Web Publishers Must Address Reasons Why Readers Install Ad Blockers
"The digital ad environment has to get a whole lot better," Chavern explained. "Some ads are super-derivative of TV that junk up people's experience." He thinks the advertising environment online is going to get a lot better. But he also noted that in some cases the use of ad blockers isn't delivering to users what they think they're getting. A prime issue for the NAA is what's called "Paid Whitelisting," which lets some ads through while blocking others. The problem is that with paid whitelisting, the ads that get through are the ads from companies that paid the ad blocking company to allow their ads through, not necessarily the ads the end user asked for. The NAA says this is a deceptive business practice, and that's the substance of the action filed with the FTC. Of course, not all ad blockers use paid whitelisting. Some simply block all ads. And, in some cases, users disable certain objectionable technologies such as Flash. But the problem here is that the blame is being put on the ad blocking software and, by extension, the end user.The Washington Post has faced this problem straight on, and it asserts it's having less of a problem with ad blockers than many others. "You have to understand what ad blockers do to your business," said Jed Hartman, chief revenue officer for The Washington Post, "and you have to understand why there's demand for ad blockers." Hartman said there needs to be a plan for both and that it's essential companies balance user experience with revenue, leaning toward the user experience. "The ecosystem was leaning heavily towards revenue," Hartman explained. "Our owner [Amazon's Jeff Bezos] is focused on the user and advertising is focused on user experience." Because of that, Hartman said that the company researched why a Washington Post user would use an ad blocker. The result is that the Post was able to clean up its ad experience as a way to discourage the demand for ad blockers. "You have to keep your side of the street clean," he said. "You have to treat your audience well." The real answer is one of respect. Publishers and advertisers must get the real economics of their relationship with their audience into the proper perspective if they plan to stay afloat on advertising. This means they must respect the sensibilities of their audience for their long-term good. If they don't, all of the anti-ad blocker moves won't mean a thing. I know from experience that it works—I still smile every time I see Mean Joe Green toss that jersey in the Coke ads or when I see a diminutive Darth Vader start a Volkswagen, or when I see a Clydesdale colt trying to catch up. But creating that positive reader experience means respecting the audience enough to make ads they actually want to watch or read. And you can't do that by forcing it to happen.
So let's try to boil this down to its basics: Publishers and ad companies need to understand that their revenue woes aren't the audience's problem. They are the problem of the Web publishers that accept the ads and serve them up to their readers. To get a handle on their declining revenues, they need to find a way to get their audiences to view or read the ads willingly, because they're interesting or entertaining. Forcing the audience to view ads is not the path to success.