A few months after the Interactive Advertising Bureau announced it’s LEAN Ads initiative to address ad blocking, AdBlock Plus says its invitation to the trade group’s annual Leadership Conference going on in Palm Desert, California next week was revoked at the last minute.
In a blog post published Friday, AdBlock Plus (ABP) showed correspondence in which an IAB representative wrote a one sentence email stating, “We are returning your registration fee and cancelling your registrations for the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting.”
Ben Williams, ABP operations and marketing manager, responded to the IAB’s decision in the blog post, “The over 400,000,000 downloads of Adblock Plus are not going to ‘go away.’ Dis-allowing Adblock Plus from attending your event solves nothing. We will proceed to work with others to build a sustainable monetization model for the Internet.”
The IAB’s US spokesperson, Laura Goldberg, issued a statement, “The IAB Annual Leadership Meeting is for serious conversation among important digital-industry stakeholders” when asked about the matter.
How is the industry reacting to the move?
Marketing Land spoke with a number of executives about the IAB’s decision. The reaction was mixed, with those in favor more willing to speak on the record.
Rob Rasko, CEO of digital media consultancy The 614 Group, told Marketing Land via email, “I completely support the action that the IAB has taken. After all, they are the Interactive ADVERTISING Bureau and this is one of the years greatest gatherings of interactive leaders. Why would they wish to have an enabler of anti-advertising technology and a company with specifically negative rhetoric in their midst.
“They certainly have the right to invite or un-invite people at their choosing. And you wouldn’t choose to sell a fox a ticket into the hen house.
“As a former Board Member and longtime partner of the IAB, I can attest that the IAB has always done its part to move the digital conversation forward in a thoughtful and respectful way in order to best service its members, even when the challenges were not easy to solve.”
Jim Spanfeller, founder and CEO of The Spanfeller Media Group and former Forbes CEO wrote in an email, “I think [the IAB’s decision] makes sense. There are radically competing business models here and I am not sure that the AdBlock folks have a vested interest to see the core issues resolved as it would fundamentally put them out of business”
Asked whether ad blocking firms have a role to play in the industry’s efforts to address the issues that make ad blockers popular in the first place, Spanfeller responded, “I think they could have a big role to play here but so far we have not really seen them dig in around the core solutions. Now that said, solutions on the overall ad experience will not come quickly. Still though, right now it feels like a number of the adblock companies business model is closely related to extortion and as such they seem (so far anyway) not terribly interested in building a better web. The bottom line though is that there is a reason consumers are installing these tools and we, as an industry, need to understand these reasons and as best we can, address them.”
Those that told Marketing Land that the IAB should not have rescinded ABPs invitation tended to echo Mr. Spanfeller’s final remark above — that the IAB and industry as a whole needs to understand and address the reasons why consumers are turning to ad blockers in the first place. Whatever your feelings about the ad blocker’s business tactics, simply turning away from dissenting voices won’t move the industry in the right direction is the thought.
The late snub and terse response in the email IAB’s email correspondence with ABP also struck some as undermining the industry’s effort to advance a dialog about ways to improve user experiences with advertising.
If you’re wondering if the IAB chose to ban all ad blocking firms from attending or participating? The answer is no. As AdAge pointed out, the CEO of anti-tracking and ad blocking extension Ghostery is slated to speak with the IAB’s SVP of technology and ad operations Scott Cunningham at the Summit in a session on ad blocking and LEAN ads principles titled “The Next $50 Billion Will Come From…Putting Users First”.
LEAN Ads, In Part A Response To “Acceptable Ads”
Unlike Ghostery, AdBlock Plus runs a whitelisting program called Acceptable Ads in which large companies must pay to get their ads to pass through the ad blocking filters — smaller firms, which ABP says make up 90 percent of their partners, there is no fee. There is a lot of mystery around ABP’s Acceptable Ads program, like who’s on the list and how much the big firms theoretically pay. Neither ABP nor the tech firms that pay will discuss it publicly. ABP’s exception list includes Google, Yahoo, Aol, Criteo, Taboola.
This is largely where talk of ad blockers running business models that are “closely related to extortion” that Spanfeller referred to stem from. The IAB has not shy in its denouncement of ad blocking calling it “wrong” and “an extortionist scheme that exploits consumer disaffection and risks distorting the economics of democratic capitalism”.
LEAN Ads is a set of standards the IAB hopes the industry will adopt to address the reasons consumers use ad blockers like frequency capping, no longer retargeting users after they make a purchase, fewer ads per page.
What specifically prompted the last-minute invite revocation is still unclear, however. ABP says it contacted IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg but did not get a response. AdBlock Plus did attend the IAB Leadership Summit last year.