Ad Blockers: Unwitting Arbiters of Consumer Preference

September 30, 2015 — by Joe Zawadzki    

This article appears today on <re/code>. It is written by Joe Zawadzki, Chairman & CEO, MediaMath.

Consumers who use ad blocking are fighting the wrong war with the wrong weapon. The result is a paradigm where consumers unintentionally suffocate the content they want and punish the brands they buy.

If you have never heard of ad blocking, it’s an often-free software you install on your computer, tablet or mobile device to stop advertisements from appearing on the page. And if you are surprised at my prediction that ad blocking, at least how it’s used today, has no place in the economy of the Web, let me explain.

Publishers produce the content you and I consume rabidly every day. Producing that content is expensive: They support content creation either via subscriptions, where you sign up and agree to pay a subscription fee, or through advertising, where brands pay the publisher for the opportunity to advertise to you. Ad blocking inadvertently disrupts the relationship between consumers and publishers. Suddenly, you, the consumer, are receiving content for free.

Content providers are, unsurprisingly, responding. Some, like the political blog Talking Points Memo, have directly appealed to their users to remove the ad-blocking software, pleading their case that they need ads to sustain a business. Others are going direct to the ad startups themselves, paying to be “whitelisted” as a safe company in order to avoid having their ad space blocked. It’s an odd contradiction — an ad blocker that makes money by allowing ads through its filter. And it’s one I’d bet many consumers aren’t aware of.

Read the rest of the article here.

Joe Zawadzki

After a decade representing buyers at top-tier agencies and Fortune 500 companies, Joe Zawadzki saw the need to reshape the online marketing landscape by integrating technology, data, analytics, and marketing best practices into a single media platform. He founded MediaMath in 2007, launching a technological revolution with the first demand side platform (DSP) and today, the MediaMath Marketing Operating System, TerminalOne, powers the marketing practice of more than 3,500 brands. Joe holds several patents in the area of online methods for dynamic segmentation and content presentation. He is a graduate of Harvard University and was a Teaching Fellow in cosmology, set theory and the history of science. He lives in New York City with his wife, Daria, and their children Dune and Jack, born on the summer and winter solstices respectively.


  • Rebecca Nixon

    April 5, 2016 at 9:49 am

    I don’t think consumers are as stupid as you think they are. Most people know that ads pay for content – they tolerate it just fine on their televisions every day. They are also sick and tired of being served invasive, pushy, noisy, dishonest advertising. We brought this on ourselves, and we ONLY have ourselves to blame – as marketers and advertisers. We have spent years forcing unwelcome content in people’s faces. Content that is often highly offensive and blatantly outrageous (banners that tell you that you’ve won a free iPad or how to magically lose belly fat spring to mind).

    An example from today, I went to read an article on my iPhone and I got a popover telling me to play some stupid war game that I have zero interest in. (I’ve been served this ad dozens of times.) When you tap the “X” to close it? It opens my App Store and tries to get me to download the game! I can’t even read the article and I’ve given up even visiting that website because it’s impossible to read anything. This is advertising on a popular news website, not some dark corner of the web. This is standard issue, and people are rightly sick of it. Can you imagine if every time you tried to watch a TV show, ads COVERED the show until you engaged with them? People wouldn’t stand for it. No – TV ads are regulated by the ASA, they have a specific and appropriate place (in commercial breaks) and there is non-invasive product placement in the shows and movies we watch. Online should be no different.

    On a daily basis we are making it damn near impossible for people to “engage with our content” (which is something that we ironically never shut up about) and yet we have the audacity to accuse consumers of “unintentionally suffocat[ing] the content they want”? I think not.

    I apologise if my response comes off as scathing, but I really feel this is a highly arrogant attitude, akin to someone running a pedestrian down with their car and then complaining that the pedestrian wants the driver’s license revoked.

    We did this. This was the inevitable result of advertisers blatantly disrespecting and exploiting our customers, and treating them like DIRT. We have no-one to blame for this state of affairs but ourselves, and it will only improve once we start treating our customers with respect and dignity, and above all, establishing an industry that is accountable for its practices. Until that happens, you can expect the use of ad blocking software to not only increase but to also become increasingly sophisticated in its execution.

    • Lauren Fritsky

      April 5, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      Hi Rebecca — Not scathing at all, we appreciate your commentary and agree the entire industry needs to get better at the types of ads created, how they are delivered and how customers are experiencing them. We welcome an ongoing dialogue here.

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