Adblocking: a cat-and-mouse game built on trust

Adblocking is a hot topic these days. A never ending cat and mouse game between advertisers and consumers in which ingenious developers are constantly finding new ways of avoiding or trying to avoid advertising pressure. What Adblocking is showing us too is a lack of trust on the part of consumers. Who else but Doc Searls, one of the co-writers of the celebrated Cluetrain Manifesto was in better position to raise the subject? This is exactly what he did at our late September meeting in Prague*. Once more, consumer trust ranked high on the agenda.

“Adblocking is becoming a big deal and it’s even one of the biggest downloads and even more so in certain countries like Germany and Austria” Doc said in his introduction to the subject. “This has grown and grown and journalists are describing it as a War now”. Even better, Apple has made this decision to add adblocking in the IOS 9 SDK. You will then be able to block whatever you want. “Immediately after this change” Doc said, “Adblockers became the most popular apps on the store”. 

Adblockers-Trust-consumers
Doc Searls talking about Adblocking in front of the panel of ODR experts at the Prague September meeting organised by Youstice

Adblocking: Apple knows before consumers they really need it

“It’s very easy for the Press to describe this as an Apple vs Google feud” Doc added “but the point is somewhere else”. Doc’s argument is that Apple is making it easy for consumers, because “they know what the customers want even before they know themselves what they want”. Apple has indeed taught us to expect the unexpected, offer products we don’t need apparently, and then once the object has been created we suddenly realise we are craving for it.

One of the interesting things about the Adblock controversies is that it emphasises that our world works through advertising. “But online, the junk-mail world has taken over and this isn’t what we were expecting” Doc added. Things have gone out of control. The publishing world acts as if they didn’t understand what is happening. To them, this is how the world works and that’s that but “we, as consumers, we have never signed up for this”.

Why do we need trust in business?

Lea Whing has an interesting point to make on this. when Doc Searls mentions trust, what are we hearing? “Are we only interested in trust because this is what will trigger consumer purchase?” She asked wittily, “or is it because people need it? If so, what do customers really need?”

From an ODR perspective, “we tend to think we are just interested in a fair process which will lead to a fair outcome” she added. And we assume consumers are interested in that too. In actual fact, technologies produce new ways of communicating but also new spaces. Trust is one of the barriers, but it’s not the only one according to Lea. “As a consumer I want things blocked” she said, but then what will be the outcome? She asked. Native advertising will take over and “companies will start selling stuff in the content itself and this will lower trust even more”. All of this “boils down not just to trust but about the consumer having power” Lea concluded.

 

What can we expect from the Web?

And the Web has indeed given power to the user. Power to access the information he/she wants at the push of a button. Such was the promise of http according to Doc Searls. “If I see a newspaper and buy it from a stand it’s not a matter of trust” he says, “it’s a matter of expectation. In a similar way we have expectations online. Http means we are requesting a document full stop”.

But this expectation, according to Searls, “has been violated and merchants have created a number of norms they understand but consumers don’t”. Given there is a whole new world of possibilities, consumers have more choice than they ever did before. A sort of boomerang effect of the do not track that Web publishers weren’t bothered to pay attention to.

Users can’t understand anything about navigation history and options

At the outset, there is this issue that users could be empowered but “they don’t understand what kind of information about their behaviour they are passing on to somebody else”,  Ethan Katsh explained. Probably out of laziness, the inventor of ODR said. Navigation history, options tools are meaningless to users, they  can’t understand them.

adblocking-cookie-suppression-menu
Finding the menu for cookie suppression (here, on Chrome for Mac OSX), means that you are able to display complex hidden menus and activate carefully concealed buttons.

Meeting customer expectations an impossible task?

If trust and customer experience are based on meeting customers’ expectations, as pointed out by Doc Searls, all expectations are different, so how do you do that? It’s impossible to focus a process on any particular person. How to grant power to customers? It’s undoubtedly a most difficult task.

Preserving consumers’ interest without killing business

Thus, we have surmised that consumers hate being tracked “or at least they don’t expect to be” as Joyce Searls rightfully pointed out. Many, therefore, resort to those adblocking systems, in order to avoid advertising pressure. Yet, the more consumers try and evade advertising, the greater the pressure on publishers’ websites who need those banners and videos in order to go on producing content. As Juraj Ondriš  explained, “this is the dilemma of the Internet: all hinges on monetisation. When you kill the ads, you kill the content too”.

Adblocking: a cat and mouse game between consumers and advertisers

He has a point there. Hence this cat and mouse game in which consumers try to protect themselves from advertising on the one hand, while, on the other hand, advertisers try and circumvent the issue with more tracking and more technology. Consumers’ inability to understand how they can protect their information is the only reason why this game is never ending.

Here is a living proof of this: a few years ago, Adblock Plus editor eyeo.com did reach agreements with Google and others. Within the framework of these agreements, big logos give Adblock plus money in order to be whitelisted within the software. Concluding that Adblock plus is trying to protect consumers’ interests would therefore be naive.

“It’s a legitimate concern that you have to monetise content” Joyce Searls commented. “But the way it’s done is annoying”. Regulation, according to her, is going to happen but this is going to take a long time.

How consumers and advertisers will be able to preserve their own interests despite the fact that they are incompatible remains to be seen. The agressive stance taken by ad publishers at this moment is however an issue. Certain advertisers like Pepsico’s Brad Jakeman, aren’t even impressed with the results. According to Jakeman, our traditional advertising model is antiquated.

There is definitely a need to empower users so that they can trust you. Even if it’s done out of commercial interest, one may at least acknowledge that respect is better for both consumers and businesses and there is nothing wrong with that.

As Doc Searls points out, “people like shops when there is no bullshit, this is probably the best marketing ever. He knows of retail chains signalling things about what they don’t do (no tracking, no stealing of data, no disrespect of customers) and these are doing significantly better than others. A clear signe that respect and business aren’t necessarily incompatible.

*The Youstice Prague meeting participants were Leah Wing, Ethan Katch, Doc Searls, Joyce Searls, Pablo Cortes, James Roper, Gregory Hunt, Phillipe Rambaud, Jean Manuel Caparros and the Youstice team was made of Iveta Havlova, Zuzka Jakubkova, Zbynek Loebl, Karina Ludz, Juraj Ondriš, Ivan Sivak, and Emmanuel Mouclier.

Read on

200 companies have been listed by Doc Searls and his teals, which are in sympathy of the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) movement. View the “Intent casting” video interview https://vimeo.com/53576832

Follow me

Yann Gourvennec

CEO & Founder at Visionary Marketing
Yann has a long-standing experience in marketing, information systems and Web marketing. He created visionarymarketing.com in 1996 and since then, he has practiced Web strategy, e-business and Web communications in the field. He was a member of socialmedia.org from 2008 till 2013. He is a lecturer, a keynote speaker, an author and blogger. In early 2014, he went from intrapreneur to entrepreneur when he founded his digital marketing agency Visionary Marketing.
Yann Gourvennec
Follow me