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The end of the free internet as we know it?

Louisa Osmond, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

When even Sir Martin Sorrell, founder of the marketing behemoth WPP, admits something might be up with a medium, people sit up and listen. As reported on Decision Marketing, he recently added his weight behind the scepticism surrounding digital display advertising by claiming that the group’s clients are increasingly wary of the channel, following evidence many online ads they pay for go unseen.

The furore was sparked by research from PageFair and Adobe which revealed up to $50 billion might be wiped off global digital ad spend next year. In the UK alone, ad blocking services have grown by 82%, with 12 million users signing up. Doomsayers are predicting the end of the free internet as we know it if the popularity of ad blocking continues to grow. PageFair CEO, Sean Blanchfield, said: “It is tragic that adblock users are inadvertently inflicting multi-billion dollar losses on the very websites they most enjoy. With ad blocking going mobile, there’s an eminent threat that the business model that has supported the open web for two decades is going to collapse.”

To add to digital’s woes a separate study from Meetrics estimated that £485m worth of online ads in the UK had never been seen as a result of glitches in programmatic buying (automated auctions for online ads). Just 49% of UK online ads could be considered ‘viewable’ based on the IAB and MRC definition of 50% of the ads being in view for at least one second. This proportion is well below that of Germany (64%) and France (62%), where automated programmatic buying are less common.

To add yet another nail to the online advertising coffin, at dmexco (digital marketing exposition and conference) Inskin Media and FaR Partners announced the findings from their viewability survey amongst senior agency and publishing executives. The findings made for uncomfortable listening – half believed that the viewability standards (50 per cent in view for one second) are not high enough, meaning that if these parameters were made more stringent the next Meertrics study could be even more damning.

Whilst this does not spell the end for online advertising it will be interesting to see the results of IPA Bellwether Report April 2016 to see, in the face of effectiveness issues, whether brands will direct marketing spend away from online display towards other more accountable channels.