“It’s a publisher’s problem”, those are the words heard from a conglomerate CPG senior executive at a marketing event recently. We must agree to disagree as we are all in this together, yet publishers must take a strong stance and take the lead. Since the beginning of the open web, publishers have used display ads as a way to monetize their journalistic content. In fact, it was 1994 when the first display ad appeared on the web and the underlying method of monetization has remained relatively the same. But who is to blame? The web wasn’t planned or structured in any way. It was designed to be open, thriving with innovation and business models never seen before. We didn’t know better and new technologies came to fruition guaranteeing simple ways for publishers to monetize their audiences.
Over the last decade or so, large amounts of capital was invested in automation, tracking, and targeting for that last click. It has been primarily geared towards direct response marketing, not brand storytelling. It missed a key component, the consumer. All this automation and highly targetable ads created an atmosphere where users are followed around the web as if there is always an intent to purchase. And the backlash is noticeable. The chart below from a Harvard Business Review research article , showcases the strong correlation between ad blocking and ad re-targeting. Moreover, the latest Page Fair report , states there are now 419M mobile and 200M+ desktop users with ad blockers. This is a clear sign there is a reluctance to participate in the current value exchange.
Adblocking in it of itself is nothing new. It should be seen as a technological evolution tackling the problem of poor user experience. The first email spam was sent in 1978, first banner display appeared in 1994, followed by pop ups in 1998. Email providers provided their own spam filters and browsers developed pop up blockers. The last frontier, service list content blockers, came to fruition as early as 2006. The cycle is repeating itself and this time it hurts publishers the most.
How did we get there? According to the Financial Times, close to 75% of new digital advertisingspend is going to both Google and Facebook. The remaining 25% must be split among publishers and the ad tech industrial complex that further chips away from the value chain. Ironically it is the publisher’s content that users are “searching for” and “sharing” with their friends. These platforms themselves produce no content yet get to keep the majority of the revenue. It has somewhat left an ecosystem that is unhealthy. They’ve benefited tremendously by the growth of content creators and became the best direct response marketing platforms we’ve ever seen. Publishers in the meantime are left behind, desperately seeking revenue streams via ad tech tools, easy to integrate ad networks, and features that have negatively impacted the user experience. Needless to say that some of these ad tech firms who siphon away user data have no relationship to the consumer, while premium publishers like Blick.ch do. This is where we see tremendous potential for our future over the long term, to change course and turn our high journalistic product into a premium experience for both advertisers and users.
There is no denying that we as a publisher must address the problem of ad blocking directly. We must work harder to improve the user experience that readers expect. Our strategy towards adblocking will be a long journey towards cleaning up our backend and front end, removing unnecessary tags from our products to make them faster and respect privacy, and relentlessly testing and improving our product. Only then, once we are confident we’ve done our fair share towards substantially improving the user experience, can we communicate to ad block users directly to whitelist us or circumvent ad blockers through technology. Lastly, we must improve the ad experience on behalf of our clients ensuring a high degree of ad viewability which guarantees their budgets are spent in a well lit environment they expect their ads to be seen. In return, it will increase the perceived value of our product as a unique advertising space where brands can go back to what advertising should be all along…storytelling.
Autor: Juan Fernando Barón, Chief Digital Officer Publishing Ringier AG