What GroupM gets wrong about ad reinsertion

Last week, GroupM, the world’s largest media investment and technology group, started advising buyers to cease purchases of inventory from companies working on ad-reinsertion technologies. What’s ad reinsertion? Tech companies, like SourcePoint, PageFair or newly announced, Admiral offer solutions to publishers which include serving ads to readers even if they have ad blockers enabled.
ad reinsertion beats adblock
Why cease purchasing this inventory? Because GroupM sees ads that bypass ad-blockers as potentially damaging to the brands they represent.
GroupM managing partner Joe Barone writes:

GroupM agencies are beginning to counsel clients that we should actively prohibit reinserted ad inventory from inclusion in their buys. We simply don’t know whether consumers will blame the site publisher, the advertiser, or the blocker, and we should not put advertiser brands at risk. Ignoring consumers’ ‘Do Not Advertise’ requests is a risk we are not willing to tolerate for our brands.

GroupM’s “brand-first” position is seemingly positive at first glance, but ultimately places an impossible burden on the backs of publishers who have little control over the ad-quality requirements GroupM places on them.
Publishers aren’t “ignoring” consumers’ requests, as Barone puts it. On the contrary: Publishers are hearing consumers’ requests. They’re considering them, and plainly responding “No” — as is their right.

“Fix the customer experience first”

John Montgomery, chairman of GroupM Connect, demands that publishers first “fix” the customer experience before asking customers to consider viewership. (via Digiday)

Let’s fix the user experience first, and then we can engage with consumers and tell them that we’ve fixed the UX, we made the experience as light as possible, and ask them to consider whitelisting [the site] or switching off the ad blocker.

It looks like Montgomery is joining the chorus of “thought leaders” calling for publishers to adopt a ‘begging’ model. ie: Pleading for “whitelisting” from consumers of free content.
Let’s deconstruct this position:
First off, the word “fix” is hopelessly subjective. One man’s “fixed” UX is not necessarily another’s. While it is clear that some users will respond positively to improvements in ad quality, the question is “how many?“.
As more than one survey has shown, a frightening percentage of users feel that an appropriately “fixed” user experience consists of nothing less than no advertising and no fees whatsoever.  The belief that there is some universal common ground which can be reached between publishers and readers, where all users accept standards of ad-quality in exchange for whitelisting, is based on tenuous evidence. Yes, some surveys suggest as much. Other surveys suggest otherwise.
Even if some users consent to whitelisting, recovering some small percentage of overall impressions isn’t going to cut it from a revenue perspective. Especially when one considers that the performance of these recovered impressions will likely be technologically hampered by stricter standards.
The last half of Montgomery’s dictum is ultimately another call for the supremacy of user choice over financial viability of publishers. What if after “fixing” the UX, and asking users to “consider whitelisting”, the response from a large slice of readers is still, “No, thanks“?
The elephant in the room here is that in any scenario where users wield 100% of the power to view or not view advertising, the option of “no advertising” will always win for a large percentage of users. It may not ultimately matter that some percentage of users consents to whitelisting if the remaining percentage of refusées still represents a killing blow to sustainability.

You can’t (might not be able to) get there from here

What is undeniable is that millions of users are already perfectly happy with their current free/ad-free web courtesy of adblocking and have little incentive to change. The belief that “having a conversation” will somehow lead a meaningful majority of consumers away from their optimal user experience of an ad-free solution to a sub-optimal experience of an advertised solution flies in the face of consumer logic.
As such, a sustainable “middle ground” of ad-quality in exchange for voluntary whitelisting may not be possible with the current power imbalance between publishers and adblock users.
Which isn’t to say that a middle ground cannot one day be reached. But it won’t be reached as long as ‘free and ad-free’ remains an easy, accessible option via adblocking.
What adblock detection, and it’s more sophisticated cousin ad-reinsertion, do is reset the playing field in favor of publishers while the issues of ad-tech, browser security, privacy legislation and tracking can be addressed.  Neither readers nor publishers like this near term solution — but offering readers a 100% free option with no ads at all is a terrible near term fix which has devastating consequences.
As previously discussed, imposing near-term revenue denial on publishers places little upstream pressure on the ad-tech supply chain and catastrophically affects the content ecosystem with few results to show for it.

Cognitive dissonance

Few would deny that ad-tech needs a ground-up overhaul. But GroupM’s insistence that publishers should bear the pain of ad blocking without the available recourse of ad-reinsertion is somewhat ironic — considering that some of the blame for adblocking rests with GroupM’s companies themselves.
If we are to believe that much of the reason for ad blocking in the first place rests on issues of user experience, then shouldn’t GroupM’s subsidiaries be looking in the mirror instead of recommending against inventory which circumvents Adblock?

8 Replies to “What GroupM gets wrong about ad reinsertion”

  1. > “The elephant in the room here is that in any scenario where users wield 100% of the power to view or not view advertising, the option of “no advertising” will always win for a large percentage of users.”
    True. And how many companies can withstand a 20%-40% hit to their earnings?

  2. LOL at crying about an “imbalance” of power. For years consumers were at the mercy of atrocious adverts ruining the browsing experience and giving malware, and there was nothing they could do. And that’s the way you lot want it, given you think it’s a “right” to force us to view your ads (it’s not!)
    Now we have the means to fight back and avoid ads, there’s an “imbalance of power”. LOL. Just wow.` Seems like in business a “balance” is when consumers are helplessly getting whipped.

    1. LOL at you. Go and buy a magazine if you want. Nobody forces you to visit websites. Your sense of entitlement is incredible.

      1. Luckily I have the CHOICE to view websites, and the CHOICE to view or block ads 🙂
        And the “sense of entitlement” is in people who think they have a right to force people to view your stupid ads.
        That’s like saying “I have a right to Free Speech so you HAVE to listen to me!” It doesn’t work like that.

        1. Actually you won’t have that CHOICE because the freeweb is going to be gone in less than 5 years with adblocking growing the way it is.
          So have fun with your monthly fees.
          And how exactly are you being forced to do anything? No one is forcing you to read their websites.
          Go back to Reddit. You sound like a teenager.

          1. I’m not being forced to do anything because as I said, I have choice, thanks to the wonderful Adblock.
            And if the current horrific ad system is the only way to keep the “freeweb”, then it’s going to die either way, because the ad system is laughably flawed and broken. Whether people block ads or not.
            So until it happens, I at least get the joy of not viewing dumb ads. Whereas you, you’ll have an inferior browsing experience and then the freeweb still dies anyway, so what was the point? What did you gain? Lol
            Unless you actually enjoy looking at ads. In that case I understand.

          2. When a webserver serves you a page, you aren’t being given a commercial package, a store product, or even a television channel. You’re being given a raw text (!) document passed over a system that was not initially designed for commercial use.
            My browser, computer, and I are under zero legal obligations whatsoever as to the interpretation of this document. The web requests sent out by my computer are also (with some exceptions) largely non-liable. If I wanted, and I do, I could sit in my chair for ten minutes and manually weed all of the ad links out of the document, and then open it on my terms. My browser would then not interpret any of the ad links and thus not make those requests. I would see no ads. And can you tell me, absolutely, that there is anything intrinsically wrong with editing a text file that I was passed, for free, over the web?
            So it is not the case that no one forces me to use websites, but rather that no one forces companies to try and serve ads over a system that I can abuse and manipulate at will. If they want to, they will, but they are fighting an uphill battle, because this is the best analogy for what a webpage is:
            You hit the ‘webserver’ for their “cake recipe” page. The page is given to you as a note with some words and a few adresses, like 512 Murphy Street and 9131 20th Avenue. Maybe the adresses are annotated, maybe not. When you walk to the address, they could hand you an image of a cake, or maybe a video, or possibly an advertisement.
            Now you should see that the internet is a HORRIBLE way to advertise. You are not giving people an ad, you are giving them a way to find an ad, and they are choosing to do so. Some shmuck running a hand-made web browser with no javascript and no ability to request based on image/embed/music tags isn’t going to see your ads, and neither will an AB user.
            The freeweb will not die. That is a lie perpetuated by web-advertisers to protect their own business. Webservers that offer their pages for free will always be kept alive by hobbyists and similar organizations. The use of Ad-block may contribute to the contraction of the freeweb, but never the “end” of it. There will always be more than enough free content, even counting low-profile hobby sites.
            And remember, “free” pages that make you view ads – are not free. You are paying with your viewership. It’s not cold hard cash – but it is to the advertiser, and it might be when you walk into a store and spend based on the ad.

  3. The problem that the ads serve is that there are too many of them. We are not consuming free content, we are sampling. And we are paying in our dataplans and our bandwidth. No advertising is what works for me because any advertising consumes my precious resources–including my time. You ad servers are not entitled to that. I no longer visit pages whose ads are served by Spotxchange, because search.spotxchange.com always hangs up my computer!

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