The start of something to save publishers on the open Web

In July I wrote on this blog that “online advertising is destroying itself“. That was two days before I joined PageFair and started to work on the problem.

Earlier this month (September) I organised a meeting of global publishing leaders in the boardroom of The Financial Times to consider how best to address ad blocking. The fruit of that discussion is “Advertising 2.0: a call to think”, signed yesterday (26 September 2015) by the CEOs of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and Digital Content Next.

Ben Shaw snapped a few pictures. High-level meeting of publishers in the board room of The Financial Times publishers organised by PageFair.
Ben Shaw of WAN-IFRA snapped a few pictures: high-level meeting of publishers in the board room of The Financial Times organised by PageFair, 9 September 2015.

These two industry bodies represent nearly 20,000 publishers and websites across the globe. The ‘call to think’ marks the beginning of a discussion on the future of advertising, and the first step in the global publishing industry’s response to ad blocking.

As PageFair reports each year, we are seeing linear, not exponential, growth in ad blocking. Though publishers are certainly feeling the pain of ad blocking now, and some may already be failing as a result, ad blocking is not merely a short term phenomenon. It is a persistent phenomenon that will continue to grow steadily over several years if left unaddressed.

There is a danger that the intense but short term focus that the topic now enjoys will prevent mature industry reflection on enduring, long-term solutions. In other words, the level of short term hype that surrounds ad blocking now may prevent long-term action in the future.

I teased some of the ‘call to think’ in interviews at Dmexco earlier this month. 

That is why PageFair initiated the present call to think. It is essential that publishers, not advertising companies, lead this discussion. Publishers have permitted the advertising industry to run amok on their websites for two decades, obscuring site content, snooping on users’ data, and slowing their connections. The tragedy of advertising’s status quo is that publishers, not advertisers or their agencies, are the ones who feel the pain of ad blocking.

PageFair was founded by publishers who suffered the pain of ad blocking first hand. It is an anti-ad block company that works with ComScore 50 leaders and tracks billions of ad block hits each month across more than 3,000 client websites. However, we understand why hundreds of millions of users have now voted with their browsers to block ads. PageFair first put ad blocking on the agenda three years ago with its first ‘state of ad blocking’ report. In every new annual report we have reported on the growth of ad blocking, and shared our survey data on consumer reactions against increasingly invasive advertising formats.

This ‘call to think’, initiated by PageFair and signed by the CEOs of the world’s foremost publishing trade bodies, marks the first step in correcting the collapse of the mechanism that has supported free content on the open Web for twenty years.

There are formats of advertising that ad blockers can accept. Consumers can accept respectful, unobtrusive ads that do not snoop on users’ data, that do not slow their machines, and do not jump around the screen.

PageFair can serve these respectful, unobtrusive ads to people who block other ads. But it does not want to show ad blockers the same ads that consumers have already rebelled against. We need publishers to decide what advertisements on their sites should and should not be permitted to display and do. And we need consumer groups and the trustees of the Web to be involved.

Advertising 2.0 must be different. It must respect the user and support the publisher. We believe that the future of publishers and of the open Web hang in the balance.

See WAN-IFRA’s note on this initiative here.

See PageFair’s endorsement here.

See Mozilla’s endorsement here.

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