This past March I attended South by Southwest in Austin Texas thanks to Professor Michael Myers. He pioneered Marketing, Technology, and Innovation and it was the single best educational experience of my life. Never have I felt such excitement and genuine interest in a class. The following article is an overview of a panel at SXSW titled: We’re Not Gonna Take It: Ad Blocking and User Revolt. All three of these panels took place during the first day of SXSW Interactive.
This panel centered around- Mr. Ben Williams (Head of Operations at Adblock Plus), and Mr. Lewis Dvorkin (Chief Production Officer at Forbes Media). Ms. Marjorie Gray (Digital Brand Manager at Dish) was seated between Dvorkin and Williams. Mr. Rob Griffin (Chief innovation officer at Almighty) mediated the panel. The majority of the discussion revolved around the impact of the advent of the internet on advertising, and more so the impact of Adblock Plus.
This session paired two individuals with drastically conflicting stances on the effects Adblock has had on online advertising and the online content creators who rely so heavily on it for revenue streams. Ms. Gray provided the perspective of a long standing pillar in the proliferation of advertising. Her role at dish provided a perspective which added considerable value to the discussion. Mr. Griffin had insightful questions and mediated in a professional, well informed, and “quick to the draw manner”.
The discussion between Mr. Williams and Mr. Dvorkin began with a brief overview of the impact of the internet on advertising and publishers, and was frequently referenced throughout the discussion. The majority of the panel consisted of discussion regarding the impacts of Adblock, and more particularly the soon to come implementation of Adblocks “White-listing”. The White-listing Adblock intends to implement, was also referred to as the “Acceptable Ads Initiative”.
According to Mr. Williams if Advertisements meet the criteria established for the White-list, they would come through Adblock. Users retain the option to turn off the White-listed ads, however in trials the majority did not. Of the advertisers who are White-listed ten percent will be required to pay Adblock, so as to keep it free for the remaining ninety percent. No specifics were given as to how the ten percent who are expected to pay will be determined, however based on the comments by both Mr. Williams and Ms. Gray it appeared as if it may be larger corporations who will take the brunt of the White-list burden.
The perspectives between Mr. Williams and Mr. Dvorkin were significant. Forbes disallows users of Adblock to access their articles, as it would be devastating to both their revenues and standing with their advertisers. Both Ms. Gray and Mr Dvorkin were strongly opposed to the White-listing.
The difficulties brought to Forbes by Adblock and similar extensions and programs caused them to consider charging a fee for their content, as an alternative method of revenue generation. Mr. Dvorkis discussed how Adblocking technology caused many ads to become more aggressive, back handed, and unpleasant for users. Mr. Williams argued that White-listing will force advertisements to improve, as they have better targeting and standards. They agreed that the avoidance of advertisements increases their aggressiveness in their targeting, and that this increases the demand for Adblockers. The consensus was that adblocking and aggressiveness of ads was a cyclical process which degraded the efficacy of ads and the user experience. Mr. Williams argued that his whitelisting was a solution to end the cycle, whilst Mr. Dvorkis argued that the White-listing was comparable to extortion.
The claims that the whitelisting was essentially blackmail, held validity. The ability of the white-list to better target ads and create a more effective and pertinent experience for the user also was also compelling. If advertisements were created and targeted in such a manner that they added value to both users experiences and lives overall, there would be no need for adblockers. Adblocker themselves claimed that the majority of their users testing the white-list ads, did not opt to turn them off. If the users who were so frustrated or annoyed with advertisements that they elected to use Adblocker were content with ads and their overall experience, when the ads were effectively positioned, that they elected to keep the ads. Following this it is rational that if all advertisements were more effectively targeted and positioned than there would be no need for ad blocker nor would Forbes need to consider charging a fee. If advertisements are implemented more effectively they can add value to user’s experiences and lives, whereas they had previously taken value away.