Do We Really Know Why People Block Ads?

After the recent IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, we can tell you one thing for certain: advertising as a business model for publishers is not going away without a fight. The media industry is not going to allow consumers to turn on ad blockers and refuse to watch ads. (You remember how well this worked for the TV industry when it tried to stop Tivo.0

For those of you on the East Coast who weren’t able to get to IAB because of the blizzard,  here are some of the highlights of CEO Randall Rothenberg’s opening remarks, in which he likened Ad Block Plus to extortionists:

Now, you may be aware of a kerfuffle that began about 10 days ago, when an unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes at a for-profit German company called AdBlock-Plus took to the digisphere to complain over and over that IAB had “disinvited” them to this convention. That, of course, is as much a lie as the others they routinely try to tell the world. We had never invited them in the first place. They registered for this event online. When we found out, we cancelled the registration and reversed their credit card billing. Why? For the simple reason that they are stealing from publishers, subverting freedom of the press, operating a business model predicated on censorship of content, and ultimately forcing consumers to pay more money for less – and less diverse – information….

Of course, none of this surprises me. This is what happens when your only motivation, your only metric, is money. For that is what AdBlock-Plus is: an old-fashioned extortion racket, gussied up in the flowery but false language of contemporary consumerism.

The vehemence of the rhetoric underscores the enormous concern of the industry over the rise of ad block software. On the other hand, the conference itself showed a deep commitment to making the advertising experience better for users.

The problem is, everyone has a different theory of why users turn on ad blockers, and most of those theories are still guesswork. More consumer research has to be done so we can figure out whether it is loss of privacy users fear, or it is having their data out of their control and sold to other merchants, or the slow load times of pages with too many ad calls and trackers, or the infringement of advertisers on limited mobile data plans — or simply ads themselves. All of these theories were proposed at IAB, but they’re just theories.

We believe that until this research is done, we’re only addressing the ad blocking phenomenon with guesses, and we’re not likely to address the problem correctly or convince people to turn off their ad blockers.