Yesterday, Scott Cunningham, SVP of Technology and Ad Operations at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, arguably the most prominent trade association for the online ad industry, made a stunning statement…

We messed up.

Faced with consumers now equipped to block ads on their iOS devices, Cunningham explained how publishers and advertisers shot themselves in the foot by sacrificing user experience at the altar of bigger, bolder ads.

“Through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins during the industrial age of media technology, we built advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession,” he explained in a blog post.

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.

We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves.  This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.

He went on to make a damning admission on behalf of the industry:

We lost sight of our social and ethical responsibility to provide a safe, usable experience for anyone and everyone wanting to consume the content of their choice.

Will publishers and advertisers embrace LEANer ads? Will consumers tolerate them?

In an effort to restore balance and bring user experience “back into alignment” with digital ads, the IAB is launching the L.E.A.N. Ads program.

It stands for:

  • Light
  • Encrypted
  • Ad choice supported
  • Non-invasive ads

According to Cunningham: “These are principles that will help guide the next phases of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain.”

But will L.E.A.N. ads actually help publishers and advertisers who have watched as ad blockers have gone from a technology used primarily by the most tech-savvy to a mainstream phenomenon?

There are reasons to be skeptical.

As Cunningham himself stated: “L.E.A.N. Ads do not replace the current advertising standards many consumers still enjoy and engage with while consuming content on our sites across all IP enabled devices.

“Rather, these principles will guide an alternative set of standards that provide choice for marketers, content providers, and consumers.”

In other words, the ads that drove consumers away aren’t going away.

Unless L.E.A.N. ads prove to be as or more effective as their bulkier counterparts – something that will take time to determine if they even emerge at all – there will be little incentive for publishers and advertisers to embrace them.

Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that L.E.A.N. ads will actually solve the problems publishers and advertisers are facing.

After all, just because they believe L.E.A.N. ads will be less bothersome doesn’t mean that consumers will agree.

To thwart increasingly aggressive ads and trackers, ad blockers themselves have become more aggressive and it’s not inconceivable that consumer demand will drive makers of ad blockers to block L.E.A.N. ads too. 

In fact, consumers are already voicing skepticism over L.E.A.N. ads, as the following tweet demonstrates:

Publishers and advertisers must make decisions

In short, while it’s a positive sign that those in the industry are finally recognizing the magnitude of the mess that has been created, they largely continue to ignore the inconvenient truth behind the rise of ad blockers: consumers just don’t care to see what advertisers want to show them.

Waiting for ad units that are theoretically less annoying and invasive isn’t going to change that, so publishers and advertisers that want to ensure the internet is still an effective platform for their businesses need to make decisions now.

Some advertisers are pouring money into native ads and aligning themselves with influencers, while publishers like The New York Times are seeing success with subscriptions.

In many if not most cases, alternative models won’t bring back ‘the good old days’, but the sooner publishers and advertisers accept that the formats and models that thrived a decade ago won’t dominate the next decade, the better equipped they’ll be to succeed on tomorrow’s web.