Ad Blockers and the End of the Interactive Age of Innocence

In his introductory address at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, CA, last week, IAB Executive Director Randall Rothenberg thanked the members present for compiling revenues of $50 billion, rallied them to produce the next $50 billion, then told them money wasn’t everything.

He warned them about insincerity in their content: “Truth, beauty, fairness, justice, honesty, civic pride, neighborliness; they become means to an end, rather than ends in themselves. That is debilitating, and, ultimately, deadens the soul.”

Advertising and the soul as topics at the same conference? There’s a unicorn for you. What’s going on here? Oh, wait, it sounds like a values discussion. Next up: empowerment and diversity.

“One of the most transcendent values to which you can devote yourselves is diversity…When you get back to your office, look around you and pay attention, for these are your friends and colleagues who are under attack. Their skin is black, and brown, and ochre, as well as white…and they are under attack.”

What? Indeed, digital media has made the world a really small place. It’s totally incumbent upon marketers to attempt to be universally inclusive in their efforts. So, who in the marketing community is attacking all these nice people?

Rothenberg revealed how IAB got exclusive to be inclusive, “disinviting” employees of a company called Adblock-Plus, an “unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes,” who wanted to throw a monkey wrench into the interactive advertiser’s $50 billion machine. It was about money after all. It’s like the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie uses his Lil’ Orphan Annie decoder to decipher the message “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine” and crestfallenly remarks, “A crummy commercial?”

Rothenberg’s moralistic, politically charged speech was all about ad blockers? Ah, how quickly the mighty fall in the Digital Age.

It surprised me, because I sat at a “town hall” at the IAB’s ad ops summit in New York in November when a roomful of ad tech elites examined the ad-blocker with cool, realistic, business-like logic.

“Brands call for more and more scale and lower and lower prices. The upshot is the consumer is assaulted with voluminous, lookalike crap from every side, and they just can’t process it,” one publisher said.

“We’ve become addicted to data on data and marketer on marketer and system on system to eke every penny out of every page. We’re all guilty of this. It’s all got to change,” said another.

I was in the magazine business when it was all print and paper. Then the Internet came around and upset the apple cart. We all were forced to accept new business models, new methods of content production and revenue generation, new (and longer) hours as we added second jobs as daily Web contributors. The people who formed the original IAB were the disruptors. Now the disruptors have been disrupted, and it’s not fun.

So, truly, I appreciate Rothenberg’s ire, but the thing is that the interactive world he and his membership created delivered the power into the hands of consumers. It’s the consumers who want to obliterate pop-up videos and push messages. If they didn’t, ad blockers wouldn’t exist. IABers and their 50-bil are like the New York City cab drivers whose million-dollar medallions were devalued by half with the arrival of Uber. It sucks, but if you want to talk diversity, it’s the multicultural, multi-ethnic minions who are making all this happen.

The old marketing saw about giving the people what they want is no longer nice advice, it’s rule and law.

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