World Federation of Advertisers' Boss: Don't Turn Consumers Off

Only an 'Acceptable and Sustainable Advertising Environment' Will Prevent Ad Blocking

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Stephan Loerke
Stephan Loerke Credit: WFA

The World Federation of Advertisers is issuing a major call to arms on ad blocking, urging its members to create an online environment that puts consumers first.

The Brussels-based marketing association -- whose members include the world's biggest marketers such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Nike and Adidas, as well as national advertiser associations -- has issued a three-point plan to lead the fight against ad blocking.

WFA Managing Director Stephan Loerke said that marketers must create international standards for digital advertising; allow consumers to establish clear preferences for the advertising they are willing to see; and then regularly monitor their responses.

Mr. Loerke said, "The internet advertising experience is not satisfactory for consumers. As brand owners, we have to take a longer-term view and create an acceptable, sustainable advertising environment – not push things to people in a way that turns them off."

Ad blocking is a serious problem for marketers all over the world. According to PageFair and Adobe, the global use of ad blockers grew by 41% in the year to June 2015, amounting to almost 200 million internet users. Growth was 48% in the U.S. and 35% across Europe, reaching 82% in the U.K. PageFair estimates the global cost of ad blocking will be $41.4 billion in 2016.

The WFA response is not to go to war with technology and seek ways to by-pass ad blocking, but to create an advertising "ecosystem" where ads are less alienating to consumers.

"We don't yet have a concrete action plan; this is the beginning of a journey," Mr. Loerke admitted, "We need to address the issues -- to get a better understanding of what generates rejection, and to secure higher standards across the industry. We must be guided by what consumers do and don't want to see."

The WFA's first step will be to have conversations with stakeholders, including members, ad agencies and publishers. "We need concrete action and a collective effort," Mr. Loerke said.

According to PageFair and Adobe's findings, people start ad blocking for three main reasons. The biggest, cited by 50% of blockers, is worry about the misuse of personal information. Then 41% (and 57% of millennials) block because there are too many ads, and 10% because ads are badly targeted. Other objections to online advertising include its impact on load time, interruption of browsing, and the unwanted data costs it imposes.

Mr. Loerke added, "Everyone talks about using digital marketing to connect with the consumer through relevant targeting – it's driving our conversations about the future. But if we don't get our heads around ad blocking, we won't see that vision come to life."

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