Ad Agencies Meet to Ponder the Death of Display

What do a bunch of ad agency types meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona right before the Christmas holidays want to talk about?

Probably not the potential death of their industry.

But ad blockers have hit the radar screen of agencies. Although the amount of money lost to them is still a relatively trivial amount, their appearance on the scene is a fast moving train, and the marketers and publisher at the iMedia Agency summit seemed to know it.

The Summit got off to a controversial beginning when a panel consisting of Sheran Reed, president of digital for MEC; Michelle Burnham, head of Media at Neurogym (and a fifteen-year agency veteran); and moderated by IMedia’s Chris Arens took on the question of ad blockers and what to do about them at the “Is This the Death of Display” presentation.

Because advertising people are customarily upbeat, it wasn’t surprising to hear the panelists admit they are going to do more of the same types of ads in the near future, and that of course display advertising was not dead. Yet underneath their authoritative tone and defensiveness about advertiser rights were several equally forceful admissions.

The first was that advertisers need to deliver a value proposition through their advertising that is separate from simply “buy my product”;  that translates to the need to create free content that the consumer actually wants. Admitting this alone translates to the death of display and the rise of native, a position that was underscored by the agreement on the panel that popups and full page takeovers will be going away as agencies attempt to self-regulate.

The second was that the use of ad blockers is the largest human boycott anyone can remember. Although the dollar numbers may be relatively small as yet, ad blocking is already hurting on the attribution side. Agencies can’t tell anymore who, of the audience they target, is actually seeing their ads. This makes it difficult to determine the ROI on digital spend, even though the value proposition of digital itself is supposed to be metrics.


The third point was that marketers have to regain user trust by taking advantage of personalization, and that user experience has to be the filter through which all messaging is looked at.

Fourth, users have to be educated to realize that content providers need to be paid. The industry challenge that ad blocking creates is akin to piracy, but spamming readers will drive publishers to a subscription model. Many publishers, disenchanted with current ads on their sites, have taken their digital creative in house to create more appropriate messaging for their visitors. Publishers don’t want to lose their readers, so even a recent issue of Martha Stewart magazine had an article on how to delete your cookies. And South Park known for irreverences, recently did a 3-part series on ad blockers.

The long and short of it? Advertising is going to have to give up some of its “reach” and “scale” in exchange for greater personalization and relevance. And that may mean native advertising become even more commonplace.