Bring On the Ad Blockers

By Doug Ryan, President, DigitasLBi Chicago & San Francisco

The release of iOS9 kicked off a fevered discussion about Ad Blockers and the future of online advertising. The direst among these predict the end of the advertising industry. Unless our free market economy collapses, that's not likely to be the case. As long as people are competing to sell, there will be advertising in some form.

What is true is that online advertising will get harder. The embrace of digital marketing so far is largely based on two essential factors: it's effective and it's easy. The widespread adoption of Ad Blockers will challenge that foundation. Ad blockers will make it both more difficult and expensive to reach people with an advertising message. To add to the pessimism, this isn't likely to stop with online advertising. As everything we consume shifts to digital, whether it be entertainment or e-commerce, this same automated Ad Blocking capability will spread beyond banner ads.

So what's the appropriate reaction for people whose business depends on the advertising industry? The short term effects will vary based on where you are in the business chain. But if you rate yourself among the advertising professionals who are actually pretty good at what they do, you should welcome the Ad Blockers with open arms.

That's because Ad Blockers will make our business harder, and harder is better. Harder means that being smart and creative will matter even more. If people have a greater ability to opt out of advertising, that means we'll have to provide better reasons for people to opt in.

There are a few moments when the work of marketers and their agencies rises to the highest level of the craft. The Super Bowl is the most obvious and established example of this. It's a time when people actually look forward to hearing from marketers. The ones who rise to the occasion are lauded and rewarded; the ones who don't are ignored. If you go to any of our self-congratulatory award shows (Cannes, Clio, Effie, etc.), you see a lot of hype. But you also see work that inspires for both the quality of the craftsmanship and the business impact. That's when we are at our professional best.

But let's be honest. That level of work represents a small fraction of our industry's current advertising output. For every pound of excellence, there is a ton of schlock that is made and delivered without concern for creating something of value for the audience. In a world where it is cost effective if you only get 0.05% of your audience to engage with you, quality is not always a winning strategy.

Wouldn't it be great to live in a world where quality won the day? I'd much rather compete in a business where winning demands a deep level of expertise, a high level of smarts, and a clear delivery of value. If Ad Blockers force marketers to be more relevant, more appealing, and more worth the time we ask people to spend with us, bring 'em on.