May 11, 2017

Fast Five: Ad blocking

The second instalment of Curious Season 5 saw industry titans LADbible, Google Doubleclick and The Telegraph join VCCP’s Paul Mead and Adrian Gans for a debate on the contentious topic of ad blocking. After a brief history on the open source beginnings of the software and its subsequent monetisation, the panel got down to discussing its evolving implications for both brands and publishers.

For those who missed it, we’ve picked out our top 5 takeaways from the session:


1) Friend or Foe?

Since Henrik Aasted Sørensen first wrote that fateful source code for AdBlock in 2002 we’ve seen the software evolve into a hugely profitable business. However, it’s time we stopped reductively regarding ad blockers as just simply a threat. We also need to recognise the drivers underpinning their emergence and also their credible value as guardians of the user experience (UX). As Oli from Google concisely surmised – people don’t hate ads…..they hate bad ads!

2) Collaborate and listen

Publishers know that their business relies on their ability to create great content and provide easy UX. Annoying display ads get in the way of the user’s experience and can ultimately damage the publisher’s reputation, despite the sizable revenue streams they deliver. Collaborating with publishers to create content that actually resonates with their readership should be a key priority. Working in isolation will only result in divergent agendas and a disjointed user experience.

3) Quality, not quantity

Publishers are taking the right steps to limit the plague of bad ads. By controlling the amount of random ads on their page and removing display formats that have little, or nothing, in common with the site, publishers are beginning to curate environments that don’t jar with their readership. Creative agencies, therefore, need to be more ruthlessly precise in how they use the available inventory, landing a clear message without degrading or impeding a site’s UX.

4) The media is the message

Context is a vital part of any well thought through communication. However, an unhealthy obsession with reach means that you’re likely to find an advert for a pair of shoes you wanted months ago on a site that has nothing to do with the product you’re being sold. This reflects badly on both the brand and the publisher. Reach needs to take a backseat to relevance if we’re to achieve a value exchange that the consumer can truly get on board with.

5) The sound of the police

With Apple and Google both investing heavily in their own ad blockers, there are legitimate concerns being raised about who will ‘guard the guardians’. Speaking from a publisher’s perspective, Jim Freeman of The Telegraph was quick to caveat his reservations over the tech giants being overly prescriptive and potentially stifling creativity in the sphere of digital advertising. The difficulty lies in striking a balance between consistent UX while still being flexible enough to accommodate new and innovative modes of engagement.


So there you have it, while ad blocking is undoubtedly impacting on revenue streams, our panel were broadly optimistic about its capacity to serve as a positive force for change in the industry. It compels us to adopt a more considered approach and heightens the importance of collaborating with publishers in finding innovative ways in which to engage the consumer. Special thanks to all our guest speakers (Jim Freeman, Jon Kitchen, and Oli Marlow-Thomas) for such an entertaining debate and also to Paul Mead for chairing and Adrian Gans for giving us the creative agency’s perspective. Make sure you check out the rest of the Curious season and tune in next week (May 25th) when we’ll be sitting down with the likes of ITV, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon to discuss how we’ll be watching video in the future.

Until then – stay curious!


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Team Curious

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