Is the advertising industry on another planet?

Written by on June 3, 2016 in Opinion with 2 Comments Gabriella Fabbri Gabriella Fabbri

We have said, often, that there is a complete disconnect between the advertising industry and publishers, and customers. We have compared it to a battle. Frankly, it is more like a bunch of people wandering around in the dark, shouting and bumping into things.

Just this week, Eric Schmidt, ex CEO of Google said that “the advertising space is so large and our advertising system is so good in terms of delivering the right ad that I think it will remain so.” In saying ‘remain so’ he was referring to Google’s largest revenue stream.

Just this week, speculation increased that Facebook is becoming a vast, complex advertising platform, opening the doors to Instagram and WhatsApp and WhateverElse they can find to ‘monetize’ by throwing ‘programmatic advertising’ at people. Now Samsung is preparing to throw intrusive ads at us through their Smart TVs.

What is astonishing is that they might actually believe that they are serving us with relevant adverts.

Stacked against this attitude that advertising has been around for ages, and will continue to be around for ages because it is cool and can do no wrong is an alliance of bad news (for them).

PageFair, again this week, said that ad blocking on mobiles has reached 419 million customers, more than a fifth of smartphone users (in Asia Pacific this figure goes up to 36 percent). Ad blocking has increased by 90 percent in one year. We have also said before that for every person who takes an action against something, there are 10 who are prepared to do the same.

The maths is pretty simple.

Not only are customers downloading ad blockers, but operators are now spotting an opportunity, and doing it for them.

And if Facebook and Google (about to serve you adverts in Maps, for heaven’s sake) believe that blocking ads is an age thing, and young people won’t mind, they are so wrong, they are deluded. Our own, and other, research shows that young people (anyone under 30) dislike adverts, particularly on mobiles, will not use apps (coming soon to WhatsApp) that are covered in adverts. In fact, the only thing teenagers are tempted to pay for is, for instance, Spotify Premium, so that they don’t get bombarded with crap.

Maybe Messrs Schmidt and Zuckerberg (founder of a social network turned rampantly commercial) are reassured by the figures that their advertising sales teams show them. Huge numbers, sir, great coverage, more eyeballs than you can shake a stick at.

Yet, the actual of number of adverts that are properly viewed or watched is a fraction of these figures. The Media Rating Council counts an ad as viewable if as little as half of it appears on screen for as little as one second. It counts video ads as viewed as long as at least half the ad is visible and at least two seconds of video is played. In this age where all you have to do is scroll past an advert, it will count as viewed.

And while Messrs Schmidt and Zuckerberg (other social media and search engines are available) may be deluded, the advertising industry and publishers are behaving like spoilt children. One Mr Rothenberg of the Interactive Advertising Bureau described ad blockers as an ‘unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of tech wannabies. It is nothing more than extortion.’ It is comforting to think that Mr Rothenberg is so open to debating the issue. He refuses to talk to the ad blocking fraternity. Meanwhile publishers are either refusing to allow people access to their sites unless ad blockers are disabled, or are trying to wheedle customers into watching adverts in return for access.

The truth is that, when it comes to mobile devices, customers do not want advertising. At least, not the programmatic delivery of irrelevant rubbish, based on Facebook selling your data to every brand that wants it.

Whatever Google, Facebook and the advertising industry believes to be the case, they have a real problem.

It is a very human problem, based on human behavior. When you are sitting comfortably in a cinema, pop corn and sweet fizzy drink substitute at the ready, you are relaxed and ready for a creative, well produced advert or two. At the Super Bowl, it is a much anticipated part of the show. But on a mobile device, you want to see what your friends are up to, catch up on the news or chat. What you do not want is an advert for something you bought last week, or something you didn’t buy yesterday.

It may be, it may very well be, that this gives operators, the access providers, a very real opportunity. If, like Three UK, they work with the advertising industry (even though they plan to block the vast majority of adverts) then there is a ray of hope.

Let us hope a partnership between operators and advertisers comes fast enough.

Otherwise the number of people who have downloaded ad blocking software will leave very few people to advertise to. And then what happens to the advertising industry….maybe it will have to move to another planet.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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  1. J Lewis says:

    Alex, Sir Isaac Newton’s law of motion helps put this into perspective “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Ad blockers are a result of intrusive ads, privacy solutions are a reaction to companies tracking our every interaction and selling that on to whomever wants access, for whatever reason. Companies exist that do nothing but curate information about us, buying snippets here and there, then selling on full dossier’s about us. Some “Ad-Blockers” are complicit allowing through ads served by ad partners, and it looks like many of the operators who are going to offer to block ads at the network level will be forming similar arrangements, or will be serving you ads via a platform they control access to. Seems to me that the ad industry has ignored Newton, and are now up against Einstein’s definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

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