How the IAB plans to fight ad blocking

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is tackling the widespread ad blocking issue with the global rollout out of a program it hopes will set industry standards for ads that won’t drive people to block them out of frustration.

Under the acronym L.E.A.N. — light, encrypted, ad choice, non-interruptive — the program will roll out over the next six months. The idea is to get publishers to clean up their sites, relying less on obnoxious ads that slow sites to a crawl and scare the bejesus out of users.

Digiday caught up with U.K. IAB chief executive Guy Phillipson on what the industry trade body hopes to accomplish with the initiative, established by the IAB Tech Lab.

Why is this needed?
In the U.K at least 15 percent of consumers block ads, for a mix of reasons — because they blink; because they’re annoying; the page is too full of ads, it slows down their mobile, the experience isn’t good. They don’t dislike ads per se. But this entire industry — advertisers, agencies and publishers and media owners — is responsible for stuffing it with ads unfortunately. There are some sites which are benign and others which are bad actors. This is a call to action.

How hard an approach will you take to those that don’t comply? Could there be fines?
The IAB needs to call out those who aren’t operating to the principles, because we can’t continue with so many sites that have too many ads on, too many overlays and pop ups and other annoying stuff. It’s a set of principles now, and we’ll need a good set of stakeholders to define what the rules will be. For publishers putting up notices, I’d like to have an agreed form of words we put out to consumers. We need really polite messaging, in which the consumer can understand the value exchange.

Are advertisers as incentivized as publishers to address this fast?
They will get there. With my CMO interviews their top two priorities are brand safety and viewability. But it’s not just a publisher issue; it takes two to tango. If the advertiser is looking for a really cheap CPA the chances are they’re putting their cheap ads all over the place, which creates clutter and that must be addressed. It isn’t just a publisher issue, the advertisers and agencies must understand we need quality content with quality ads.

What did you think of German publisher Axel Springer’s anti ad-blocking initiative?
My preference would be for us to move to a situation where a consumer unlocks the blocker to view the content with the ads. Of course it’s the publisher’s right to go down that route, but all research we’ve done shows consumers don’t want to pay for content. Currently the ad-blocking community is having their cake and eating it.

Some have called ad blocking companies unethical and profiteers in all this. Do you agree?
The original ad blockers were set up as not for profit. The original company called Adblock was just that. Adblock Plus operates a system where you have a white list and to join it the publishers, especially the big ones, have to pay a proportion of their revenue for the right to be on that list. Some say it’s racketeering, but the jury is not out, because in Germany a jury agreed with Adblock Plus that people have the legal right to block ads. Didn’t seem to get into the story that publishers are having to pay ad blockers to get past them. So it’s not a good situation.

But we’re very engaged with the ad blocking companies, along with the companies that can detect ad blockers. At IAB UK we’re talking to everyone and need intel from everyone. Even the rules for AdBlock Plus’ whitelist is informative for what we are doing.

And they’re being cooperative?
They come in and talk to us at a senior level. They know they won’t be best friends with all our members, but it’s the job of the IAB to bring everyone together to at least understand everyone’s points of view.