Tag Archives: Ad filtering

Standards And Practices

After selling a schedule of TV ads to a sponsor, there always came a moment during which you held your breath.  It was the time when the sponsor’s commercial was reviewed by the Standards And Practices folks.  They reviewed the commercial to be sure that it complied with governmental and network rules about such areas as comparisons to competitors or “taste.”  Any claims about a product’s efficacy had to be supported by actual research. We weren’t even allowed to present avails (the beginning of a negotiation) unless a new advertiser could pass a background (read Dun and Bradstreet) check by the finance folks. 

I have no idea if those processes are still in place at my old network homes (I suspect they are), but I know that they’re not in the digital world.  Marketers often wonder about the ad blocking phenomenon but one aspect of it might just be the tremendous number of scams and consumers’ wariness of all ads as a result.  As a former web publisher, I always had a concern about the ads that came to our site via an ad network and I felt incredibly bad when we accidentally ran some banners that installed malware.  In retrospect, there were a number of red flags on the order that we should have caught, but the desire for the cash outweighed our wariness.

It’s much worse today, given the number of “imported” pieces of advertising and advertising disguised as content most sites run.  Even the best of publishers have revenue pressures that can blind them to the dirtbags to which they routinely direct their readers.  One solution?  Maybe the industry – publishers and advertisers – need to set up and pay for a central review board through which all ads need to pass.  Call it the digital advertising Standards and Practices department.  No sign off from them, no seal of approval, and the ad won’t run.  Maybe not every site will take that on, but promoting it to your readers as a scam-free site might just help both readership and ad blocking.

Worth a try?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Back To The Garden?

Over the weekend, I was thinking about how much the web has changed since I first started using it 20 or so years ago. Putting aside the tremendous improvement in speed (you haven’t lived until you’ve tried to load pages at 28.8kps), almost everything about the web is better. Graphics back then were minimal, video was non-existent. One thing that is the same, however, is that it is open. I think that it was that openness that let the web, accessed via a web browser, become the norm as opposed to the walled gardens such as AOL that were perhaps even more prevalent at the time.

Why am I mentioning this today? I think we are approaching a “back to the future” moment. You see it in what Google and Facebook and others are doing with their versions of a private internet, which I interpret to be a new walled garden. Ostensibly, this is to help users see the web much more quickly. After all, one of the main reasons people use ad blockers is because publishers overload their sites with beacons, graphics, autoplay videos, and the like.  The big guys are asking that pages be cached on their servers, in theory to provide greater speed and less incentive to block the ads.  Maybe it even allows them to substitute ads that they sell in case you can’t fully move your inventory.

The problem with this is the potential for a return to the walled garden.  If you don’t think that could happen, have a look at what happened to Facebook in India.  the company was forbidden to fully launch its internet.org initiative, which was meant to provide free internet access to million who don’t have it.  The problem is that it wasn’t access to the full, open internet at all; only to a series of sites which Facebook permitted.  That, my friends, is exactly what a walled garden looks like.As marketers and publishers, we desperately need a good solution to ad blocking.

As marketers and publishers, we desperately need a good solution to ad blocking.  From my perspective, a return to the era of walled gardens isn’t it.  How about in yours?

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Hurry Up!

I know you all want to hear another rant on ad blocking about as much as you’d like to hear an endless loop of Tiny Tim singing Tiptoe Thru The Tulips.  I’ll keep it brief, therefore.  A company called Soasta did some research with the Harris folks about what website users were looking for as they surf around.  Not surprisingly, they found the following (as reported by eMarketer):Most Important Attributes of Website Performance According to US Internet Users, Sep 2015 (% of respondents)

When it comes to website performance, internet users say personalized content is less important than a website’s ease of navigation and speed, according to a September 2015 survey. More than three-quarters of US internet users said that a leading attribute of website performance was that it was easy to navigate. Another top attribute was speed; 73% of respondents indicated so.

Here is a truism (at least one I’ve found) about digital interactions: people hate impediments.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a landing page from an ad that doesn’t go directly to the reason someone clicked on the ad or if it’s just a plain old web page.  People are pressed for time.  Any impediment we put in their way has a high likelihood of derailing the interaction.  Web pages that are slow to load because of external calls get closed.  For you non-technical people, that means when the page calls out for an ad (especially if it needs to fill the ad via a programmatic auction), or some behavioral tracker, or anything else like analytics.  Popups are an impediment as well – it’s something in between the user and what they are trying to do. The research bears this out.  Personalization, on the other hand, can help speed up the interaction since it’s based on the user’s likes and preferences.

Ad blockers generally speed up page loads.  That is one of the main reasons people use them besides avoiding tracking.  If we help people hurry up, maybe they will, in return, be more responsive to the marketing information we present instead of doing all they can to avoid it.

Make sense?  What are your thoughts?


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Filed under Consulting, digital media


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.


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Filed under Consulting, digital media

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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No Clue

You are probably aware the there is a war being fought in the world of digital advertising.  Unfortunately, the combatants are publishers and their readers who use ad blockers.  With the release of iOS9, which supports ad blockers within Safari, the fighting escalated to another level.  I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, why users are using blockers, and how screwed up the advertising-supported world of digital media has become. This is not going to be another one.  Instead, just as every war has “collateral damage”, I want to focus on a side effect this war is having, one that is causing harm even to sites (like mine) that are ad-free.  

Simply put, ad blockers have the effect of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  They often will “break” sites, leaving them unreadable or unusable.  More importantly, even if the sites render correctly, ad blockers will often block the analytics – Google Analytics or Adobe Omniture – that most sites use to measure traffic and other things.  That means that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to get an accurate measure of which content users like, what’s useful, how the site is performing technically, how to optimize the viewing experience based on browsers, etc.  Publishers have no clue.

I’ve admitted before that I use both Ghostery and Privacy Badger.  That said, I do whitelist Google Analytics and Omniture so that sites I visit know that I’ve been there. I’m not proud that I block most of the ads, but I’m also not a fan of what many sites have done with respect to commercial loads, pop-ups, rendering speed, and  constant remarketing.  If, as is being talked about in some places, many publishers band together to collectively block their sites to people who don’t want to give some value in return (check out The Washington Post’s actions), I’ll either make a site by site judgement with respect to whitelisting them (as I do some ad-supported sites now that carry reasonable ad loads and aren’t a mess) or I will find the content elsewhere.  I understand their position; hopefully, they care about mine.

Where I do draw the line, however, is with the analytics, and if you use an ad blocker I’d ask you to think about letting sites measure traffic.  Your privacy is still maintained (yes, I’m aware it’s possible to track individuals across sites but that’s the exception) and you’re providing some value in return for the content you’re receiving. It’s a small step towards avoiding collateral damage while this war rages on.  You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Gone In A Flash

If you are using Google Chrome as your browser, and over half of you are, your experience as you use the internet is about to change. Google has decided that as of tomorrow, September 1, they will begin pausing many Flash ads by default to improve performance for users. What that means is that if you are desperate to see an ad you will need to click on it to manually enable it. Otherwise, ads will remain plain images by default. Firefox is also doing this  and Amazon also said that it would no longer allow Flash-based ads to serve on its network or across its Amazon Advertising Platform.  In short, the bulk of web browsers is now Flash-unfriendly. This prompts several business thoughts.

First, yay Google and others!  Flash creates all kinds of issues, the biggest of which are that it drains batteries quickly, it doesn’t really perform that well on mobile devices (in a world that’s now mostly mobile) and, most importantly in my mind, it has abysmal security.  Just look at the recent malware attack launched via MSN‘s ad network as an example. This is a good thing for consumers and maybe makes our digital world a little safer.

Second, this is going to have a major effect of the digital ad world.  The supply of ad space is actually going to drop since much of what is out there is Flash-based.  That should kick prices up.  The question in my mind is will the price rise get publishers rethinking their ad load strategy?  I don’t know about you, but in my mind surfing much of the web has become a stroll through the proverbial Arabian bazaar – one hawker after another in an extremely cluttered environment.  Maybe this is how the tidal wave of ad blocking is pushed back?

Third, what will this do to the numerous ad-serving companies?  Who has technology that is so tied to Flash that their business model is disrupted and where are the opportunities in companies that aren’t Flash-based?

Finally, this points out how interdependent every digital business is.  The browser companies make a change and ad companies and publishers are affected.  A hardware company decides to change a business model, as Apple did with iTunes years ago, and nearly every subsequent business deal is held up to that standard.  Never a dull day in digital – how about in your business?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On