Ad Blocking Is Not a Generational Problem

I’m not one for petty blamestorming when it comes to the collapse of the implied contract, but this definitely set off my irony meter.

Let me get this straight…  The APAC head of a major programmatic agency is blaming ad blocking on millennial attitudes?  This strike anyone else as the pot calling the kettle black?

Folks, this isn’t a case of a generation that hasn’t known a world without an Internet suddenly deciding that nobody should get paid for content.  This is a case of a venture capital-soaked, vaporware-intensive sector of the digital ad industry overloading the web with ads and reaping what it has sowed.

While it’s true that millennial web users are more likely to block ads than their older counterparts, has anyone given any thought to the notion that perhaps they’re more likely to know what to do about a huge increase in the volume of digital ads?  After all, when you ask people in the U.S. why they block digital ads, almost 60% of them say that there are simply too many of them.  Around the same percentage are creeped out by ads that seem to follow them everywhere.  Curiously, “news should be free” or “publishers don’t deserve to make money from content” don’t appear anywhere on the list of responses.

Large programmatic agencies are quick to blame some sort of generational difference, largely because they can’t blame themselves without damaging their business.  As I’ve pointed out in an earlier column, ad blocking could be the best thing that’s ever happened to the Internet.  What we’re seeing here is a revolt against clutter, intrusiveness and simple overtaxing of our ad infrastructure, which negatively impacts content delivery.  In short, people are saying there’s an obnoxiousness line that ought not to be crossed, and we need to dial it back as an industry.

But it’s more convenient to say that it’s something inherent in the makeup of millennials, because that neatly absolves the ad tech industry (and the agencies that invest in that tech) of any sort of responsibility for having cluttered the heck out of the space to begin with.

The correction in the ad market that I’m looking for involves ratcheting back ad supply to solve the clutter problem, while simultaneously attributing greater value to the ads.  But that also means that the most innovative sector in the industry (programmatic) would have to accept a large number of unhappy investors, as well as a market that’s not nearly as big as is currently being projected.

Or we could just follow our existing path and either clutter the web to the point of non-utility, or provoke a much larger revolt that ends with the true death of the implied contract – because we’re incapable of holding up our end of the bargain.

No, this isn’t a generational thing.  It’s a utility thing.  Nobody should be blaming Millennials for this with a straight face.