Don Marti

Tue 24 Sep 2013 07:58:17 AM PDT

Solution to ad blocking

Peter Houston covers the problem of annoying web ads, and the ad blocking that more and more users are turning to, in The solution to ad-blocking? Don't run ads people want to block.

Trying to increase relevance by turning up the creepy level is likely to increase ad blocking, not reduce it. The more that people learn about how targeted advertising works, the less they like.

So when Houston writes, Another potential solution is personalisation-ad targeting based on data profiling-but that raises the concern that advertisers and publishers are overstepping the mark when it comes to targeting promotions using personal data. Anyone that has visited a website only to be mercilessly stalked by its ads for the remainder of their onward journey across the web understands how creepy that can be, he’s half right. But creepy targeting doesn't just fail to help the medium, it hurts.

I have a longer explanation of that, but another way to look at it is this. Conversations, including business conversations, are two-way: both buyer and seller ask for attention and provide information. Real advertising is one-way, but the advertiser is offering information and asking for attention. That’s not just the information in the ad. The ad’s existence, and the fact that it’s running in a certain place, are valuable information about the advertiser’s intentions.

But targeted advertising, like email spam, telemarketing, and cold calling before it, is one-sided. The selling side is both collecting and using information and asking for attention. Humans dislike cold calls so much that we have programmed machines to avoid them, and now people are programming spam filters and ad blockers to dodge them.

Houston is right about making better ads and getting the web to work more like print, but there's still a missing piece. If we really want to increase trust in web advertising as a medium, we need to fix the privacy bugs in browsers that make creepy targeting possible, or at least get out of the way of people who are fixing them. Real advertisers should be backing the Cookie Clearinghouse and similar privacy efforts.

Bonus link: How California’s imminent Do Not Track law falls short – and why it matters anyway