Save the free internet

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Save the free internet

So, my talk today is on how, if we get a grip on ad blockers, we might stand a chance of saving the free internet. And while the industry debates, again, about the effects of something that, if not controlled, could well contribute to the end of the free internet as we know it.

The use of ad blockers in on the rise

These two graphs represent the UK ad blocking population, that total – with between desktop and mobile – about 23%. Now, there’s some debate whether or not we will see a bit of an arc around this, whether or not they’re 23%. America’s talking about 40%; Canada, even higher. Thankfully, we’ve got governing bodies looking after us, to decide whether that’s the case.

The IAB’s thoughts on ad blocking

The IAB, from their website, believes in an ad funded internet. Thank god. “Our goal is to minimise ad blocking by making all forms of digital advertising more effective, acceptable, and relevant to people’s interests. We want to help brands reach their audience, provide revenue to publishers so that they can continue to make their content services and applications widely available at the appropriate cost.”

Now, that’s all fine, feels good, feels like the stuff they should be doing, but it’s the last sentence: “We believe ad blocking undermines this approach”. I think that’s obviously fair to say, however, for me, it doesn’t consider the user whatsoever. It doesn’t talk about how they’re advising publishers, talking to creative agencies, tech businesses on the stuff that they’re producing, convincing the publishers to run and, of course, what the advertisers are actually buying into. And we need to help them – we need to club together to make sure this happens faster and better.

Ad relevancy vs. mass audiences

But it’s hard, it’s a really tough job. They’re not going to do it quickly, and that’s largely because agencies want to spend as much money as possible to make sure they justify their fee. Advertisers want large scale audiences cheaply, in a quick way, in real-time, and, of course, publishers have their own shareholders to deliver increased revenues year on year.

So, it’s not hard to understand why people are kind of keeping their cards close to their chest. No-one wants to take the first stand. No-one wants to jump feet first and say: “I’ll change the way my site looks. I’ll stop running that creative. I’ll stop driving as much revenue through those publishers as I can because I think I might be damaging them.”

People are switching off because ads aren’t relevant enough

Meanwhile, we dither, and we’ve talked about this as a business [RocketMill]. People are switching off. We rely on the users to fuel our display economy, and if we abuse it, it’s going to disappear.

That’s not to say some aren’t trying to make a bit of a difference. We’ve started to create a bit of a value exchange when people arrive at content that is deemed worthy, that they’re searching for, and that they find.

I’ve an admiration for this to a degree, but it doesn’t address the issue fully because what we’re asking them to understand a value exchange that they never knew existed in the first place. Not all users know and understand that free internet is based on, and largely funded by advertising. So, I think that’s a real challenge.

And all the while we’re driving further and further into the hands of those who they love, those who’re already taking a lion share of revenue, and those that happen to gift them with a beautifully rewarding experience on the most part.

What does the future look like for advertisers?

Fast-forward and what will you see?

How some large networks have suggested we’ll see the death of media owners. I think not, but what I think you might see is that, we get more content you have to pay for, and you will also get more content that, perhaps, is substandard – bit like a one-star hotel in Benidorm and its buffet selection.

So, look forward for a moment and what do we find? Perhaps, with no display advertising, we might get mass commercial content overload. Great commercial content, written well, done properly, rewarding experiences, are fantastic. But imagine no display, and that’s all that people give us.

Of course, we’ve already talked about revenue being driven into two main publishers, and a world where everybody is an influencer. Everybody is trying to sell us stuff, and everybody deems themselves, and the content that they’re promoting more important than any other.

Poor old programmatic display. Due to abuse and overdose, dies a horribly painful slow death.

So, what are we left with? Only enough inventory to buy direct deals. People still buy direct deals, don’t get me wrong, and still deal directly with publishers. But it could leave us regressing to the 2000’s, where we had a dot boom bust, it exploded, and we’ll give the naysayer’s the chance to say: “no-one clicks on a banner”.

Why we need to self-regulate

So, I think we’ve got to stop. We’ve got to self-regulate. We’ve got to stop eating the cake, the icing, the spoon, the fork, and the bowl. We’ve got to change the way we think. We’ve got to plan and execute properly. We have to self-regulate.

We’ve got to create some standards, and I’m not suggesting these create firm, fixed rules. Rules don’t allow us to be creative; that the display industry perhaps needs to progress beyond what ostensibly, hasn’t changed in 15 years.

And my first rule is to help stop the rise of ad blockers, to help create that arc that I showed you at the beginning.

Stop chasing traffic

So, my first rule is, we’ve got to stop chasing traffic. And I mean bad traffic. Traffic to fulfil orders, bought traffic to drive affiliate, or traffic that showed you they bought an audience five times the size of national population.

How much mass is mass? The UK internet population is 48 million, and yet the top 20 publishers put together is over half a billion. That’s just the top 20. So digital mass, I just think we’ve become a bit greedy. The more pages, the more content, the worse the experience, and people are switching off. They’re turning on ad blockers.

Stop poor experiences

We’ve got to stop poor experiences. I’m all for creativity but massive creative formats, in real-time, because they think we are their audience, over laying a piece of content that we searched for and wanted to read. We didn’t buy into this value exchange. We’re not going to accept it. We are going to switch off.

We’ve got to help the digital creatives, some people here will be pleased to hear me say. Beautifully crafted 30 second TV ads, helping you to connect with the brand in the right frame of mind, the right audience, in your living room, as we remember to build a brand and some trust.

And yet we take that creative, we slam it into 15 different standard formats and we buy on mass very quickly. We’re switching off the 10 second ads that were cut from 30 unsympathetically before we even view the content we had originally intended.

Get the context right

I was happily navigating my way around The Sun, I found some beautiful content of two guys fighting outside a chippy in Stockport, when I was reminded that I must top up my Revlon Mega Multiplier. This is why we’re skipping and we’re switching off.

Things need to change

I’m really passionate about this, and at the moment, that arc suggests that it’s a bit of a cult. Cults we can break. Habits, revolutions, if you like, movements, we can’t. They’re really hard to break, and make no mistake, this isn’t going away. We have to be more creative. We have to buy the right stuff, sell to the right people, in the right context, and make sure it becomes a richer experience, and that, all parties need to be involved in.

Help create those emotional connections through digital display that, perhaps, no definitely, other mediums still do but digital display haven’t changed in 15 years.

If we don’t change this, Google are already taking steps to decide for us. Last month, Google said that in their latest Chrome update, they are going to make the decision on what it deems to be a bad experience, or a bad ad. They’ll help us switch off.