Is a technology war the only fix to ad blocking? | M&M Global

Is a technology war the only fix to ad blocking?

Facebook followed the rest of the ‘ad tech’ business when it opted to deactivate ad blockers, only to have Adblock Plus quickly create a workaround. Surely there is a better way to solve this problem, says Millward Brown’s Nigel Hollis.

Technology war

In the end it only took two days for the ad blockers to respond. Facebook deactivated all ad blockers on its desktop website on Tuesday 9 August, and Adblock Plus announced a workaround on Thursday.

It seems the scene is set for an escalating and never-ending technology war between publishers and ad blockers.

I understand that sites – particularly those that have promised they will always be free – need to generate revenue somehow, and the widespread and accepted model is to monetise the eyeballs visiting the site by selling advertising.

The problem is that in order to satisfy investors’ demands for revenue growth many sites have become so bloated with advertising that it is tough to find the real content.

Self-inflicted wound

The rise of ad blocking is largely a self-inflicted wound created by our industry’s collective behaviour, although Facebook is certainly not the worst offender. I can live with the odd ad in my newsfeed and off in the right hand panel where they don’t get in the way.

Of course, it would be nice if I saw some relevant ads once in a while. I mean, why did I just get served an ad from Harley Davidson? Let me see – the dealer believes that as a male with a Bachelor’s degree who is over the age of 30, and living within 50 miles of a dealership I must be a prospect? Wrong. There is no chance I will buy a Hog.

“The problem is that every advertiser makes assumptions about who wants to see what, rather than just asking them”

It would have been a lot simpler if, having identified me as a prospect, the dealership had pinged me a message – suitably disintermediated by Facebook or another third party – asking if I was interested in buying a bike.

Or perhaps Facebook could have created a database in which I could record my specific interests and likelihood of buying certain products and services in the next year. That would ensure that I had no one to blame but myself for the ads that were served to me.

Stupidity of digital advertising

The latter solution was actually proposed by my wife when she had finished sounding off about the stupidity of digital advertising as practiced today. Hitting the nail on the head, she asked why advertising was so reactive.

“I am so done with [ads for] furniture, cars and hotels in Washington DC. I’ve bought the sofa. I’ve bought my car, and I have been to DC. Why can’t they ask me where I am going on holiday next, because I am not going back to DC no matter how many ads they serve me?”

The irony is that we now have platform and technology solutions that enable interaction and targeting on an unprecedented scale. The problem is that every advertiser makes assumptions about who wants to see what rather than just asking them what they’d like to see, not just on one platform but across their digital life.

As long as this continues, companies like Facebook are going to be fighting an endless battle with ad blockers to enable advertisers to keep on making those – frequently inaccurate – assumptions.

Doesn’t this strike you as odd?

Nigel Hollis

Executive vice president and chief global analyst, Millward Brown

  1. Great post Nigel.

    In the ad blocking war, I do appreciate this is a heated debate, but I tend very much to side with the publishers.
    I genuinely believe most are trying to do a decent job and incorporate ads and a revenue stream in a balanced way.
    Clearly there are unscrupulous publishers out there using invasive formats.
    In that case, shouldn’t users be voting with their mouse, rather than resorting to ad blocking/freeloading which damages all publishers?

    I agree completely with your central point: it is really odd/ frustrating that digital targeting is still not really delivering as well las it could.
    Better ad targeting should be a huge strength of online media, and it should be one of the most powerful antidotes to the rise of ad blocking.

    I’ve just played around with the new Facebook preferences option and am pretty impressed:
    The transparency is great: I could see what information was stored, and how that information had been created.
    It felt like a useful task to review and remove the irrelevant historical information from my profile.
    But of course, the reality is that is that very few “normal” people will take the time to do this, or ever become aware of the option to do so.
    And to your point: there was nowhere to state future preferences.
    The only way to express an ongoing interest in say cycling or travel-related ads is indirect; I have to start following cycling or travel brands on Facebook; which I don’t necessarily want to do.

    In the meantime, there are some other ways to help overcome these issues.
    Smart marketers are already working with Millward Brown to explore ways of targeting consumers based on likely future brand interest.
    Relatively small attitudinal seed audiences can be scaled up via lookalike modelling to buyable audiences.
    That might not solve your sofa, car, or DC issues, but it would at least solve your Hog problem!


    Ps. Over 30? 😉

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