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Ad blocking's war of words: Many are too caught up in the argument to see what caused it in the first place

By Andy Oakes, MD and Founder

March 10, 2016 | 4 min read

I’m pretty good at hosting panels. I’m pretty good at hosting panels and not swearing at the both the panellists and audience. All that being said, I reckon that if I have to host another hyperbolic discussion on the ethics of ad blocking then I fear all my good hosting work will be undone and my hosting career will be cut short in sweary disgrace.

It’s not that I don’t find the topic interesting or indeed relevant to my job. Let’s be honest, it’s the single biggest issue in digital media today and The Drum has devoted a huge amount of time and attention to the topic over the last year both editorially and operationally. We’re still working on our strategy and which, if any, technology partners we will work with. And part of the reason for our reticence to commit to a course of action is that it is still too hard to actually peer through the smoke on the battlefield and work what actually is going on.

Let me take you back to the excellent Exchange Wire event late last year when Sourcepoint’s Ben Barokas and Shine’s Roi Carthy sat on a panel and laid into each other. It was trade show gold but looking back you realise that it was basic playground stuff.

Let’s look at some the language being used here. On one hand you’ve got the head of the IAB in the US, Randall Rothenberg, describing the ad blockers as “economic terrorists” and “extortionists”. On the other side we have Carthy telling The Drum’s Ronan Shields that “having a nuclear bomb at the end of (a network operators) pipe is quite a powerful tool”.This isn’t a solitary example and it’s fair to say that Carthy isn’t afraid of raising the soundbite stakes. Google, AOL and Yahoo were all a bit miffed last month when he accused them of “abusing” customers with “military grade tracking”.

Speaking as the MD of a media and marketing title, this stuff is editorial gold and we’ve covered every insult, every bombastic hyperbolic statement and over the top reference. But I think we’ve reached a point where as an industry we have to say enough is enough. It feels like we’re being trolled by Carthy and his adblocking entourage and then we watch in bemused horror as the trade bodies and publishers react in a similar style. Has the debate advanced? I don’t see it. Are we any further down the line to coming up with solutions? Nowhere near.

So let’s all grow up a bit. Any reasonable commentator on the adtech world will tell you that things need to improve. The Drum has a been a vociferous advocate of clarity and transparency in this space and the need to improve creative. We also know that publishers really need to up their game and pay much greater heed to the user experience. Many are already doing that with the FT as usual leading the way.

What many will secretly admit is that the advent of the ad blocker has bought to the fore many issues that need to be addressed. If this roots out the sub-premium publishers, cuts fraud and hastens the end of intrusive creative then surely that’s a good thing? The trouble is that many are too caught up in the argument to see what caused it in the first place.

The need to improve has been proved. What we need now is a serious and reasoned debate about how publishers, advertisers and the ad blockers can come together and define best practice. Let’s find new models that work for everybody. And please can we avoid the inflammatory language and the warlike references please.

Andy Oakes is head of content and managing director at The Drum. He tweets @andyoakes

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