Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau doesn’t much care for ad blockers and last month he let loose (again) describing the people behind them as an “immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes”.

His comments were reported in Gadgets 360 and promptly sprayed all over the Internet on Twitter, and thus finding their way, eventually, onto our weekly Chatter Report.

Each week Which-50 and KINSHIP digital study the global social stream to identify most influential social chatter on digital trends. This week there were 17,664 mentions of the terms we track —a slightly softer week in trend terms.

While many of the retweets focused on comments by the Accenture chief at Davos — which we covered last week — it was Rothenberg’s latest tantrum on ad blocking that really caught our attention — largely because we thought his own people had given him a few pills and a nice warm blanket, then sent him for a good lie down towards the end of last year, when he last got loose on the savanna.

In October last year, the grown-ups at the advertising lobby group sent out Scott Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Technology and Ad Operations at IAB, and General Manager of the IAB Tech Lab,  to tell the world “we messed up”.

At the time — and in an IAB blog — Cunningham wroteThrough our pursuit of further automation and maximisation of margins during the industrial age of media technology, we built advertising technology to optimise publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession. Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty. The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public internet and drained more than a few batteries.

That sounded much more like a genuine mea culpa than the thick broth of poisonous, self-pitying bile vomited up by the IAB boss at the organisation’s leadership summit in late January, and evident at the end of a link retweeted by Anurag Harsh (see below), a senior VP with US tech publisher Ziff Davis. Harsh pointed through to the Gadgets 360 piece, which republished several of the IAB chief’s more rational and deeply thoughtful considerations.

Among them:

[Adblockers are an] old-fashioned extortion racket, gussied up in the flowery but false language of contemporary consumerism.


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.

Alas, for poor Randall, it seems no-one will think of the children.

Rothenberg is basically a lobbyist. He, and all the mini-me Rothenbergs around the world have a simple mandate: to drive the shift of marketing budgets into digital advertising. And for two decades it’s been such  an easy grift that they have made out like bandits.

ad block tweet

But lately, not so much. Ad blockers, which stop ads from being served on web pages are growing along an almost vertical curve and are now reportedly present on over half a billion devices — many of them in affluent markets.

Here’s why you shouldn’t take Rothenberg and the IAB seriously on this issue. Ad blockers are a consequence of the appalling job all those people who fund Rothenberg’s organisation —the digital publishers basically — have done over the last two decades. Every time they had to choose between improving the customer experience online or trousering an even bigger chunk of The Green from an advertiser, they voted for avarice.

The rapacious, obstreperous greed of the members of the IAB has driven all kinds of egregious behaviour around advertising and data collection, almost all of it hostile to usability, customer experience and basic human privacy.

And now the IAB is parroting all the familiar whinges we have heard before from record labels, taxi companies, hotel chains, Pay TV operators, newspaper proprietors, retailers, bankers, travel agents … need we go on.

They are, all of them, a Doomed Incumbency. They are doomed not because they are bad, or because their disruptors are evil or capricious.

They are doomed because they refuse to heed the very clear message their consumers are sending them. Those 500 million customers who have deliberately opted out of the game could not be more clear if you hacked into their Google search history and flogged key word advertising against it. They quite simply agree more with the other bloke.

It will get worse, Randall

And here’s something else for Rothenberg to consider. Over the longer arc, the real pain for many of his members is just beginning. As ad-tech and mar-tech merge, as systems become far more sophisticated, and as content campaigns evolve to deliver the same kinds of campaign transparency with which we have all become familiar for display and search ads, those digital ad dollars may well start migrating into platforms and away from publishers altogether.

Advertising budgets will shrink to fund investments in technology.

You have to wonder if Rothenberg and the members he represents would consider Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce, Marketo and sundry others to be an “immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes” because, ultimately, that’s where the bulk of the marketing budget will be spent

About the authors

The Chatter Report, by KINSHIP digital CEO Mike Green and Which-50’s Andrew Birmingham, is a collaborative program run under the auspices of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit. Membership fees apply. Best to blame Andrew for this week’s column. We are sure that Rothenberg and the IAB with their self professed commitment to free speech and its protection won’t be reaching for their lawyers any time soon.

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