To combat ad blocking, publishers ask staff and users to fight bad ads

Once or twice a week, Jen Soch, evp of commercial delivery for The Guardian, gets an email from a colleague alerting her to a problem ad on the site. It could be from anyone from a reporter all the way up to the North American CEO, Eamonn Store. They come by way of a special email address that the Guardian created a few months ago inviting the staff to report any ad they think might be slowing down the site. “The CEO and editor, they use it as frequently as the others,” Soch said.

Publishers are trying all sorts of things to combat the rising scourge of ad blocking, from blocking people from the site if they have an ad blocker turned on to working with advertisers to make sure ads don’t load too slowly or are interruptive, common reasons people say they ad block. But despite publishers’ best efforts, some offending ads make it through, usually through programmatic pipes.

Some publishers, like the Guardian, are democratizing the process of catching those ads. The emails go to Soch’s ad ops team, which in turn works on a remedy with the client or ad exchange responsible for the ad.

“We take user experience very seriously,” Soch said. “If anyone sees something they think is slowing down the site or is controversial or deemed a bad ad, we’ve set up an email. We should all be vigilant about what’s on the site.”

Wired is another publisher that has encouraged users to help weed out bad ads. The science publication has a support email address that readers can use to report intrusive ads. Sibling title Ars Technica has a reader forum for the same purpose. Wired also has a Slack channel that employees can use to report bad ads.

“Our ad ops team is constantly monitoring, but having the email for our community of readers and users empowers them to keep watch, and helps us keep a better eye out for issues that may come up,” said Robbie Sauerberg, gm of advertising for the Wired Media Group.

The efforts are symbolic over how publishers frequently lack full control over the experience they give users, thanks in part to the complex ad delivery system that often allows bad ads to slip through safeguards.

The Washington Post takes a somewhat different tack. Its ad innovation team, Red, catches the “bad ads” and passes the information on to the sales team. But instead of just fixing the ad, the Post uses the interception as an opportunity to sell the client on all the various tools it’s built to make ads load faster on the Post’s site.

“Every single sales meeting I’m in, I’m talking about performance,” said Jarrod Dicker, the Post’s head of ad product and technology. “That could be five to six meetings a week. It’s dangerous to just start telling advertisers your ad can’t run on our site. But it’s not fair to the users to let things flow through.”

More in Media

YouTube is under fire again, this time over child protection

Adalytics Research asks, ‘Are YouTube advertisers inadvertently harvesting data from millions of children?’

Illustration of a puzzle that spells out the word 'media.'

Media Briefing: Publishers pump up per-subscriber revenue amid ad revenue declines

Publishers’ Q2 earnings reveal digital advertising is still in a tight spot, but digital subscriptions are picking up steam.

Lessons for AI from the ad-tech era: ‘We’re living in a memory-less world’

Experts reflect how the failures of social media and online advertising can help the industry improve the next era of innovation.