Is the IAB’s Plan to Solve Ad Blocking Enough for Mobile?

Mobile ad blocking is increasing. Users have become frustrated with invasive adverts, and are turning to ad blockers to streamline their browsing experience. Removing ads and speeding up loading times is great for users, but problematic for advertisers and publishers.

Users don’t – and shouldn’t – care about lost impressions or revenues. But they should be aware that advertising is a kind of compromise that allows them free access to content. Fighting ad blocking is not about lining the pockets of greedy publishers or advertisers, it’s about funding high quality, free content in the long term. The equilibrium has been upset by too many ads, but ad blocking is not the sustainable solution.

For advertisers, blockers prevent their messages being seen by the audiences they hope to reach – especially if they’re pursuing a younger, more technologically savvy demographic who, according to a recent report by ComScore, are are the most frequent users of ad blockers.

As for publishers, ad blocking means lost revenues. Not only do blockers deny publishers additional impressions that go towards their monetization efforts, it also encourages advertisers to use other routes unaffected by blockers to get their message out.

As a result, the IAB has come up with a new framework called DEAL to fight back against the impact of ad blocking on advertisers and publishers. Intended to offer advertisers clear guidance on how to communicate with users who block ads, and encourage them to switch off the software, DEAL is seen as an important strategy for companies combatting the blockers.

What exactly does DEAL mean though? What are the pros and cons of the approach? And is DEAL strong enough to put a stop to the problem of ad blocking? Here’s what you need to know about the IAB’s new primer.

A New DEAL

To educate publishers on how to productively confront ad blockers, the IAB recently released a primer featuring tactics that could help publishers in the long running war.

So, to provide an easy way to understand the framework for publishers to follow, the IAB clustered the following tactics under the acronym, DEAL:

  •      D – Detect Ad Blocking
  •      E – Explain the value of advertising to the user
  •      A – Ask for behaviour change
  •      L – Lift restrictions or Limit access

DEAL is about opening up a dialogue with the user. By deliberately reaching out to users who block ads, explaining the consequences of their actions and taking action if they refuse to switch off ad blockers, publishers using DEAL attempt to confront the issue in a positive way.

The Pros of DEAL…

A high profile example of this has been Forbes’ experiment with a DEAL tactic. Identifying users who are operating an ad blocker, Forbes has been asking those users to whitelist Forbes.com or disable their blockers to get an ad light version of their content. Users who didn’t disable the block were denied access to the site.

The results, according to an editorial from Lewis Dvorkan, were considerably positive. 4 million visitors on desktop turned their blockers off or whitelisted the site when prompted; the site delivered an additional 63 million ad impressions as a result of this. And the readers who did turn their blockers off stayed on it for longer, showing their value as an audience.

…And the Problems

Nevertheless, DEAL hasn’t come without its problems. First, Forbes’ figures only refer to desktop users – meaning that we can’t be sure of how effectively such a route would work for mobile.

Second, the DEAL approach was seen by many to be confrontational. Forbes was forced to respond to complaints, such as in this DigiDay article, emphasising that it was not at war with users or advertisers upon the launch of the new tactic.

Perhaps most significantly, a momentary security lapse on the Forbes site showed why some people run blockers in the first place. In January 2016, the site accidentally displayed malware within its adverts that compromised user security – moments after asking users to turn their blockers off.

In short, DEAL doesn’t completely prevent the problems that cause advertising blocking. While it gives publishers a framework for confronting revenue-denying blockers, it doesn’t provide a framework for improving advertising quality, preventing security breaches or working with users to solve the problems that led them to block in the first place.

A LEAN Approach

Publishers looking to provide full coverage that both asserts their rights to display adverts and takes into account user preferences can’t solely rely on DEAL. Instead, they need to use it in conjunction with another IAB acronym – LEAN.

Announced late in 2015, LEAN is a guide for what is considered best practice for digital adverts. Supplementing current standards, LEAN stand for:

  •      Light, which means the advert doesn’t hog the user’s data or wi-fi
  •      Encrypted, to ensure the adverts are secure
  •      Ad choice supported, to provide regulation over adverts users are served
  •      Non-invasive adverts, which don’t disrupt the user’s experience

What this means in practical terms is fairly simple. LEAN supports advertising frameworks that don’t disrupt the user experience, such as native. It supports advertisers who do not use formats such as autoplaying video on web pages or disruptive banners. And it protects user rights, such as the right to privacy and the right to a secure experience online.

LEAN covers much of the ground that DEAL leaves open. Acting as two sides to the same coin, a publisher who asks users to turn off ad blockers but also provides a lighter, more consensual, advertising experience will be best placed to fight back against the blockers.

And it might even help the blockers have a change of heart too. After Opera announced its next Android browser was to automatically block adverts, it has reneged on that to allow adverts that follow LEAN principles through its filters.

The Conclusion for Mobile Ad Blocking

A framework such as DEAL will not solve the problems of ad blocking overnight. However, its approval by the IAB and the refreshingly simple approach of simply asking users to consider the impact of its actions is beginning to have an effect.

Already, 73% of people using ad blockers have been asked to turn their blocker off. Whether or not it has an effect depends on the individual. But increased awareness of the reasons why adverts are used, and an appreciation of user concerns in principles such as LEAN, could begin to turn the tide of blocking opinion.

The causes of the big increase in ad blocking are wide and varied. But by using the DEAL and LEAN frameworks, publishers and advertisers alike can begin to tackle those problems in a positive and transparent manner.

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