Mother of God. You may recall that we recently discussed the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) unfortunate decision to refuse Adblock Plus' registration for its annual conference. At a time when adblocking software is seeing its greatest use, it seemed to us that the IAB and its members might have a great deal to learn from Adblock Plus and that, rather than walling off its conference to them, the IAB could instead try to learn why so many people are using that software and software like it. That is because I had thought at the time that the IAB's refusal had mostly to do with it seeing such software as a threat to its members' business. Well, the conference has begun and in the keynote speech delivered by IAB chief, Randall Rothenberg, we learn that barring Adblock Plus from the conference wasn't about ad revenue at all. It was about freedom of speech, an appreciation of diversity, pushing back on racist Republican presidential candidates, and good old apple pie America.
Yeah. Fucking seriously. Here is a transcript of the speech, but I warn you not to have eaten anything just before reading it, or else be prepared to wear your meal on your shoes. The whole thing starts off with a several-hundred word introduction on the history of the IAB and just how unimaginably awesome it is, at the conclusion of which Rothenberg states with a straight face: "Of course, we are not here, you are not here, to celebrate the past." Well, hey, thanks, how about giving us back the last twenty minutes of our lives then, sir.
But, no, Rothenberg then states that we're all listening to him to discover how online advertising is going to generate "The Next $50 billion", except only moments later we're not really talking about that and we're instead talking about how we're going to create something much more valuable through advertising: altruism.
But if money is your only goal, then you risk falling into relativism – a pernicious trap, for you begin weighing all potential returns based on the single metric of how much more money you can make. Truth, beauty, fairness, justice, honesty, civic pride, neighborliness – they become means to an end, rather than ends in themselves. That is debilitating, and ultimately deadens the soul. I want you to confront that challenge. I want you to remember that there are greater and longer-term values than the mere promise of financial wealth that attracts so many to the digital advertising industry.
Those values are then outlined and explained. Diversity is first up, with Rothenberg decrying Republicans for the statements by some of their presidential candidates. Not sure what that has to do with anything, but okay. Freedom of speech is up next, with Rothenberg declaring that open access to speech is important for the internet and digital advertising. Which, fair enough. He goes on to note that free speech and advertising are linked, in that advertising is a form of content and should not be censored. Keep this notion in mind as Rothenberg pivots his speech jarringly into the following rant.
And this is why I hate the ad-block profiteers.
Now, you may be aware of a kerfuffle that began about 10 days ago, when an unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes at a for-profit German company called AdBlock-Plus took to the digisphere to complain over and over that IAB had “disinvited” them to this convention. That, of course, is as much a lie as the others they routinely try to tell the world. We had never invited them in the first place. They registered for this event online. When we found out, we cancelled the registration and reversed their credit card billing. Why? For the simple reason that they are stealing from publishers, subverting freedom of the press, operating a business model predicated on censorship of content, and ultimately forcing consumers to pay more money for less – and less diverse – information.
He then, hysterically, goes on to deliver a whining anecdote about how Adblock Plus convened a meeting with online publishers to discuss how to improve advertising on the internet -- the very thing we here at Techdirt thought made sense -- and that at the meeting almost nobody showed and those that did felt slighted that Adblock Plus wouldn't hand over every last detail of its business model, centering around its "Acceptable Ads" program. In other words, Adblock Plus wanted to open a conversation with these people, didn't simply allow advertisers to dictate to them how to behave, and as a result the IAB wouldn't let them at its
conference...and its Adblock Plus
that's against diversity and free expression. Yeesh.
He goes on to complain that these publishers didn't receive follow up calls or messages after Adblock Plus' conference. Gee, maybe they thought they'd be at the IAB conference you won't let them into
After detailing several other barbarians banging at the IAB gates, he goes on to complain about their business model.
The ad-block profiteers are building for-profit companies whose business models are premised on impeding the movement of commercial, political, and public-service communication between and among producers and consumers. They offer to lift their toll gates for those wealthy enough to pay them off, or who submit to their demands that they constrict their freedom of speech to fit the shackles of their revenue schemes.
They may attempt to dignify their practices with such politically correct phrases as “reasonable advertising,” “responsible advertising,” and “acceptable ads”; and they can claim as loudly as they want that they seek “constructive rapport” with other stakeholders. But in fact, they are engaged in the techniques of The Big Lie, declaring themselves the friends of those whose livelihoods they would destroy, and allies to those whose freedoms they would subvert.
Here's how a free market, another value worth holding onto, actually works. Let's say Adblock Plus or another software provider was blocking useful ads with fun content from a publisher and instead injecting its own advertising to generate revenue. Advertising that wasn't as useful or entertaining as the original publishers. Why would anyone use that software
? They wouldn't. It would defeat the entire purpose of using an ad blocker. The problem would solve itself. Or let's say the other practice was employed, with ad blockers getting publishers to pay to let the ads through that users were trying to block by using the software. Why would anyone use that software
? The problem would, again, solve itself.
No, this ends up being about what it's always been about: the content and quality of the advertising. Content is advertising and advertising is content and the only way that ad blockers get used is by letting more good content in and keeping more bad content out. And Rothenberg knows it.
But the best news of all is that the ad-block profiteers have done this industry a favor. They have forced us to look inward – at our own relentless self-involvement – and outward, to the men, women, and children who are our actual customers.
IAB Senior Vice President and Tech Lab General Manager Scott Cunningham put it best and most succinctly in an October IABlog post: “We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.”
It goes on from there, noting just how shitty digital advertising has become. So then why in the sweet hell are you putting ad blocking software, for profit or otherwise, in the crosshairs at all? They're the symptom of the very disease you yourself have properly identified: shitty ads. You fix that and you fix everything.
But, no, instead we get a speech all about how awesome the IAB is and, strangely, how ad blocking software is in favor of racism and speech censorship, so long as it makes any money. We're here, after all, to talk about the next fifty-billion dollars we're going to make. But not because of the money. Because of our altruistic values.