Digital advertising has continued largely unhindered by consumer concerns about the impact of ads on their online experience and how their personal data is used, but this might be about to change.
Consumers are starting to question whether the exchange of free online content for ads driven by user data is really worth it – and many feel that it’s not.
Over the last 12 months, ad blocking increased by 41%, costing the industry an estimated $22 billion. Apple’s recent release of iOS 9 – an operating system that enables users to download ad-blocking apps – brought the issue to boiling point, provoking widespread panic amongst publishers and advertisers alike.
Yet, research shows that it is not necessarily the concept of advertising that consumers object to. In a recent IAB study, the most common reasons respondents gave for blocking ads were that they are too interruptive (73%), poorly designed (55%), and a risk to personal privacy (31%). These figures suggest the rise of ad blocking is due to an insufficient focus on providing a compelling user experience and transparency about how personal data is used in the digital space.
This is also the opinion of World Wide Web founder, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. In a recent interview with Campaign, Berners-Lee called for a more open online environment where consumers have control over data, and the advertising they receive.
In particular, Berners-Lee argued against walled gardens, which threaten net neutrality and the diversity of the industry by limiting opportunities for smaller tech companies. His answer to the data problem is standardisation of the web – the creation of universal guidelines for online activity, covering everything from data access to the formats advertisers should use to best engage consumers.
So could standardisation solve the ad-blocking problem by raising the bar throughout the online ecosystem?
Previous recommendations by organisations such as the World Wide Web consortium (W3C) have succeeded in improving advertising quality and the user experience. For example, the latest HTML5 standard has revolutionised the industry by enabling advertisers to deliver a single campaign across multiple screens, providing consumers with dynamic ads that adapt to the device they are using.
Guidelines that set parameters for producing highly relevant and non-intrusive ads that use consumer data respectfully could therefore be a viable solution. With standards that enshrine a high quality user experience and a robust attitude towards protecting privacy, the need for ad blockers may be significantly diminished.
Whether this vision will become a reality or not is yet to be determined. The only certainty is that as the industry seeks to overcome the ad blocking challenge it must re-evaluate its current approach to data usage. Failure to increase transparency and create a more mutually beneficial online experience could do untold damage to the consumer relationships upon which digital advertising success is founded.