Steve Touhill, Partner

My dad and I generally see eye to eye on most issues, so imagine my shock when I learned that he was a very satisfied user of Adblock Plus. How could my dad, a PhD- educated engineer and an Eagle Scout, refuse to hold up his end of the tacit bargain that obliges him to accept ads in exchange for access to free content?

Neither appeals to his sense of fairness nor reminders that his grandchildren’s college tuition was funded as the result of my career in online advertising moved him. Matters really went downhill when I called him a thief. When reasonable people like my father feel this way about online advertising, what can we expect for the future of the industry?

It is fair to say that the rise of ad blocking software is a monster of the industry’s own creation. But in the long run, ad blocking software could actually benefit the online media industry if we respond to it intelligently and with the consumer as a partner in the process. Here are a few predictions I’m willing to throw out there:

  •  The Return of Premium Media Brands: Undifferentiated content farms that are experts at gaming search algorithms and programmatic advertising are, in my opinion, also the lousy sites that drive people to install ad blockers in the first place. Therefore, these businesses have the most to lose. Ad blockers, along with better tools for marketers (e.g., fraud/bot detection) will combine to drive these bottom feeders out of business. Consumers and advertisers will spend more time and money with trusted, respected media brands, and CPMs will climb.
  • Consumers Will Become Partners: I can’t believe the average American has a clue just how much of their personal data and digital behavior is being tracked and used to target marketing messages to them. When they do, they won’t want to give it away without something in return. I predict that consumers will be willing to trade personal data for free content, and honest media companies will ask for and receive exceptionally specific information that they can monetize in exchange for providing consumers access to valuable editorial content and special offers. Loyalty marketing will grow.
  •  Free Mobile Phone Plans: Consumers have a legitimate beef over fat mobile ads that tie up bandwidth and eat into their data plans. The carriers (Verizon/Aol first?) will do the math and offer a plan for free or at least significantly subsidized mobile coverage in exchange for ad exposure. Imagine the value of the lock screen across hundreds of millions of phones, with each message personalized to the individual user, several times per day. Pure, unblockable gold. In the history of electronic media, those businesses that have tried to fight technology-facilitated consumer behavior through legal means (cassette tapes, VCR’s, DVR’s, and now, ad blockers) have failed. Those that accept the horse has already left the barn and adapt their business models to the

What do you think? What are you doing to adapt to a world of increasing consumer control?