Ad-blockers prompt IAB to admit ‘we messed up’; launch L.E.A.N. Ads program

Scott Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Technology and Ad Operations at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and General Manager of the IAB Tech Lab has posted the following via the official IAB Blog:

We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.

Twenty years ago we saw an explosion of websites, built by developers around the world, providing all forms of content. This was the beginning of an age of enlightenment, the intersection of content and technology. Many of us in the technical field felt compelled, and even empowered, to produce information as the distribution means for mass communication were no longer restricted by a high barrier to entry.

In 2000, the dark ages came when the dot-com bubble burst. We were told that our startups were gone or that our divisions sustained by corporate parent companies needed to be in the black. It was a wakeup call that led to a renaissance age. Digital advertising became the foundation of an economic engine that, still now, sustains the free and democratic World Wide Web. In digital publishing, we strived to balance content, commerce, and technology. The content management systems and communication gateways we built to inform and entertain populations around the world disrupted markets and in some cases governments, informed communities of imminent danger, and liberated new forms of art and entertainment—all while creating a digital middle class of small businesses.

We engineered not just the technical, but also the social and economic foundation that users around the world came to lean on for access to real time information. And users came to expect this information whenever and wherever they needed it. And more often than not, for anybody with a connected device, it was free.

This was choice—powered by digital advertising — and premised on user experience.

But we messed up.

Through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins during the industrial age of media technology, we built advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession. Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty. The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public internet and drained more than a few batteries. We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves. This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.

The rise of ad blocking poses a threat to the internet and could potentially drive users to an enclosed platform world dominated by a few companies. We have let the fine equilibrium of content, commerce, and technology get out of balance in the open web. We had, and still do have, a responsibility to educate the business side, and in some cases to push back. We lost sight of our social and ethical responsibility to provide a safe, usable experience for anyone and everyone wanting to consume the content of their choice.

We need to bring that back into alignment, starting right now.

Getting LEAN with Digital Ad UXToday, the IAB Tech Lab is launching the L.E.A.N. Ads program. Supported by the Executive Committee of the IAB Tech Lab Board, IABs around the world, and hundreds of member companies, L.E.A.N. stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads. These are principles that will help guide the next phases of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain.

As with any other industry, standards should be created by non-profit standards-setting bodies, with many diverse voices providing input. We will invite all parties for public comment, and make sure consumer interest groups have the opportunity to provide input.

L.E.A.N. Ads do not replace the current advertising standards many consumers still enjoy and engage with while consuming content on our sites across all IP enabled devices. Rather, these principles will guide an alternative set of standards that provide choice for marketers, content providers, and consumers.

Among the many areas of concentration, we must also address frequency capping on retargeting in Ad Tech and make sure a user is targeted appropriately before, but never AFTER they make a purchase. If we are so good at reach and scale, we can be just as good, if not better, at moderation. Additionally, we must address volume of ads per page as well as continue on the path to viewability. The dependencies here are critical to an optimized user experience.

The consumer is demanding these actions, challenging us to do better, and we must respond.

The IAB Tech Lab will continue to provide the tools for publishers in the digital supply chain to have a dialogue with users about their choices so that content providers can generate revenue while creating value. Publishers should have the opportunity to provide rich advertising experiences, L.E.A.N. advertising experiences, and subscription services. Or publishers can simply deny their service to users who choose to keep on blocking ads. That is all part of elasticity of consumer tolerance and choice.

Finally, we must do this in an increasingly fragmented market, across screens. We must do this in environments where entire sites are blocked, purposefully or not. Yes, it is disappointing that our development efforts will have to manage with multiple frameworks while we work to supply the economic engine to sustain an open internet. However, our goal is still to provide diverse content and voices to as many connected users as possible around the world.

That is user experience.

Source: Interactive Advertising Bureau

MacDailyNews Take: Hopefully this is the start of a not-too-long process of bringing things back into balance, so we can all get to a place where life is beautiful all the time, with trees and flowers and chirping birds, and basket weavers who sit and smile and twiddle their thumbs and toes and we’ll all be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats…

Until then, please remember that on our site you can use the AdChoices icon (blue triangle) on any applicable ad to opt out of interest-based ads at any time. That way, people in Tucson can enjoy ads for snow shovels, too!

MacDailyNews Note: We have been working a new, faster, less data-intensive solution for our mobile users and it’s coming very soon! Stay tuned.

AMP: Accelerated Mobile Pages are Google’s response to ad blockers and news apps like Apple News – October 15, 2015
Google’s new Accelerated Mobile Pages meant to keep users in Web browsers and out of dedicated apps
Following Apple News, Google preps Accelerated Mobile Pages – October 7, 2015
Apple News is fast, responsive, enjoyable, and it might become your only news app – July 15, 2015
Apple News shows that Apple wants to bolster and profit from ads, not eliminate them – July 10, 2015
Apple News to have human curation – and that raises issues – June 15, 2015
How Apple’s mobile ad-blocker could backfire on the company and iPhone, iPad users – June 12, 2015
Hats off to Web advertising – no, really – July 6, 2015
Apple’s support of mobile ad blocking may upend how the web works – June 12, 2015


    1. MDN, you need to credit Napoleon XIV if you’re gonna claim to be journalistic.

      But since there’s no journalistic purpose served in using the lyric, that probably doesn’t apply. You should just pay them for the use.

  1. I love how they think that ad blockers will somehow bring about the fall of the web. LOL. Where was the web before so many sites were fueled by ads? Anyone remember? I do, and it definitely wasn’t bad. Get over yourself. You’re not that important and we can certainly live without you. I run several sites and NONE OF THEM use ads.

    1. What humored me is that the first part of the article was reasonable and valid, but it quickly shifted into the FUD regime when it warned that ad blockers could lead to the internet being controlled by a few companies. This is a self-serving FUD article that attempts to justify the continued flood of ads on the Internet. Their greed led them past the advertising tolerance levels of most consumers so, now, they are going to pull back just a little bit.

      This feels like the OPEC rationale for Internet advertising.

  2. I get ads that overlay content and I can’t read what I came there for. These ads have no hooks to send them away and I leave frustrated because I know the author did not intend for this to happen.

    Advertisers have lost their way. They are evil and all they care about are clicks, not concerned with actual “Click to purchase” Which means it’s a complete scam. I can’t imagine manufactures and publishers are getting their moneys worth. Content producers, aggregators and advertisers are getting paid just for annoying and ugly stuff… Much of the ads are lies, fear mongering, and insulting, not to mention security breaches. How dare you accommodate them and promote them.

    A positive example, on the upper left corner. Sammy Dress Hoody for men. Nice looking ad, and has hooks to minimize or close. Great price too, $9 can’t loose with that one. Thats what you have to be, no video and a way for disinterested viewers to zip it up. It’s beautiful and respectful. Thank you for an excellent advertising experience.

    Old makeup lady with a hardship story – lie, you can go to hell. Cheating celebrity photos, you can go to hell. New rules for driving, save money on your insurance – lies, you can go to hell.

    1. Absolutely right. I contacted them about this, but nothing has been done. Since they totally dropped the ball on improving their ad placement, I removed them from my whitelist. It’s not just the mobile experience. The desktop experience sucks too.

      1. When you say “desktop experience sucks too”, you imply that their mobile experience is as bad.

        I am never bothered by the ads in their mobile app. It is just a thin banner on top that always stays there and is easily ignored. The rest of the interface is simple and effective. About the only thing that is missing compared to the full web site is the WordPress indicator in the top-right corner that someone posted a response to your post.

        Visiting MDN on an iOS Safari is much more frustrating than using the MDN app.

  3. This company is ‘telling’ consumers what changes they are going to make. They should instead ‘ask’ consumers what changes they would accept. Don’t like ad blocking? Ask consumer what they would accept. Retaliate by blocking, ad blocking consumers; lose those consumers, and possibly the website. The consumers are the ones that need to be pleased, they visit the websites and spend their money. I will vote with my web browser and my wallet. Give me a good reason NOT to use an ad blocker, or I will use one or go elsewhere. 🖖😀⌚️

  4. They are already circumventing the ad blocker. They call it now ‘sponsored content’, and its even worse than the other shit we learned to hate. Site after site has grotesque, sickening and offensive photos of the nastiest order all called ‘sponsored content’ that gets around ad blockers on OS X and iOS. They ever phukking learn.

  5. I don’t see anyone talking about all the companies who are tracking us, just collecting data. (If you use you can see they are often into double digits – MDN included.). Do they pay websites to let them stalk you?
    Wiretapping your phone is regulated, but they can follow you around the Internet with impunity. Forget the annoying ads – stop following me around!

    1. I never, ever, allow tracking. If ad agencies think they’re going to confuse we little peasants into confusing ads with tracking, forget it! I don’t do tracking. If that kills off their advertising strategy, tough on them.

      I’d be glad to share my various anti-tracking tools off line. One of these days I’ll decide I’m experienced enough with them all to write some blog articles about them all. I prefer not to chatter about them here at MDN out of respect for the site.

  6. MacDailyNews has the absolute worst content-to-garbage ratio (noise-to-signal ratio) of any site I read on a regular basis. This is even more true for the MDN desktop view than the mobile view. I too will be removing MDN from my ad-block whitelist on my desktops.

  7. Everyone is overlooking the E in LEAN. Encrypted. Let’s ask ourselves why an *ad* needs to be encrypted. To ensure that third party ad blockers can’t read it, perhaps? So you can’t filter it by content?

    @Tom is right on – the *tracking* done by ad companies and others is reprehensible. All those little Facebook icons you see on web sites are actually tracking you – even though if you are not one of their “customers”. And the moment you make a purchase or identify you on a site with that icon on it, they have your physical identity. If someone followed you around town writing down every move you made and followed you home to find out where you live you’d call the police and have them arrested for stalking. But on the web it’s OK? That’s insane.

  8. MDN: please remember that on our site you can use the AdChoices icon (blue triangle) on any applicable ad to opt out of interest-based ads at any time.

    Taboola isn’t opting me out of anything when I make the attempt. But it assumes it’s tracking me across the net, which it’s not due to my ingenuity, and it wants me to write a comments letter to it, which I will not. If I attempt to get into its apparent ‘opt out’ interface, it demands that I run its cookie, the point of which is exactly the OPPOSITE of my opting out. DISINGENUOUS.

    Also, I’m really REALLY sick of Taboola shoving mammary glands into my face over and over and over, like I’m supposed to become yet-another sex addiction casualty.

    Then there are the “Popular Offers” ads from various sources that include some GROTESQUE images that I never want to see again. Way to kill an ad!

    50 Celebrities Who Are Unrecognizable After Plastic Surgery – – And who’s image make me nauseous.

    Bad Ads can be disturbing and inspire people (such as myself) to take the matter into their own hands, and we do. I wish we didn’t have to.

  9. It is clear that the ad world has shot themselves in the foot. My personal belief is that the primary driver has been the Peeping Tom business model used by Google, Facebook, et al. The internet should not be a creepy slimy place with strangers stalking your every move. Stop tracking me, stop taking over my web experience with intrusive ads and redirects, stop being annoying and making me repeatedly swear to never by products from the most egregious offending ads.

    Ads will have to return to being honestly informative without making me feel creeped out by the feeling that I have been tracked and targeted to regain my trust. Some companies that have ran ads that are too targeted and focused have already lost my trust and my business forever. My hope is that the ad world will learn this, let us volunteer our own personal information, including product category interests, and use those openly and transparently shared profiles to serve us ads we may find useful rather than being part of the creepy Peeping Tom model.

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