AOL responds to ad banner blocking with: "It's the creatives fault"

Adland: 

First Marissa Meyer believes that better creative will stop people from blocking banner ads, and now Tim Mahlman, AOL’s president of publisher platforms, joins in. To WSJ he said: “We are at a crossroads. People are pointing the finger back at us, yet the advertisers are wanting to push the envelope on creative. There has to be a common ground. Can we do killer ads not at the cost of turning people away?”

You see, good creative is "bloated", and arrives too late for publishers to reject the banner, and agencies try to cater to clients long list of demands and end up making ads that take over entire pages. They're full of trackers to squeeze every conceivable metric out of one view. Mr. Mahlman points out that the push to make online advertising as big as TV, in an attempt to attract more visually oriented branding and making video ad units, instead of working to sell products directly and in a simpler fashion has led the online world astray. We ended up image heavy, video heavy page takeovers instead of smart and simple lightweight ads. Plus clients want ads that are viewable, ha! Those silly silly clients! You mean they pay money for an ad and want people to see it? The gall of these people.

While Mahlman does have a point, ads that throw themselves in front of content, videos that randomly play when you're trying to read something, and long load times for what is essentially junk is a pain - but consumers have been pushing back against this since AT&T made a clickable banner ad on Hotwired. Ten years ago Tammy Kendrick founded "BanPopUps", and literally sent bills to the advertisers that had wasted her data with crud. This isn't news to anyone, and we've been playing "hot potato" with the blame for almost two decades now. Publishers have inflated their numbers, like Vice does by partnering with lesser properties for their traffic. To be able to say "we can get your ad in front of "BIG NUMBER", you need a big number and niche publications have niche numbers. The largest ad network in the world, Google, makes money off human trafficking and piracy, and digital paid media is a fraud as numbers are bot-inflated left and right. To accuse publications of greed when it's become increasingly difficult to support original content with banner ads, while networks have no trouble still making ends meet, is a slap in the face of those who produce what the readers and viewers seek. It doesn't pay to create original videos, host content, write articles and work hard when it's just so much easier to make a fortune by not creating stuff. Just scrape another site, overlay someone elses content with ads while iframing their entire site, set up a piracy site with a collection of mp3's you've pirated. Be Kim Dotcom. Or just embed other peoples videos, music and images."Clickbait" isn't just a winning strategy in regards to getting the banner money, in a world where thousands of articles are repeating the same information about Tay the chatbot, we're flooded with the same "light news" from equally similar publications. Back when we paid for our magazines and newspapers we picked one, but today we hear about something and take the first link google serves us when we search for it.

Generations have grown up in this free-but-ads-will-pay-the-creators economy, and only now are they too feeling the pinch as the ad pennies are spread out on more content, while being cheaper - and the consumers are blocking the ads. We have a problem here, and passing the buck won't solve it.

Some publishers say there’s a pervasive attitude regarding who should tackle these issues and who should not. “Agencies look at this as not their problem,” said an ad sales executive.


But take Forbes, for instance, which—like many publishers—provides its ad partners with guidelines for the kinds of ads that it accepts. Those specs typically include preferred maximum file sizes.


Yet according to Chief Revenue Officer Mark Howard, agencies will frequently supply Forbes with ads that are four to nine times larger than Forbes’ specs. Other publishers say they see the same kind of pattern.

This is of course, the very same Forbes that ask people to disable their adblocker and then served their readers malware. This is key, consumers aren't just ad blocking because the ads are heavy, they're blocking the ads because they want to protect their devices and their privacy. We launched a dark web version of adland the 6th of January this year, and now in March it has surprisingly steady traffic. In the arms race of blockers vs banner ads, IAB's new initiative LEAN (Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads) may be too little, too late. And it's not addressing the security issues at all. Sometimes the security issue isn't in the ad network, but in other trackers - we have expanded the circle of trust too far with countless calls to third parties for each page-load.

“I just don’t think we have a good idea on realistically how much bloated ad sizes truly impact page load speeds,” said Abe Diaz, vice president and associate media director at the agency RPA. “I strongly believe that the bigger issue is the number of ads publishers are putting on pages, how and when those ads load, and all the various trackers that the sites themselves place on their pages.”

Jed Hartman, chief revenue officer at the Washington Post ends the WSJ article with a stern warning and slice of harsh truth, get it together now before ad blocking becomes more prevalent in mobile: "The ship has sailed in desktop"

Comments (2)

  • Ben Lloyd's picture
    Ben Lloyd (not verified)

    Large ads are one thing, but in the age of broadband this will become less of a problem. What is worsening however is the beacons, tracking and spying that sits behind each of these annoyances. Even if you do manage to stop one of these auto-playing monstrosities, you're too late, the malware/beacon/tracking pixel has already been activated, and you're into Dante's eighth circle of Hell.

    And that's why I stopped visiting Forbes.com. And proudly use an ad-blocker.

    Mar 28, 2016
  • Dabitch's picture
    Dabitch

    Exactly! We've literally been whining about video ads and other "heavy ads" here, on adland, since 2003. We've been complaining about malware for almost as long but it's those trackers and beacons and third party calls. I keep repeating myself but ad networks today are indistinguishable from malware and exploit kits with the invasive tracking, suspicious TLDs, and control data in the URLs - and that info leaks out.

    The question is who will come with a solution, and stop playing hot potato with the blame? can Optimal save us? Perhaps it'll be up to Brave?

    Mar 28, 2016

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about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.