Oh ... that's not what you thought I'd be writing about? Well, isn't it awful that it took this long for New York City to consider replacing Taxi TV, which bothers so many passengers because the ad-blocking buttons usually don't work?
Okay, I know I'm supposed to address the fracas over ad-blocking software that has grown intense enough lately to generate nicknames such as Adblockalypse and Blocktober. What sent the issue into orbit was Apple's recent approval of ad blocking apps for its iOS 9 operating system; by now it ought to be a given that anything Apple does sets off a media feeding frenzy.
Still, Apple ought to be thanked for, however inadvertently, turning ad blocking into Topic A on Madison Avenue and finally getting marketers, agencies, ad-tech firms and the rest of the digital ecosystem to confront an ugly truth. Ad blocking indeed may be heinous -- "a potentially existential threat" and "robbery, pure and simple," as described by Randall Rothenberg of the IAB, jeopardizing the ability of publishers to pay for worthwhile editorial content -- but that's not the worst of it.
The reality few wanted to acknowledge until now is that ad blocking is a symptom of the disregard, disdain and even contempt for consumers among phalanxes of advertising, marketing and tech executives. Their greed has flooded the web and devices with unnecessary, ugly and obnoxious ads that play automatically at high volume, slow loading times for pages, drain batteries and interfere with reading the content that brought consumers online in the first place.
The user experience has been reduced to a cross between bathing in a cesspool and diving into a dumpster. It's another example of how Madison Avenue can't resist taking a hatchet to the goose that lays the golden eggs, akin to how overstuffing pods with spots and promos has alienated TV viewers and turned expensive commercial time into a waste of money.
To be sure, consumers always have sought methods to avoid ads. John O'Toole, a leader of Foote Cone & Belding and the Four As, once cautioned that "it's best to think of yourself as an uninvited guest in the living room of a prospect who has the magical power to make you disappear instantly."
You could make a case that ad blocking is a higher-tech version of leaving for a snack when a commercial appears on TV, switching radio stations when an announcer begins a pitch, skipping an ad page in a magazine, tearing up a piece of direct mail or trying to find the right button to turn off a Taxi TV screen. Maybe it's not unlike changing channels with a remote when a commercial comes on or using a DVR to zip through spots.
The difference is that while consumers expect interruptive ads with traditional media, they fervently hoped that hucksters on the Internet, computers and mobile devices would be less intrusive, annoying and irrelevant. Their attitude brings to mind a book about the Doonesbury characters during the Vietnam era, "But This War Had Such Promise."
When consumers compare the promise they anticipated with what they get, they're angry, especially when taking into account what they pay for Internet service and cellphone plans. That's especially true, I believe, for the older folks who are "digital immigrants" and have less patience than their younger counterparts for spinning circles or messages about long-running scripts.
And just imagine if when you turn on a TV set you had to wait for a commercial to load and play before you could watch the channel you want.
All those consumers who are, in the "Network" mode, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore are finally being heard. "We must swallow our pride and recognize that ad blocking represents consumer outrage," Bob Liodice, head of the ANA, said Oct. 15 during its annual conference.
And two weeks after calling ad blocking "highway robbery," Scott Cunningham of the IAB waved a white flag in the form of a succinct mea culpa. "We messed up," he confessed, twice, and "lost track of the user experience.
"Looking back now," Cunningham conceded, "our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty." He outlined new guidelines for ads that would be, among other changes, "light" and "non-invasive" -- but they're only alternatives to existing IAB rules, not replacements.
In other words, to quote an old joke, they're suggestions, not commandments. Holy Moses! More must be done, and soon, before the aggrieved minority that uses ad blockers becomes an even noisier majority.
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