Adblockers are fat shaming the media industry

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Marketers must watch the weight of their ads, as it has gotten totally out of control for many ad formats.

Some might seek to excuse their increasingly corpulent code by blaming the new functionalities they’ve added, but some very simple ad formats are utterly obese.

They make downloading web pages incredibly slow for consumers even over the largest broadband connection and on the fastest processing devices. Many publishers then compound this problem of individual ad format weight gain by stuffing as many ads as possible onto the page, and particularly cluttering the area above the fold.

That’s a 'fast-food diet' approach to monetisation – relying on a mass of low value, poor quality ads which give short term satisfaction but which will cause a publisher’s early demise.

Quite simply, the more ads put in front of consumers, particularly the hefty ones, the more likely they're going to use an adblocker.

Ad weight should have always been a concern of marketers, but as more consumers are downloading adblockers, it is now a critical quality when selecting ad technology. The majority of people that block ads do so because they feel that advertising is interruptive (74%), annoying (55%) and that ads slow down their web browsing (54%).

Personally, I view these expressions as one and the same thing. When the lagtime from requesting to reading a webpage is hindered by roly-poly advertising loading in the background, consumers’ content experience is interrupted, their time is wasted and they get annoyed, and understandably so.

In such cases many consumers will simply move on to another web page to find the content they want. Or worse, they'll download an adblocker. 

Stop blowing ads up

Ads should never get in the way of a consumer's access to content. However there’s some elephantine technologies out there that do just that. Advertising needs to fit seemlessly into the consumer's browsing experience – not just by being native, relevant and entertaining – but also technically.

This is especially true for mobile ad campaigns. The lighter the advertising, the less it will delay consumers' content experience.

That's why the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) in the US and its partner trade bodies around the world are seeking to tackle the issue through the LEAN principles launched by the IAB’s Tech Lab in October 2015. By changing the habits of the ad tech industry, they seek to improve the quality of digital advertising from consumers’ perspective, and thus beat the rise in ad blocking.

The way to beat adblocking is to never give a consumer a reason to want to block ads

LEAN stands for light, encrypted, ad choice supported and non-invasive. Most ad tech is now encrypted and ad choice supported, which is great, but marketers should still double check with their suppliers.

The vast majority of ad tech companies claim their ad formats are non-invasive, perhaps because it’s a quality that’s a little in the eye of the beholder.

It may well be qualified in the UK with the IAB's set of LEAN standards due to be published in October 2016, as part of a wider charter on digital advertising best practice.

Non-invasive ads are best

At Vibrant Media, one of the first companies in the world to overhaul its ad system to apply the LEAN principles, non-invasive has been interpreted as having a combination of qualities. Firstly, the ads must be user-initiated, so consumers never have to see a brand’s ad unless they actively choose to, either by tapping or hovering their mouse over one of an ad trigger.

Secondly, the ad formats must be nimble and native, unobtrusively fitting the form and function of the digital content they’re displayed within. They must also be contextually relevant to the content within which they appear, so they enhance the editorial and add to the consumer experience rather than intruding upon it.

Finally, non-invasive ad tech gives publishers control over where, when, how many and how often ads are displayed within their content.

What the vast majority of scalable ad formats are not, however, is 'light'. Comparing like-for-like formats, and based on the company’s core JavaScript library (the piece it directly controls), our ad weight is now lighter than competitors.

We have reduced the weight of all our ad formats by over 75% to just 30.5KB by building a totally new platform from scratch. Other ad technologies are likely to have to do the same, but that’s a pretty tough benchmark to beat for any scalable ad format. Any marketer can see the weight of ads on a page by simply checking the contents of an internet browser’s developer console. (For example, in Google Chrome, hit F12, click the Network tab, hit the “reload” button and browse through or search for the ad formats on the page).

Vibrant’s own investigations determined that the in-text ad formats provided by its closest competitor are 380% heavier. The industry’s most popular out-of-stream video ads are 290% heavier. Widely displayed rich media ads and in-image ads are 46% and 25% heavier respectively.

An 'unpalatable' quick fix

Ad blocking is a threat to the entire media industry. The quick fix of paying off the ad blocking companies to whitelist ads is unpalatable to say the least, and is largely ineffectual whilst consumers still have the option to block all ads from their content experience. It’s also short-termist, as the goal posts might be moved in the future.

The way to beat ad blocking is to never give a consumer a reason to want to block ads.

Publishers have to stop showing so many ads. Creative agencies need to produce technically nimble video and rich media assets so they don’t impact the consumers’ experience.

Ad tech providers need to follow the LEAN principles, deliver more native ad formats, and target ads more effectively. Governments and competition authorities need to look into the trading practices of ad blocking companies.

And, of course, consumers have to understand that premium digital content isn’t, and never has been, free. 

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