'We created this madness:' Agencies take some blame for ad blocking

For a phenomenon that has terrified publishers across the board, ad blocking hasn’t seemed to phase agencies and brands — yet.

At the Digiday Agency Summit this week, Tim Sims, vp of partnerships at The Trade Desk, said that agencies and brands are invested in the outcome of the issue. Yet they seem to be, for now, leaving it to the publishing and ad tech industries to figure out how to solve it.

That’s even as the number of people using blockers in the U.S. has increased almost 50 percent in the last year, according to a report by Adobe and PageFair.

We asked agency executives whom, ultimately, they felt was responsible for the rise of ad blocking.

Gene Liebel, partner, Work & Co.
I haven’t heard a single publisher defend the UX of ad-supported Web pages. They all basically acknowledge it’s bad. And publishers have the most control over the experience, so at the end of the day you have to hold them accountable for their products, right?

But it’s also true publishers are not well positioned to solve this problem by themselves. Solving it involves developing some really nuanced standards for how and when ads can affect the experience. Then we can settle into a fair and natural-feeling value exchange with readers, something like the way magazine ads looked for decades. Well, that’s a pretty complex problem requiring some great engineers and product people and a lot of iteration.

Realistically, no individual publisher can be expected to fund that. Maybe they have to get together and solve this as an industry — and not leave it to other groups like the ad networks who don’t have as much incentive to get the user experience right.

Carolyn Hadlock, principal, ECD, Y&L
Bad ads, browsers privacy concerns and IOS 9 are to blame for ad blocking. But mostly, bad ads are why ad blocking is becoming a reality. Part of the reason is how creatives view digital advertising. The file and physical sizes are limiting. Most times, it’s an added value of the buy to get rid of inventory. It’s the ultimate advertising orphan. Until formats can be figured out, and until creative departments take digital ad units seriously, it’s only going to gain momentum.

David Macey, vp, Leo Burnett
Publishers and ad tech are to blame. It comes down to publishers being desperate for new revenue models and ad tech not being quite as smart as it wants to be. Ad tech is only able to target users based on limited Web history and third-party data. It is completely reliant on a fragmented tech stack across a large number of partners. What this means is that no one has a 100 percent view on an individual user’s behavior and never knows for sure when a user has made a purchase or dropped out of the consideration set. So, despite ad tech’s best intentions, they end up sending highly targeted, customized and expensive impressions to people who don’t want them or need them. When this happens to users hundreds of times a day, they get frustrated and go nuclear.

Jen Brady, founder and CEO, Fred Associates
[Laughs] This is all our fault. Our whole industry. We created this madness due to wanting mass data and allowing too many technology partners to monetize this data. Then, we have capitalists making money to ad block because of the poor user experience we provide users.  And now we continue to give ad blocking greater exposure because we are accepting ad blocking as an issue versus a hiccup.