"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by John Montgomery, executive vice president of brand safety at GroupM Worldwide.
On Sept. 16, Sourcepoint CEO and co-founder Ben Barokas penned the column, “Where Will Facebook’s Ad Reinsertion Move Leave GroupM?”
In the piece, he considered Facebook’s announcement that it would begin displaying ads to Facebook desktop users who employ ad-blocking technology, and he contrasted this to GroupM’s position opposing ad reinsertion.
He raised questions I’ll answer here. I believe the matter is perhaps more nuanced than he considered.
Facebook has developed technology that circumvents ad blockers on Facebook desktop, where approximately 15% of Facebook browsing activity occurs. The tech lets all ads through in a decision that Facebook explicitly communicated to its users. It described the design of its ad formats, ad performance and consumer controls, which address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad-blocking software.
Facebook offers a relatively non-interruptive user experience and an ad preference engine that improves targeting and allows users to hide the ads they don’t want to see. Its communication also offered instructions on how to exercise greater control over user ad preferences.
While we are not crazy about this approach to pushing ads through to those who have indicated that they do not wish to see them, Facebook’s method is different from other efforts to ad reinsertion we’ve seen. We see that various technology companies are selectively reinserting ads based on who pays them, and we and our clients have several concerns about that. These approaches typically do not include any sort of dialogue with the ad blocker user about the value of the content they are accessing, the role of advertising in the value exchange or any choices the user may have in controlling their experience.
Communication is key. If a user installs an ad blocker and thereafter continues to see ads, it is likely that the brands involved will suffer – not the publisher or the ad-reinsertion company. GroupM believes that the risk of sneaking an impression through is simply not worth the potential brand backlash.
An additional and troubling concern is that this form of ad reinsertion only tackles the symptoms of ad blocking, not the cause. Rather than continuing to annoy consumers who have asked not to see ads, we must fix the user experience first and then enter into a dialogue about the value exchange of advertising for free content – similar to the one Facebook has initiated with its users. Only after we are creating a better experience do we have the right to ask users to turn off their ad blockers.
Although ad-reinsertion companies offer the user a “lighter” ad experience because they are only letting some ads through, each has a different definition of what “light” means. The industry should agree on a global standard for a better user experience, not the ad-reinsertion or ad-blocking companies.
These are debates that must be had. Although it is now massive, digital advertising is still a young medium and its integrity must be improved across an array of issues from user experience to viewability, fraud, measurement and more. It is exceedingly dynamic, and it is only natural that clients, their agencies, publishers and the ad tech community will feel our way through to creating a mature and effective advertising platform welcomed by users. GroupM remains active in industry dialogue and we welcome the contemplation and challenge like that initiated by Barokas.
As for where Facebook’s decision leaves GroupM, our clients can simply decide to opt out of desktop delivery if they are concerned about their ads being served to Facebook users who have chosen to install an ad blocker.