Shoptalk: Publishers are Still Missing the Point on Ad Blocking


Like, Forbes starts blocking ad-block users ( And some visitors with ad blockers are asked to either whitelist the New York Times or subscribe ( Oh, and my favorite: the Swedish “block” party (

I, however, am actively embracing the ad blocking revolution. It’s a good thing. It’s about time the advertising industry is called out for its complacency in building an experience that’s just “okay” for users, agencies and clients. Of course, publishers need to make money. And of course advertising and subscription models are the way to do that. But that doesn’t mean it has to be like this, the way it’s always been and the way it continues to be, to the point of consumer rebellion.

Jeff Bezos has a quote: “I frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two.”

The advertising industry has not changed significantly in the past 10 years. That’s the honest truth. We’ve made decent strides, and have evolved from television and print to OTT, digital and mobile platforms. But we haven’t really honed in on this change, and how to make a greater experience for users and brands across current and evolving mediums. We’ve ignored it to the point that it’s being blocked. And now we, as an industry, are responding in a variety of ways. However, there is only one way we should be looking at this.

Fred Wilson wrote an excellent post on AVC titled, Ad Blockers ( In this, he highlights many benefits of the ad blocking revolution, one being the notion that “there is a view that ads are unwanted and by opting out of them, you are forcing Web and mobile services to come up with a better business model.” And concludes with something we can all agree on, that ad blocking is not going away. In which case, we must embrace it, learn from it and build a better model and experience for users and brands alike.

This revolution can be analogous to the music industry and what happened with Napster in 1999. When Napster disrupted the music industry, everyone thought that music, as we knew it (artists, users, labels, etc.), was over. But with this, came Pandora, a new technology built from the learnings and needs of the user and the artist (the latter is debatable depending on who you speak to). And from that innovation spawned Spotify, Soundcloud and other music streaming services that from a user perspective, we couldn’t imagine living without.

The same mentality must be applied to the advertising industry. The answer isn’t blocking the blockers. Let’s listen to their needs, take it and build something new. Something that everyone will appreciate, and evolve the revenue model and experience into the next frontier.

This means building experiences on mobile that are native to that platform. 360 video, with tilt and tap behavior, shows the lengths we can go to make this medium great. Vertical video opens up a landscape of opportunity to leverage publisher technology to make brand advertising great. As we edge into VR and AR, there is a chance to define what “native advertising” is to these platforms, and not just place a banner on top of an experience.

Let’s build experiences users don’t want to block. The time is now. And it’s exciting. If we don’t think about it this way, then we haven’t learned anything. Let’s make a change.

Jarrod Dicker is head of ad product and technology at the Washington Post and founder of RED, the ad research experimentation and development team. Most recently, Dicker was head of product and operations at RebelMouse. He has also served as director of social and content ad products at Time Inc., and prior to that, he helped establish native advertising at the Huffington Post. Currently, he is involved with a Carnegie Mellon University program on the value of social advertising in publishing.



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6 thoughts on “Shoptalk: Publishers are Still Missing the Point on Ad Blocking

  • May 13, 2016 at 6:32 am

    I blocked not because I minded the ads. I blocked because often the ads were pop-ups, or inserted in such a way that the text jumps up and down, or most annoying of all, have an element that gets hung up, causing my browser to crash. Fix these problems and I will stop blocking.

  • May 13, 2016 at 7:18 am

    People aren’t opposed to ads that they’re sure will provide some value or entertainment. This reminds me of the Superbowl, where millions of people tune in just to watch the ads, even if they hate football. And they’ll watch an entire hour of old Superbowl ads before the game–an hour of ads–and maybe another hour of this year’s ads, post-Superbowl.

    The problem, as you point out, is crappy ads, or worse, an algorithm that thinks it’s sending you ads you’ll “want” to see and a page design that forces you to see them. In a magazine or newspaper, you often see the ads that appeal to you at that very moment, and can easily skip over the ones that don’t. The problem is publishers who feel they have to force you to look at ads to earn the right to see their content. Why can’t the ads earn the right to be looked at? Why can’t they provide value to the customer, instead of just to the advertiser? Like a Superbowl ad.

    You may not like Budweiser, but who doesn’t like Clydesdales rescuing Timmy from the well? You might even go out and buy a Bud to honor those noble horses. You might hate oil companies, but maybe you’ll respect Shell a little more when they explain how they’re helping the environment, even if you’re skeptical. In these cases, they’ve created entertainment, provided interesting information, or started a conversation that didn’t exist before. If advertising doesn’t serve the reader, how does it serve the online publisher?

  • May 13, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Ads have given themselves bad image. When I see a pop up, what comes to mind is not how it benefits me but what trojan horse or malware is infecting my system. This feeling is reinforced by the repugnant manner the ads replicate and impose. As someone said, it’s like the right to be seen is inherent and mandatory rather than to be earned. That is worse than obnoxious and disrespectful.

    Advertisers must bear in mind that that I have no knowledge of, or business with them. One doesn’t impose self on a stranger on the street. Why should an ad be different?

  • May 13, 2016 at 9:19 am

    This is the critical lesson advertisers must learn – the seller of the best widget is easily my most detested encounter if it does not present well, professionally and with respect to my privacy and right to decide. By putting the worst foot forward, they deny customers the opportunity to decide in their favor.

  • May 14, 2016 at 9:01 pm

    Consumers of all media have always used ad blockers. In print, it is called ignoring the ad or turning the page if it is a product or service of no interest. In broadcast, it is getting a snack or using the “powder room” for the same reason. By the same token, I LOOK for ads if it is for something I am looking to buy or a service I am needing. Why not have a list of available ads down the side–fewer “eyeballs” but the ones that clicks are true potential customers who WANTS to read the ad.

  • June 20, 2016 at 3:04 am

    Yeah. This argument again. It’s getting old.

    You clearly don’t know much about online advertising. You sound more like an old school media guy who was reared on the era of high-end publications and premium advertisers. That’s cool.

    It’s also useless knowledge in 2016.

    Here’s the deal. Premium advertisers are around 4% of the total advertising spend in digital. That’s it. 4%.

    Agency-developed creative amounts for around 13% of ads.

    It’s all about the long tail. And no, they’re not going to make “awesome experiences” any time soon.


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