Sarah Shearman
Sep 30, 2015

Can ad blockers clean out brands' 'cheap sushi'?

NEW YORK — Ask advertisers for their views on ad blockers and, for a long time, the answer would most likely have been a "meh."

Advertising Week speakers say the problem isn't ad blockers but bad ads
Advertising Week speakers say the problem isn't ad blockers but bad ads

The issue, however, has dominated discussion at Advertising Week, as the rising popularity of the software serves as a reckoning for the industry: Maybe a lot of consumers don't want to be reached with marketing messages.

"There isn't a free pass for bad advertising," said Mark Thompson, president and chief executive of the New York Times Company, when asked about the issue during a panel discussion today. He said that journalism's values around producing quality content should apply to advertising too. "Crap targeting doesn't help," he added.

Netflix Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Bennett, who spoke on a panel yesterday, shared the same view. "I don't think consumers are frustrated with advertising, I think they are frustrated with badly targeted advertising," he said.

Advertisers must be aware of the "creep factor" of being followed around the web by an ad for a product they browsed weeks before. In some cases, consumers are served re-targeted ads for products they have already bought. A better understanding of the consumer will help resolve this issue, Bennett said.

Ad blocking is a "little bit overblown" at this stage, Rob Bear, creative director at Vox, said today during a panel about native advertising. If anything, ad blocking is a good thing because it filters out the audience that is unlikely to be responsive to advertising, he said. "That way you can focus on the audience that more likely to engage with talking to brands," he said.

Many speakers have heralded native advertising as the antidote to ad blocking. Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, said he thinks native video advertising could be the solution to the problem.

Ad blocking and native advertising actually share a lot in common, said Dan Greenberg, chief executive of Sharethrough. The stated values of software like AdBlock Plus reject irrelevant, noisy advertising: exactly the issue native advertising is trying to solve. "As long as publishers survive, they will survive in a world where native is the dominant ad format."

The rise of ad blocking could see publishers distribute content on social platforms — not only because blocking software doesn't work there, but they have the added benefit of targeting it to relevant audiences.

The general consensus so far is that bad advertising is contributing to the rise in ad blocking, and the onus is on the industry to produce better quality content. Jon Steinberg, chief executive of the Daily Mail North America, had some sage advice about the perils of bad advertising, likening it to sushi. "You never want to buy cheap sushi."

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