Ad Blockalypse Really Happened

Last week something happened that really goes to the heart of what’s occurring in the advertising industry now. If it is given the attention it deserves, it may well change the way the ad industry operates, and we think for the better. It raises ethical questions, economics questions, and freedom of speech questions.

Here’s what went down. A well-liked technologist, Marco Arment, who created Instapaper and Overcast, released an ad blocker called Peace into the Apple app store on Wednesday, the day of the IOS9 update. Within 36 hours, he had made $138,000 in $2.99 downloads. His app was the # 1 in the App Store, and the next four top selling app were also ad blockers.

But then he pulled the app. It had taken only a couple of days for him to realize that he was not only blocking ads on his own site, but also those of one of his good friend and colleague John Gruber, publisher of the small site Daring Fireball.  In general, ad blockers will be far more deleterious to  small publishers like Arment and Gruber than to the giants. The giants will get around them by buying “native ads,” ads that look like the content they’re being seen with.

So he wrote a blog post saying that “it just didn’t feel good.”

Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.

Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we’re going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.

What constitutes a more nuanced approach? Well, one solution we’ve been espousing for a long time is better creative and less aggressive tracking. Advertisers do want  trustable tracking if they’re going to spend money, but some of the techniques used, such as retargeting, are more offensive to consumers than others. “If you’re creative, people will share your freakin’ ads,” sad Owen J.J. Stone on this week’s TWIT podcast. To us, this goes to the heart of the matter.  Advertisers have spent the last decade focusing on data to the exclusion of emotion, which is what makes people respond to ads in the first place.

We don’t really have a dog in this hunt. Instead we are a consistent innovator in the space of better advertising for all parties. We have an end-to-end platform on which advertisers can easily buy clever ZINC formats, and place them across premium publishers. It works well: we steer away from annoying users and instead drive continual innovation of fundamentally better ways to advertise.

To learn why our end-to-end platform is better for continual innovation in online advertising, just ask us.