapness. This means metrics such as ‘engagement time’ can be unified across digital and non-digital media.

7. On the Web as a whole there should be a maximum pageload time standard that publishers and advertisers both commit to. The growing hazard of ad blocking may incentivise this.

The outcomes have been published and the industry is awash with reports that Google itself is working on a definitive tech solution for ad blocking on course for launch next year, although the companies itself has yet to comment publicly on the situation.

Just how much the seven above points will influence the eventual solution Google is believed to be developing remains to be seen, although it should be noted that Google (somewhat controversially) also pays to be whitelisted by AdBlock Plus, raising further question marks over its eventual fix for the question.

However, the proposals have not been met with universal approval, with privacy advocate Alexander Hanff voicing his displeasure via Twitter directly with PageFair's Ryan, with the legal watchdog apparently threatening legal action (see below).

*A more comprehensive list of the roundtable attendees can be read below: World Federation of Advertisers, the 4A’s, DCN, the World Association of Newspapers, the National Newspaper Association, International Federation of Periodical Publishers, Havas, Google, Mozilla, the Centre for Democracy and Technology, the EFF, the Open Rights Group, the European Commission, the UK Government, the World Economic Forum, and many others including the global advertising holding companies.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.