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Let's be clear: I love advertising. A great ad is a thing of beauty -- but I'm a hard-core fan and am therefore prepared to put up with the massive amount of advertising detritus for that one perfect advertising experience. That's not true of the average Joe, and bitter though it may be, we have to accept the fact that most people just don't like ads. And the problem boils down to the consumer experience.
Let's look at another business that didn't pay much attention to the customer experience -- taxis. I've had taxi drivers who were rude or refused service based on my destination. Numerous times I was scoffed at for trying to pay with a credit card. Enter Uber, a convenient, friendly option that goes the extra step to personalize the experience. Taxi drivers were in an uproar at first, but the industry is better off for it. The introduction of Uber raised the bar for drivers, and ad blockers are poised to do the same in the advertising world.
Yes, we are to blame for bad advertising
For a long time, advertising has been annoying. The first generation of ad-tech firms only made things worse by overflowing the web with too many ads, not-so-great targeting, and overall disruptive experiences. People don't want creepy ads following them around, especially for a product they've already bought or that they don't care about. Now people are blocking ads, and publishers are feeling the pain. So, we shouldn't be so shocked to hear that they are eschewing ad-tech firms since we are partially to blame for the fact that people dislike advertising.
Technology is the enemy of the status quo
There's a feeling that tech firms just need to "fix" the bad advertising to maintain the status quo. And while more relevant, personalized ads will certainly result in more successful campaigns, it won't help publishers to avoid change. Technology has empowered consumers to take matters into their own hands, and inspired tremendous change. Technology could not help the demise of newspapers, travel agents or taxis, and publishers whose platforms and experiences are sub-par will find themselves in a similar scenario.
$142.5B 2015 U.S. ad spending for 200 LNA
Some publishers have even spoken out about building their own technologies to buy, sell and serve ads. You might be big enough to own non-core technology, but that doesn't mean you should. We have seen time and time again that if you're not an expert in something, it is best to work with someone who is. Even the biggest tech companies in the world (like Apple) outsource. Publishers shouldn't spend their time and energy reinventing the wheel -- they need to focus on what they already do, and do it well.
Win people with good content and good advertising
People are demanding a better experience, and we have to deliver. The ad-tech firms that survive will be the ones that offer more relevant and less intrusive solutions that seamlessly integrate with online content. And similarly, the publishers that survive will be the ones that create great content and don't give out their goods for free. It's time for publishers to block the ad blockers and eliminate free content. If people like the content enough, they'll be willing to either pay for it with dollars or by viewing ads. And hopefully, the ads will be valuable and interesting.
It's time for all of us -- ad-tech firms, publishers and others -- to drop the bad blood, embrace change and ultimately, step up our game.