Wednesday, October 7, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) Ad Blocking: Why advertisers ‘faster horses’ approach to ad blocking won’t work and publishers will pay the price

Henry Ford's famous “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” quote is often used to deride the preoccupation in modern business with customer feedback and inspire young innovative entrepreneurs to follow the beat of their own drum but the central conceit of the quote is that Henry Ford didn’t ask his customers what they wanted and therefore had no idea what they would have said. Sure, he would have run into a couple of his customers who wanted the average carriage horse to rival seabiscuit in speed and power but there’s a good chance that he would have run into a large majority block of customers who wanted anything with less smell of horse’s ass.

Advertisers, publishers, and the online ad industry in general have a number of problems from the viewability of ads and ad fraud but arguably the industry’s biggest problem and existential threat is how they choose to deal with ad blockers and early signs look like advertisers are making same mistake Ford made as well as most people who use his quote.
From the Washington Post blocking their content from readers using ad blockers to advertisers promising to making better ads and even threatening to sue ad blockers, it’s clear quite clear that advertisers have missed the key message behind why ad blocking is popular: no one likes ads, online ads especially.

Banning readers (WTF), making better ads or suing ad blockers is not going to work and is likely to make things worse. The problem with online ads is that they’re a real pain in the neck and can ruin user experience. You might argue that this is where making better ads come in but no one reads the Guardian or the New York Times for a Land Rover ad and never will no matter how well it’s made. People (me included) have generally grown sick of ads hijacking their screens, popping out of nowhere in-between text, and following them around the internet and have turned to ad blockers to end the madness.

However, this madness only exists because people (me included) are less than willing to pay for content which gives publishers and content creators no choice but to reserve and sell ad space on their sites. I doubt you’ll ever see advertisers and publishers singing from the same hymn sheet on anything if consumers of content like you and me were willing to spare a dollar or two for great content but instead we find publishers having to side with advertisers.
As much as IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) CEO Randall Rothenburg would like admonish Ad blockers as thieves and extortionists (which they’re not but they may be something worse: industry killers), they are serving a need advertisers and publishers have ignored for years in eliminating forms of ads that makes consuming content online a more trying experience than it should be[1].

Advertisers create these annoying ads because to some degree it’s not their problem to make them compliment a site’s user experience and publishers run these ads because they pay the bills and consumers of their content don’t. But thanks to ad blockers, this scenario publishers find themselves in has to change fast or they may go out of business. Ad blockers aren’t exactly the good guys in this tale as they do charge publishers not to block their ads and to a much lesser degree threaten an industry that might not be liked but are pretty good at getting people buy things they don’t need or at the very least making you aware that they exist.

In sum, it looks like publishers are going to pay for advertiser’s sins as well as the price we weren’t prepared to subsidize in the first place.

[1] R. Rothenburg, 2015, Ad Blocking: The Unecessary Internet Apocalypse,

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) IT: CIO’s – Taking change on the chin?

We’ve written much about the role of CIO and the challenges they face but it seems like CIO’s are finally adjusting to the wild and radical change regarding the nature of their role as new technologies such as the internet of things take shape.

We’ve often said that CIO’s are arguably the most relevant members of C-suite yet the most in danger of becoming the most obsolete as the CIO’s find themselves in a position to innovate and add to the business but also undermined by the spread of IT usage under their nose which often leaves them having to pick up the pieces of IT failures largely not of their making or in the worst case scenario, pack their office into a box.

However, CIO’s are definitely in the ascendancy as they have tended to add business value and drive innovation for their organizations rather than fall victim to the winds of change which to some extent still threatens their position. With organizations becoming more data driven than ever and more willing to embrace technologies thanks to an ever changing consumer habits, smart CIO’s have seen this as a chance not only to add value to the business but as a way to position IT as key imperative to the business as getting IT wrong can cost a company millions in lawsuits and reputational damage at the hands of embarrassing news reports.

However, the main reason CIO’s have become increasingly important is that every company you can think of is conducting business in the digital space and are looking to become faster, more agile and responsive to customers and see technology as a number one way to get there which presents CIO’s with a great challenge and even greater responsibility as the failure to do so can leave them lagging behind competitors who are more or less trying to do the same thing but faster.

This has seen an explosion of new roles dedicated to fostering this digital transformation that compliment CIO’s but certainly overlap and in some cases compete with their role. If anything confirms this fact it would be that Mark Chillingworth, UK editor of CIO magazine took a somewhat philosophical position of welcoming CTO’s and CDO’s to their annual CIO summit but made it a point to clarify that “we (I presume CIOs with an applause line penciled in) should be looking at a future where the CIO and CTO are distinct”[1].

This should be no shock given he heads a magazine solely focused on CIO’s and him being a proponent of a well held position that the proliferation of  CTO’s, CDO’S and CSO’s exist because CIO’s dropped the ball on the digital transformation and organizations across the board have had to basically give responsibilities to CTO’s and CDO’s CIO’s should be managing. This argument is pretty convincing and is held a number of CIO’s even though even when they see CTO’s and CDO’s as lifesavers who have taken hefty responsibilities of their already jam packed plate.

Nontheless, CIO’s have embraced their perceived shortcomings and are definitely set to become unofficial COO’s in their organizations as technologies such as the internet of things will ensure that organizations become more IT dependent than they already are.

In sum, it wasn’t that long ago when every business or tech blog or site (including us) was convinced that CIO stood for “career is over” but increasingly CIO’s have seen their apparent death of their relevance to their as a way to prove their worth and seems to be better for the challenge.

[1] M. Chillingworth, 2015, It’s time to be a customer centric CIO,

Saturday, September 26, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) Volkswagen: Volkswagen cheating is just the tip of the iceberg

Volkswagen cheating the EPA’s emission test might have sent shockwaves but it didn’t surprise or shock me that a billion dollar corporation cheated on a test for six years straight that would have cost them billions if they failed it. It should be common knowledge that a company as large as Volkswagen sole aim is to make returns on their significant investments and are liable to do whatever it takes to avoid or eliminate anything that impedes their simple if not narrow objective.

However, I grant you that if this was strictly true, Volkswagen executives and engineers it might have calculated that it would have been cheaper for them fail the emission test than cheat and deal with the mother of all nuclear fallouts if they got caught. Since they admitted they cheated, the company has lost a third of its value, drawn the ire of their customers, lost their CEO, opened themselves to a wrath of potential legal cases and fines, and suffered reputational damage that’s looking irreparable.

The thing that surprises me about the whole debacle is that Volkswagen knew that they would fail the diesel emissions tests without cheating, knew what would happen they got caught, were aware it might have been cheaper and whole lot less stressful to fail the test but decided to cheat anyway.

However, what also concerns me is not that they were prepared to roll the dice and pay the price to avoid failing the diesel emissions test, it’s the fact that they knew that their cars are more harmful to the environment (not to mention people) than they let on and were prepared to sell 11m polluting diesel cars around the world just to make their numbers.

Volkswagen could face billions in fines and a criminal investigation in the US alone, a wrath of lawsuits from VW customers across Europe (Europe represents diesel’s biggest market) who fell hook, line, and sinker for the “clean diesel” phenomenon, and even repercussions in Germany as according to Alexander Dobrindt, Germany’s Transport Minister, “ the carmaker had manipulated test results for about 2.8 million vehicles in the country”[1]. The company said that it will set aside $7.3 billion for fines and but with scale of the scandal expanding at every turn, it look like they’re going to need more than that to say the least.

In sum, Volkswagen will have hell to pay as VW’s emissions test scandal is only getting started as it’s quite clear that they aren’t the only carmakers trying to deceive regulators and customers.

[1] A. Cremer, 2015, Volkswagen Picks company veteran to tackle emissions crisis,

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) Ad Blocking: So Who's Afraid Of The Ad Blocking Wolf?

Ad blocking is not or revolutionary and have been around for a decade but the effect they could have publishers and advertisers could change the shape of the internet as we know it.
The rise of ad blocking has sent a silent shivers down the spine of both publishing and advertising executives backs as a lingering threat in the wings has now taken centre stage. However, neither party can be shocked with explosive rise in the popularity of ad blocking as nobody likes ads on any platform but everybody hates ads on the internet.

People don’t like ads on TV or radio because they get in the way of favorite shows but no one likes ads on the internet because, intrusive, creepy and annoying. They slow down sites, are a little too on the nose about our preferences and are getting harder to get rid of as almost all of them are built using flash, possibly the worst software known to man.

Being someone who reads a bunch of articles across a number of sites, I more than most people experience annoying ads that slow down my mobile never mind the site I’m on because advertisers, for some strange reason, like paying publishers to run ads they’re aware annoys their target audience so much that are flocking to providers of software that threatens their entire industry.

Apple opening the market for ad blockers on the iOS9 OS is a clear shot across the bow of Google but whether Apple would have opened up the market for ad blocking or not, I suspect the clamor to block ads would still be prevalent. As mentioned earlier, people generally don’t like advertising (particularly advertising that’s hard to get rid of) on any platform you can name but unlike other platform, they’re more willing put up with the excesses of a 30 second TV spot than they would a load time lag inducing banner ad when they visit a site.

This quite a strange fact given that we’re all aware that ads are all over the place because no one wants to pay for content (especially in written form) and without those screen eating, emanating out of nowhere, and super creepy ads, all our favorite sites would have to charge us for access to their content or go out of business. Whether we like it or not, ads serves as a necessary evil that ensures that the internet stays a largely wallet free zone as far as content is concerned and doesn’t become one big paywall after another. However, no matter how much publishers and advertisers repeat this line, ad blocking will continue in popularity and thanks to Apple’s none too subtle two fingers ups (not the peace sign, the other one) in the direction of Google and Facebook, the publishing and advertising industries are going to be even tougher industries to crack than ever before.

Online ad’s already suffer from the much talked about viewability issue where the majority of ads online aren’t seen and if ad blocking proliferates, they’re likely to stay that way.  The easy answer is that publishers and advertisers should get creative and produce better ads or at least abandon using ads people hate (pre-roll, pop ups) but these answers are often provided by people who aren’t affected by ad blocking or in some cases, directly benefit from ad blocking.

In sum, I’ve always been of the opinion that the only question that really matters when writing about a technology is “who get screwed?” With ad blocking, the answer to that question can be larger than first thought.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) Interview: This Week In Startups Talks To Tim O'Reilly Of WTF Economy

Check out this great interview as This Week In Startups founder and host Jason Calacanis talks to Tim O'Reilly, Founder of O'Reilly Media talks about WTF Economy and the effect of tech on the economy.


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