‘We must go back to our roots:’ UK publishers take a stand on ad blocking

Publishers need to look in the mirror if they’re going to overcome the challenges presented by ad blocking, said leading publishers at Digiday’s Europe Publishing Summit held in Barcelona this week.

The use of ad blocking software grew 41 percent globally year over year, according to a report by Adobe and PageFair, an Irish startup that sells technology that lets publishers bypass ad blockers. In the U.K., where 20.3 percent of Internet users block ads, the Association of Online Publishers’ Trends Census revealed that ad blocking was the biggest concern of 65 percent of its publisher members, ahead of ad fraud.

Those in the digital advertising industry have “lost our souls,” abandoning best advertising practices in the effort to monetize online audiences, said Alessandro de Zanche, head of audience and advertising systems at News U.K., publisher of The Sun and The Times.

“In the last 12 years, we have run after revenue targets, which have increased and increased, and therefore so have ad slots,” he said. “And ad tech was then brought in to increase the revenue and make quick money. The user has been mistreated and abused in the process. And now they are reacting.”

Perpetuating the problem is the fact that there’s a knowledge gap between publishing teams and ad tech players when it comes to what’s the right technology to use.

Ashwin Sridhar, global head of digital products revenue at The Economist, agreed, saying publishers have gone too far in embracing ad technology to bolster online revenues.

“If you walk into any publishing house and say, ‘I’ve got a way you can make incremental revenue, here is a piece of Javascript that will allow you to do it,’ that will go up immediately. We need to put the user back into the equation,” he said.

Some have been quick to tout the value of native advertising and content marketing, which often are less intrusive than traditional display advertising and not susceptible to ad blockers, as the remedy to ad blocking.

Yet native advertising is by no means immune to ad blocking, Dennis Publishing’s chief technology officer Paul Lomax pointed out.

“Some tools block sponsor logos even when served locally, and some even block whole pages if detected as a native ad, which it should be if labeled as legally required,” he said.

E-commerce has been a popular path for publishers exploring how to diversify revenue streams, but this too could be at risk, according to Lomax: “Some also block or warn about affiliate links too, potentially affecting e-commerce revenue for publishers.”


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