Tag Archives: ad blockers

Bad Code And Bad Business Thinking

The digital world continues to be abuzz about ad blocking. Many in the digital ad space have expressed everything from frustration to outrage, calling those who use blockers everything from misguided to thieves. They don’t, however, seem to acknowledge the root of the problem: bad code and bad business thinking. Now that mobile ad blocking is on the rise, they are turning up the rhetoric but let’s take a quick look at the problem.

It comes as no shock to anyone who has a mobile device that there are no unlimited data plans anymore. Every byte is counted against a cap, and in a world where images and videos are becoming the currency, those bytes add up pretty quickly. In essence, every screen, whether on a computer or a mobile device has a cost to the user, so it’s in the user’s best interest to be as efficient as possible when loading those pages or screens. More data also means shorter battery life since the device has to work to load and render. With me so far?

Now let’s revisit an analysis done by The NY Times last October. They spent a few days on some prominent sites measuring how much the ad blockers cut down on web page data sizes and improved loading times, and also how much they increased a smartphone’s battery life. The results?

The benefits of ad blockers stood out the most when loading theBoston.com website. With ads, that home page on average measured 19.4 megabytes; with ads removed using Crystal or Purify, it measured four megabytes, and with 1Blocker, it measured 4.5 megabytes. On a 4G network, this translated to the page taking 39 seconds to load with ads and eight seconds to load without ads.

In another example, the home page of The Los Angeles Times measured 5.7 megabytes with ads. After shedding ads, that dropped to 1.6 megabytes with Crystal and 1.9 megabytes with Purify and 1Blocker. On a 4G network, the page took 11 seconds to load with ads and four seconds to load without ads.

I’d encourage you to look at the interactive graphic associated with the article. The cost to the consumer can be anywhere from 2x to 4x when not using a blocker of some sort, and load times are much less when using one as the examples, above, show.

I get the problems these blockers cause, but maybe the bad code and bad business thinking that forces the bad code (lots of external calls for ad serving, user tracking, etc.) need rethinking instead of a lot of whining? What do you think?

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Intruders

You can’t read anything having to do with marketing these days without running into some mention of ad blocking. It seems as if the entire industry is wringing its collective hands about the revenues lost due to the blockers. It doesn’t seem, however, that there has been a great deal of discussion about how the problem came to be. I’m not going to regurgitate a blow-by-blow of the last couple of years in ad tech, but there are a few important points that are worth pointing out.  

The first, and foremost, is that actions have consequences. You probably tell your kids that all the time but as an industry we seem to have forgotten. Publishers are cramming more and more advertising onto a page. But that action may be the result of the downward push of pricing that’s a function of the rush to programmatic buying. Rather than paying for quality, marketers seem more concerned with a lower CPM. That’s a nasty set of actions.

The consequence of popups, cluttered pages, and slow load times, married to incessant retargeting (which means we’re being tracked!) is ad blocking. According to one survey, 51% of US internet users agree that companies are too often intrusive on social media. Another survey says they feel all of the push notifications we send out are not relevant or are intrusive. There is that word again: intrusive.

The single biggest change in marketing and media over the last decade has been that consumers have all of the control. They don’t watch the prepackaged lineups that networks have been feeding for almost a century (if you take the dawn of commercial radio as the beginning). The world is now user-controlled and curated. Why would an intruder be welcomed?  Why are marketers and consumers in conflict, when one’s entire mission is to help the other to make informed buying decisions?

No answers today, just guidance.  We need to stop intruding.  Even the best creative messaging is intrusive when you see it for the 23rd time in a week.  We need to help publishers provide an environment in which the consumer feels welcome, and the only way to do that is to reduce clutter by paying for the value the publishers provide.  Not every empty space is screaming for an ad.  Some folks are getting it – Turner says they’re reducing ad time on some networks.  Let’s see who is wise enough to follow.

I’ve admitted to using ad blocking myself.  It’s not a great experience – pages break or won’t load fairly often – but it’s better than the minute and a half load times I’d face otherwise.  It’s doing a decent job of keeping the intruders at bay, and the odds are the walls are going to get higher if we don’t change as an industry.  Our actions have consequences and those consequences are becoming more clear every day.

Thoughts?

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The Digital Ad Industry Wakes Up

Well, what do you know. Someone woke up the folks at the Internet Advertising Bureau, who seem to have been in a bit of a slumber lately with respect to ad blocking. Just a month or so ago they were holding meetings trying to work out the possibility of suing the ad-blocking companies. Now, it seems as if a light has gone on.

In a release entitled Getting LEAN with Digital Ad UX, the head of the IAB Tech Lab begins this way:

We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.

Exactly! Instead of treating the symptoms, they’ve finally decided to attack the disease. The piece goes on to explain how the commercial internet evolved and how the focus was squarely on technology. The key paragraph comes later, and is instructive for anyone in business:  

Through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins during the industrial age of media technology, we built advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession. Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty. The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public internet and drained more than a few batteries. We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves. This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.

In other words, we took our eyes off the consumer and looked only to our own bottom lines.  This precipitated a consumer-focused solution – ad blocking – that is undermining the entire ecosystem of ad-supported media on the internet.  It’s consumer-friendly and a business killer.  The IAB now wants ads to be L.E.A.N. – Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, and Non-invasive.  It’s a great start, but I wonder if it’s too late.  With substantial percentages of users already using ad blocking, I’m not sure we’re going to be able to reverse the trend.  At least, however, the heads are out of the sand, no longer focused on the daily financials, and more focused on the consumer.  I think it’s a good start.  You?

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Misplaced Problem Solving

A new week and another bit of news that has me shaking my head.  Today it comes from the folks at thePlatform which is a widely used video streaming service.  thePlatform announced that it has been working on a feature to defeat ad blockers and they have something that protects against ad blockers, making it easier to get ads onto new devices with minimal client work.

Diagram of Unicast Streaming

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like thePlatform and have worked with them so please don’t misconstrue what follows as anything but me trying to a little wider perspective.  I’ve written before about the challenge of ad blockers for the ad-supported digital community.  To quote one article on the subject:

There are stats out there that say nearly 28% of users have some sort of ad blocker installed, a percentage that has spiraled by nearly 70% in a year. Ads that are blocked, combined with all the other ads that aren’t seen because of viewability issues, makes for pretty bad business.

Indeed.   In this case, thePlatform is looking out for the businesses that support their services.  I applaud them for that even though it’s a misplaced solution that doesn’t cure the underlying problem.  It’s fine to defeat some of the ad blockers for a short time and to help your clients with generating advertising revenue.  However, when you have 70% annual growth in something that runs counter to your business model, maybe the answer is to examine why people are using ad blockers in the first place.

Ad blocking is most popular with younger users – 41% of American internet users aged between 18 and 29 used ad blocking software, rising to 54% when only young men are counted.  Those are the prime years for developing habitual customers.  Yet rather than figuring out how to get product messages across without being annoying and intrusive the industry is figuring out how to thwart customers’ technology.  “We’ve been extremely diligent about making sure that ad blockers can’t find patterns in our URLs they can block on” says thePlatform’s CTO.  Hmmm…

I believe in the ad-supported business model.  I also believe that you can’t force-feed consumers.  Defeating ad blockers is a band-aid and a misplaced one at that.  We need to focus on how to make ads that don’t tax computer resources and crash web browsers.  We need to respect privacy, which is another reason people install blockers.  We need to stop producing band-aids and focus on real solutions.

That’s my opinion.  Yours?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud