Marissa Mayer's take on ad blocking: 'It hurts the Web experience'

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Marissa Mayer has a message for ad blockers: You’re missing  out.

The Yahoo CEO told an Advertising Week audience that ads, particularly those tied to people’s interest and browsing history, actually improve the experience of using the Web rather than hurt it.

“I think that for anyone that uses their browser’s incognito mode and starts getting untargeted ads or no ads at all, the experience on the Web becomes a lot less rich. I personally think it’s a mistake to install ad blockers,” she said at an IAB event during Advertising Week in New York City on Monday. “If I have friends or family members asking if they should install them, I tell them ‘please don’t because I think that your experience on the Web will get worse’.”

Mayer’s claims will likely feel like a stretch to anyone driven to use ad blockers. Yahoo’s own advertising has actually contributed more to that damage than most. In August, hackers exploited a vulnerability in Adobe Flash to infect the computers of millions of Yahoo visitors. The hack went on for nearly a week before Yahoo discovered it.

Beyond just the user experience argument, Mayer also turned the more common ethical knock against ad blocking, which critics say violates the implicit contract between readers and publishers. Blocked ads means lost revenue, which makes it harder for publishers to pay writers and continue pushing out content. This why some publishers have even ventured to call ad blocking stealing. Mayer was less hysterical. “We want to make sure that we keep those monetization models vibrant. We need to make sure we have business models that work, and advertising has worked very well for the Internet,” Mayer said. “But also makes the Internet better on a personal level.”

But Mayer didn’t let the industry off the hook either. She said that advertisers should operate with “good principles,” which in part means giving readers more transparent about what data is being collected on them while also giving them more control over how they’re advertised to.

Mayer’s anti-ad blocking stance is understandable given that Yahoo gets just about all of its revenue from advertising — not only by selling ads against its own content, but also by selling services to help other publishers monetize theirs as well. But Yahoo’s advertising business has had bigger problems than just ad blockers. It’s display ad revenue dropped 7 percent to $381 million in the first quarter of this year, putting pressure on Mayer to show big results with Yahoo’s “mavens” initiative, which focuses on mobile, video, native and social advertising.

Thus, in an accidental way, the rise of ad blocking could end up playing into Yahoo’s hands. Mayer said that the rise of ad blocking has made a strategic bet on native advertising, which makes more sense in a world where more people are rallying against display ads.

“The more advertising are like the content around it, the more reason you’re giving end users to not turn that off. It’s just like what they’re experiencing right next to it,” she said.

Photo: Giorgio Montersino/Flickr