If you want to understand Ad blocking, look to the youth.

Original article posted on The Drum here

So much of the talk on ad blocking is focused on battery sucking ads, data sucking ads, bad ads and so on. There is hand wringing at every corner of the industry.  Today I saw a tweet from an advertiser bemoaning how it is messing with their site analytics.

The solutions are diverse and range from technical to blocking the blockers or even worse paying the organised crime like protection rackets that some of these ad blocking companies are offering up.

If you really want to understand ad blocking you have to look to the youth.  Because the youth are not moaning about ads sucking their data and they aren’t obsessed with being followed around the web.  They don’t care about any of that.  They do talk about the quality of ads.  They just don’t understand the relationship between ads and free things.  Those free things are many and varied and they have not stopped to think about the reality of paying for them.

I’m part of a project called Speaker4Schools where I run educational sessions on the media industry for 16 and 17-year-old school children.  Recent presentations I’ve given have involved talking on the subject of the value exchange between advertising and the free services the children receive.

As I work through the presentation I ask how they would feel paying for Facebook (no one), what about Instagram? Yes, but a tiny amount and email? You get the idea – they don’t want to pay and can’t actually get their heads around having to pay.  As I explain that advertising is subsidising all these great services they feel are essential to their lives, I see the realisation dawn that they have really never considered the relationship at all.  Ads are just there to sell product.

I also asked the students if they use ad blockers.  30-50 per cent said they do or have done so.  They do it just because they can.  They do it because ‘there is an app for that’.  These are the young consumers of the future.  The problem of course stretches further in to older age groups which are where I agree with publishers blocking people from seeing their content.  The problem is however that fundamentally if we can’t explain to the younger generation that they get all this free stuff because of advertising, and it won’t be free for long if the use of ad blocking continues to rise, we have a much bigger problem.

It’s time to get together.  Just like the alcohol industry and its ‘drink responsibly’ campaign we need a major advertising push.  We have a massive job to do on educating the population, and perhaps along the way, help our industry attract new entrants.  It’s imperative we do this rather than lining the pockets of every ad blocking and ad blocking-blocking company and the myriad of other tech companies claiming to solve this issue.  Let’s put our energy towards a true industry effort to change perceptions and save our business.

At the same time we do have to improve creative, reduce ads, agree some standards on viewability measurement and reduce fraud.  But first and foremost we have to educate the youth that if they want to Snapchat for free they need to see ads.

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