If you are one of the lucky content creators who make a living doing what you do there is a very good chance that advertising, in one way or another, is paying your salary; either you work for an ad agency, an ad-funded publisher or you serve ads on your blog or YouTube channel, but that may soon come to an end. As of right now there are nearly 200,000,000 ad blockers deployed by Internet users globally that prevent publishers from serving ads to their audiences. This is projected to cost publishers S$22billion this year and it’s a trend that’s on the rise.
The stats above are from an alarming report by counter-blocking company Page Fair, in partnership with Adobe, which you can download here and which has sparked a fascinating debate about the morality of ad blocking (I’d highly recommend reading the comments on the download page). On one side is the argument that ad blocking robs publishers of revenue, which they use to pay the salaries of their staff and could even be construed as theft. On the other side is the argument that ad blocking is a perfectly reasonable response to advertisers that have overstepped the line with intrusive, data heavy ads that ruin the experience for users and compromise their privacy. Either way, without advertising we would all have to pay for our content piecemeal or via subscription, a model that has largely failed due to unlimited online competition, piracy and peer-to-peer sharing but mostly because Internet users believe once they have paid for their connection they shouldn’t really have to pay for anything else. So, is ad blocking killing content? Let’s examine the arguments more closely…
No, ad blocking is NOT killing content.
Blocking ads forces advertisers i.e. brands to reach audiences in new and, arguably, more creative ways such as through social media and content marketing. In the best cases this can create a raft of new opportunities for content creators to work directly with brands creating original work worthy of an audience’s attention. A great example is Ford’s new documentary film A Faster Horse about the building of the iconic Mustang. Produced by White Horse Pictures and directed by David Gelb of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame; the film was commissioned by Alessandro Uzielli, the head of Ford’s Global Brand Entertainment, in time for their 2015 launch. It even premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Other film examples include Greasy Hands Preachers sponsored by French motor lubricant Motul and BMW and, of course, The Lego Movie.
With or without ad blockers the news industry has been struggling for years but journalists and editors are also finding new opportunities working with brands such as Nissan who hired former Reuters Bureau Chief Dan Sloan to run their Global Media Centre or ANZ who hired Andrew Cornell, a former editor from the Australian Financial Review, to run their business blog Bluenotes. Ad blocking is only accelerating the news industry’s inevitable decline with just a few premium publications such as The Economist and The Financial Times bucking the trend. This is forcing PR and communications departments to create their own outlets for news and stories for which they’re not just hiring journalists and editors but programmers, designers, photographers and filmmakers too.
Finally, ad blocking can only really be deployed on the Internet, which means it could actually be a boon to the traditional media. A redeployment of ad spend into TV, films, publishing and even radio could help revive the fortunes of those industries leading to more jobs and a commissioning frenzy over the next couple of years.
Yes, ad blocking IS killing content.
Ad blocking is immoral because it breaks the Internet’s implied contract of free content funded by advertising. If that contract breaks down much of the content we enjoy is under threat as are the people who create it. A free society needs a free press (in the First Amendment sense of the word) so if users aren’t prepared to pay for its survival then the least they can do is put with the advertising that keeps it free (in the financial sense) but still enables journalists, editors, sub-editors and photographers to be paid for their work. And that doesn’t just apply to the press; only about a quarter of Spotify’s 75 million users actually pay for the service, the rest enjoy their music free with advertising. It’s not an ideal model; the co-writer of one of last year’s biggest hit’s All About That Bass by Meghan Traynor received just $5,679 for over 178 millon streams but without Spotify users are likely to just go back to file sharing, which doesn’t generate any revenue for artists at all. At least while businesses such as Spotify and Apple Music are required to pay some of their ad dollars to rights holders to stream their music then those rights holders a.k.a. content creators have a stake in the system as Taylor Swift demonstrated in her game-changing outbursts against both Spotify and Apple earlier this year.
Without ads we don’t lose just whole swaths of the media industry but the tech industry too; how many apps and games on your smartphone are there because of the advertising? Behind each one are writers, designers and programmers that rely on those ads for income. Advertising is arguably the lifeblood of innovation without which we wouldn’t have Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – imagine that! And if you’re a self-employed content creator such as a blogger or YouTuber ads may be the only way for you to continue creating your content your way without having to take money directly from someone commissioning you to create content to their specifications.
Is “Acceptable Advertising” The Answer?
As always, every challenge is an opportunity in disguise and several ad blocking companies including market leader Adblock Plus, having apparently acknowledged the ethical quandary in their applications, are making allowances for “acceptable ads” in the hope that they can improve the overall standards of advertising on the web. Acceptable ads are those deemed not intrusive, which don’t carry data-heavy and distracting animations or trackers. However the body currently responsible for ad standards globally, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (of which I and my company Click2View are members), have questioned the veracity of these acceptable ads claiming that “several of the largest and most prominent distributors of ad-blocking software are shaking down publishers for payments to circumvent their barriers.” But the IAB also admits, “when implemented by consumers, ad blocking is a crucial wakeup to brands and all that serve them about their abuse of consumers’ good will.” You can read the IAB’s complete statement on ad blocking here.
Most industry experts are hopeful that ad blocking will not spell the end of online advertising but rather the beginning of a new era of respectful advertising that neither obstructs nor detracts from the the user experience. This should be good news for both advertising creators and content creators, each respecting the other’s craft and space. But there’s plenty of legs in the debate yet so let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/69BLbE