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LEAN Ad Principles and Enforcement Discussions from the IAB Ad Blocking Town Hall at the IAB Ad Operations Summit

The IAB Technology Laboratory (IAB Tech Lab) hosted the first of three town halls around ad blocking on November 2, at the IAB Ad Operations Summit in New York City, to obtain feedback and guidance for its LEAN Ads principles.  During the morning session at the conference, publishers, creative agencies and technologists participated in an open forum about ad blocking and the LEAN principles, which were announced on October 15. The LEAN principles stand for Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, and Non-invasive ads, and aim at optimizing user experience to address the industry’s ad blocking challenge. The open forum led to a lively discussion about frictions and collaboration needs between the buy and sell sides of the advertising supply chain and enforcement challenges.

Scott Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Technology and Ad Operations, IAB, and General Manager, IAB Tech Lab, opened the town hall discussion by inviting James Deaker, Vice President of Revenue Management and Policy, Yahoo, to address the topic of ad delivery with encryption in the supply chain. Deaker shared the challenges and opportunities faced by Yahoo since January of last year when they moved all their mail property to secure HTTPS encryption, safe frame, and focused on user protection and enhanced experience. He explained that they use adjacent technology–SafeFrame with intelligent iframe on web pages–for better user data protection. A vast majority of all the ad impressions served on Yahoo is now HTTPS enabled, however not everybody is 100% secure yet. Deaker asked the audience if this was due to a lack of education, a technology issue, or just not a priority from the demand side.

Campbell Foster, Director of Product Marketing, Adobe, explained the methodology behind the $22 billion per year estimate of the economic impact of ad blocking in the report produced by Adobe and Page Fair. Randall Rothenberg, CEO and Publisher, IAB, noted that IAB has followed this ad blocking issue for the past seven years, with first a legal review and then some internal research two years ago. However, until recently, publishers, except for young male oriented gamer sites, had told IAB that ad blocking was affecting a small slice of the industry. Rothenberg asked the audience if they were seeing some material changes in economics and operations because of ad blocking.

Jarred Wilichinsky, Vice President, Video Monetization and Operations, CBS Interactive, confirmed that this is a problem with material impact on operations. CBS.com has seen double digit percentage of ad blocked inventory. Fifty to sixty percent of the publishers in the audience also confirmed by a show of hands that they know the proportion of ad blocking on their sites. Only a few of them have experienced a material change in the past couple of years though.

Angelina Eng, Vice President, Platform Solutions and Activation, Merkel, encouraged publishers in the room to identify their percentage of blocked inventory as the first line of defense. Rothenberg pointed out that publishers should not bear the entire burden of the industry’s ad blocking challenge. The increasing demand from brands for more scale and lower prices has driven to more analytics, more data calls, and has an undeniable impact on user experience. Brands are also asking for new unique native customized ads. It begins with brand demands to agencies to implement. We need to define how to create a more reasonable, standardized response so that there is a degree of comfort from consumers with advertisers and marketing supported media experience. IAB has been encouraging creativity, aesthetics, design, and consumer delight. Technology must be an enabler of the great user experience rather than the end all be all of the experience.

Darren Herman, VP of Content Services, Mozilla, agreed with Rothenberg and stated that Mozilla and Firefox look at the world from the user standpoint, as the user’s agent. Firefox has consistently seen an increase in the number of ad or content blockers. As a browser, Firefox asks publishers to build trust with users.  Herman believes this is not a technology solution but a policy and trust solution with users. However he recognized that users wouldn’t come to Firefox if the World Wide Web did not exist and publishers did not have advertising revenue to support content creation.

Joey Trotz, VP, Advertising, Data & Monetization Tech Strategy, Turner Broadcasting, said that this is not just a publisher’s problem. Everyone in the supply chain has become addicted on revenue and data and should put the user at the forefront. Trotz noted that most publishers are guilty of having taken some creative that violated the IAB specs and not enforcing those back to agencies. This is where the pressure lies.

Anthony Penta, Principal Decision Science Lead, Microsoft, said that his original career experience was from anti-spam when they pushed for accountability and identification. He encouraged IAB to get the ad blockers into the room to take part in this discussion.

Scott Spencer, Director of Product Management, Ad Exchange, Google, talked about latency and how to measure the marginal impact of an extra pixel off spec on a user session. We don’t know what the aggregate impact of all our technologies across all sites has on individual user experience and what the threshold of annoyance for users is–when we do cross the line by adding a verification pixel on top of another.

Angelina Eng also recognized the responsibility of marketers and agencies in the ecosystem. A majority of practitioners executing the campaigns are following orders and requests from clients on what data to collect, from ad verification, research vendor to DMP, generating multiple calls in the banner. There needs to be some collaboration on how these tags get executed to limit the number of calls in the banner. Cunningham suggested to generate some type of scoring system–a LEAN score–as a method of enforcement. Eng noted that most of the buyers do not realize the technical aspects and ramification of all the data calls they request in the ads. There is a need to partner and educate them so that they better understand how to navigate those platforms to avoid heavy load on the ad and to generate great experience and creative.

About the enforcement issue, James Deaker asked IAB to help facilitate and ease the tensions between the buy side and the sell side–as they have to say no to some of the buy side’s requests for additional data pixels. Beyond guidelines around creative, verification, and viewability, there is a need for a more comprehensive look at the overall load on the site.

Michael Stoeckel, Vice President, Ad Revenue Operations, The New York Times, recommended that advertisers and technologists swap roles and put themselves in each other’s shoes to view the overall user experience and to contribute to the optimization. Stoeckel advised to avoid using the words “but it works”–as it does not work for the consumer.

Brad Weltman, Senior Director, Public Policy, IAB, talked about ad choice. The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) icon has made privacy choices front and center for the consumer with its ubiquitous icon. This is a regulatory effort for a UX-based experience to give consumer notice and choice. He pointed at the consumer interface and what the exchange should look like when giving notice, asking if the button or the icon embedded in the ad is enough to notify consumers.

Anthony Penta also talked about the annoyance threshold. In the browsing space, Microsoft is starting some enforcement of ad policy. He asked how browsers can help improve the internet experience as user-agents. Cunningham said that LEAN recognizes that there is no one size fits all standards. They need to be adjusted to fit the mobile world. Penta asked how Microsoft should partner on the enforcement side and how they can help by giving metrics back to IAB.

Rawle Curtis, Technical Director of Digital Advertising, R/GA, commented that the average consumers just look at ads as a nuisance on their page. Our medium has a major branding problem. Users don’t understand that the internet is not free and that all the free content they enjoy is paid by this advertising. Small publishers are hurting and small businesses are impacted by ad blocking. We need to communicate this better as a call for consumer responsibility.

Steve Sullivan, VP Partner Success, Index Exchange, said that the (Ad Choices) icon is the interface that the consumer has with the industry. Before the icon, a user who had an issue with an ad could only either click on the ad, which would send the wrong message, or try to communicate with the publisher about the ad. The icon gives users choice and a way to communicate with the ad technology industry. It should help educate the end user and give them choices that are meaningful.

Jeff Burkett, Sr. Director, Product Strategy and Operations, Washington Post, said that he attempted to communicate with people who use ad blockers but ad blockers shut that communication down. From a technology standpoint, publishers are looking at defeating ad blockers yet he asked if the buy side is going to be OK with them investing in technology to force ads through to that audience on their website. Or they may not want to reach that audience and there is no need to invest in that technology. With revenue reclamation, there may be a negative association with the publisher and the brand.

Scott Cunningham concluded that all IAB Tech Lab and ad blocking working groups are taking into account the LEAN principles to develop standards and they will keep on discussing the enforcement issue.

Two additional town halls in San Francisco and London will take place later in November. The London town hall will be hosted by IAB UK.

These town halls will provide direct input to the IAB Tech Lab working groups that are currently laying the ground work for global advertising standards creation and execution around the LEAN principles.

All IAB and IAB Tech Lab members are encouraged to participate. To learn more, please contact [email protected].