The rise of ad blocking marks the end of Advertising 1.0. This is an open invitation to join a discussion about what comes next.
The Collapse of Advertising 1.0?
The first 20 years of online advertising helped fuel the growth of the Internet, but have often been marked by a deterioration of the audience experience.
Publishers, who are paying journalists, artists and other creators to produce content, were understandably intent upon maximizing revenue from the content that they provided to readers and viewers online for free. But as a result, many digital platforms have permitted advertising of increased volume and interruption.
In parallel, a panoply of advertising technology companies were increasingly looking to harvest audience data, which benefited the publisher little and increased the risk of alienated audience members.
And so, as more intrusive ads competed for attention, the following pattern evolved on desktop: Every user will be interrupted more. Every advertisement will be worth less. Personal data will be misused more often.
The irony is that the more aggressive advertising and ad tech companies became, the lower readers’ tolerance became. Users have now taken action. So many people are now making themselves immune to advertising that, according to research released by PageFair and Adobe, publishers will lose billions of U.S. dollars in unrealized ad revenue this year. Two hundred million now block all ads. These people may never see an advertisement online ever again.
Advertising 1.0 created a downward spiral that will ultimately destroy itself.
The phenomenon is viral. PageFair and Adobe’s 2014 survey found that just under 81 percent of ad blocker users had heard about ad blocking by word of mouth from colleagues, friends or family, or by reading about it online. This directly reduces the capacity of publishers to fund or develop content production.
The Open Web
Advertising 1.0 is in danger of collapse. Publishers are in the same situation now as the music industry was in the early 2000s. Back then, the music labels, like today’s publishers, were unable to present listeners with an attractive transaction. For seven years, from the arrival of MP3s on the Web in 1996 until Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003, the music industry failed to offer digital consumers an attractive alternative to piracy. As a result, users rebelled and refused to pay for music, and the music industry was forced to accept Apple’s rules.
If ads continue to obscure content, slow websites, pry into data and break the audience’s trust with publishers and editors, then a large technology platform company like Facebook or Apple will again have the opportunity to step in and set the rules.
Publishers’ most precious asset — the unique thing that they alone hold — is the trust and goodwill of their audience. If publishers allow the technology platform companies to become the gatekeepers of news content — as Apple became for music — then they will find themselves relegated to the role of commodity producers rather than trusted brands.
Users will accept this because the experience will appear to be better. But it will be the death of the open Web, and an end to publishers’ direct relationship with their audience. And the promise of safety within the app stores is probably illusory because Facebook et al. may not be immune from ad blocking in the longer term.
Publishers must remain masters of their own fates, and shepherd the trust, goodwill and data of their audience. The place where they can do that is the open Web.
Publishers Must Lead Advertising 2.0
We have a renewed opportunity to redefine how advertising works, and save the mechanism of advertising that supports content on the open Web. Publishers, not platforms, must take the lead.
Advertising 1.0 emerged from a haphazard process of experimentation for short-term gain, often producing unintended negative consequences, but occasionally stumbling upon enduring formats. Advertising 2.0 must be different.
We need guiding principles that will shape the experience that users enjoy on publishers’ sites in the future. Should ads jump around the screen? Should ads be permitted to obscure content? Should ads be able to capture data that the publisher and the consumer are not aware of?
This is an invitation from DCN and WAN-IFRA, in their respective roles representing premium publishers and the world press, to all publishers to join the global discussion on what the principles of Advertising 2.0 ought to be: Principles that keep the Web open, that respect consumers and that sustain publishers.
If you are a publisher, a marketer or a consumer body and are interested in the future of sustainable, unobtrusive advertising that respects users and sustains publishers, please make contact. Join the discussion.
Jason Kint is the CEO of Digital Content Next; reach him @jason_kint. Vincent Peyrègne is the CEO of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA); reach him @newspaperworld.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.