Ad Blocking: we need better content & better standards

Technology can be the consumer’s friend as well as ours

As the 2015 Rugby World Cup launched with the hopes of the nation – and the incessant caterwauling of Paloma Faith on ITV – the International Rugby Board’s chief medical officer told BBC Panorama that concussion was an on-going concern and that the rules of rugby, specifically tackling, may need to change to counter it.

Get that. Amid the hype of rugby’s poster boy tournament kicking off, the sport’s world governing body had the courage to admit that something fundamental is wrong with their “user experience”. The really big hits may have to go – but the sport and its players will end up better for it.

So, as we’re bombarded with programmatic growth stats – tempered by nagging worries about ad-blindness and viewability issues – it was a breath of fresh air to hear the organisation that represents internet advertising in the UK recently acknowledge that digital’s own form of concussion, ad blocking, is an industry-changing threat. And is seeking to do something about it. But is it addressing the whole problem or just part?

Modern marketing mantra has been that personalisation is what people want. And if you ask someone a question like: “Would you prefer if the advertising you see was based on something you’re interested in?” it doesn’t take Steven Hawking to figure out that a reasonable response is “yes”.

Ask the same question a different way: “Would you like advertisers to record all of your devices’ internet activity and then incessantly stalk you or your family with cheap ads?” Is the answer still yes? The rise in ad blocking begs to differ.

Technology can be the consumer’s friend as well as ours. And this is not the first time clever algorithms divorced from human reality have got business into trouble – ask the banks.

Is digital advertising too big to fail? Apple doesn’t think so, which is why ad blocking is hard-wired into iOS 9. Apple doesn’t need banner advertising, it has iTunes. And Apple can afford television. Lots of it. Like Facebook.

Digital is the measurable future of marketing, regardless of what screen it’s delivered on. But not as IABUK says “if the user experience is poor”. But it’s also about more than what it describes as “advertising technical standards”.

There are two words missing from IABUK’s new L.E.A.N. standard for ads – which translates as Light, Encrypted, Ad Choice Supported and Non-Invasive. The missing words are Engaging and Relevant. I guess that would make it L.E.A.N.E.R. so to speak.

These words are regularly abused in marketing but are absolutely crucial to its long-term success: Delivering engaging and relevant content in the right context, at the right time. And not making anyone feel stalked. It’s not just about fighting ad blocking, it’s about fighting the causes of ad blocking.