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.
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.