‘Why I Hate The Ad-Block Profiteers’: IAB's Randy Rothenberg Details Ad-Blocking Counterstrike

Randy Rothenberg IABA singular issue is electrifying the publishers and tech companies attending the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, Calif.

IAB CEO Randy Rothenberg came out swinging at ad-blocking firms during his opening speech to members Monday, describing them as an "unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes.” Afterward he continued that discussion with AdExchanger.

His first target was Adblock Plus, owned by Germany-based Eyeo, which made a fuss last week when employees complained about being disinvited from the conference. They weren’t invited in the first place, Rothenberg told attendees in his opening speech.

He called out ad-blocking companies for their for-profit models and for setting up shop as gatekeepers. In doing so, he said, they create business models “predicated on censorship of content.” These companies operate “an old-fashioned extortion racket, gussied up in the flowery but false language of contemporary consumerism.”

At least two ad-blocking companies, Shine and Brave, are funded and founded by companies that have a stake in advertising companies, Rothenberg pointed out.

After doling out that comeuppance, Rothenberg moved onto what’s actually causing ad blocking. Slow-loading pages and fear of malware inspire many to install ad blockers, so the IAB wants to help create industry standards and ways to measure user experience.

IAB introduced its LEAN (Light, Encrypted, Ad Choice) Ads program in October, which will focus on creating technical standards for fast-loading, secure and noninvasive ads.

Monday, Rothenberg said the IAB will introduce a scoring system for LEAN. Publishers, as well as advertisers and agencies who often create the 20-tag deep 300x250s that can create problems for users, will be able to measure where they stand.

But there’s no timeline for the scoring system to be rolled out, Rothenberg told AdExchanger after his presentation. “It’s too difficult to predict,” he said, but added he expects that security and speed will be the first areas the system addresses.

Finally, Rothenberg applauded publishers who have taken steps to message ad-blocking users, informing them that they need to unblock or pay for content, for example.

“A combination of LEAN advertising and media, and publisher implementation of detection-notice-choice-and-constraint, will limit the impact of ad-blocking,” Rothenberg said.

Rothenberg spoke with AdExchanger during the event:

AdExchanger: The technology companies who are part of your membership need at least some latency to operate, right?

RANDY ROTHENBERG: To concede that latency is a necessary fact of life is the wrong concession and the wrong way to think of technological innovation in our industry. We need to reorient the way of thinking around latency.

How so?

Remember the time last week when you were switching TV channels and got frustrated and said, "Gee, that channel is so slow to load"? That phrase has never crossed the lips of anyone. There is no such thing as a slow-loading television channel. Magazine pages don’t weigh 20 pounds. This is the expectation historically, and we have deviated from that. We know that’s what consumers are reacting to [when they install ad blockers].

This leads into a number of issues we as an industry must deal with: How many data calls are too many? How do you create limits around data calls? What is a maximum the conversation needs to extend beyond technology people and publishers, because they are not on their own wholly responsible for the problems or the solutions?

Who else shares the responsibility for poor user experience? 

We have heard innumerable times, more than we can count, [from] publishers coming to us and saying agency X is requiring us to put four separate verification pixels on this ad campaign. The question is, "What do you do?" Well, you say, "No," but it’s hard to say no, especially when you are stressed for revenue.

When you follow that cycle back, the agency teams asking for this don’t understand what the impact is or what they are asking for, don’t understand that it’s redundant and wasteful and created downside effects that lead directly to ad-blocking activity. If you look back further, the brands certainly don’t understand this.

You have this cycle of technical ignorance that has now led to a real problem point with consumers. And obviously, it’s not just about verification pixels. If you extend that across the entire universe of things that can be part of server calls, you can see why we have real latency problems. Consumers are reacting negatively to this. This is not a technology problem as much as it is a problem of bad business practices.

Would something like Google AMP fit into what LEAN is doing?

I think it’s consistent with it. LEAN has been a product of the Tech Lab. At the same time, [the Tech Lab] is using the IAB itself and the network for 45 IABs around the world to communicate out to a large set of constituencies and stakeholders. But of course we must reach out further, beyond the tech community, and engage in the conversation general managers who are running the sites, the people selling the advertising, the agencies and brands buying the ads and the people who are engaging with users on the site. Everyone needs to be part of the LEAN dialogue we are initiating.

You’ve talked about the limitations of what the IAB can do, because its members are a small fraction of all the businesses on the Internet. How do you improve the overall user experience when other publishers may have six ads on their page and a long slideshow of content?

The brief answer is we can’t. We can only make recommendations and communicate recommendations, and create the tools that will enable best practices to be implemented. We are limited by antitrust laws around requiring these things to happen, and we are limited by the difficulty of communicating to the disaggregated environment of users and companies.

What's the best-case outcome?

If you get the largest and most widely distributed publishing brands to adopt, you’re actually going very, very far toward majority adoption, if not universal adoption. The IAB universal ad package in the years after we developed it was responsible for [close to] 90% of ad revenues in the US. It went from chaos, hundreds of ad units, to majority adoption of these standards. History shows it’s possible to make change happen.

If we create technologies that enable those best practices for user experience, around things like maximum latency thresholds, will lead other companies to adopt them, because there will be a flight of users to the best-practice companies. Without naming names, there are one or two news sites that I go to that make me crazy because of how slow they load because of the ad infrastructure. If I had alternatives for looking for the things I want to look for, I would use those alternatives. That will happen more and more – if we as an industry enable it.

 

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