Bo Sacks is a veteran of the printing and publishing industry. He started his career by founding a weekly newspaper in the New York metro area, and after several years in the alternative press, publishing newspapers in the New York and Tucson areas, he went on to become one of the founding fathers of High Times Magazine. Bo and I talked about ad blocking – it’s here and only going to get worse. So, what should we do about it?
DR: I believe there are about two hundred million people who are using ad blocking software, and on top of that, I believe that some of the new operating systems, at least Macintosh, will automatically default to having ad blocking written in. Is that still the case?
BS: Yes, but this is just like a war. We started with bows and arrows, and that wasn’t good enough, so we made guns. That wasn’t good enough, so we made tanks. We keep elevating the level of this ad war, and to your question, sure, Apple is building in ad blocking – listen to the report from Facebook. They have built a program that is going to block the ad blockers.
We’ve elevated this level of war. We haven’t gone to the nuclear answer yet, but that’s what’s happening. So now that Facebook has developed a blocker for ad blocking, well, the ad blockers will develop a block for the blocker. There is no end to this.
DR: What can marketers, or publishers, or whoever actually makes money from serving ads, what can they do about it?
BS: That’s the big question. If I had the answer, I’d be making a lot of money as a consultant. But here’s the thing – what’s at the heart of the issue, the real bottom line, is how does one recover trust once it’s lost? I think it was Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” So, that’s at the core of the issue. Trust, once it’s gone, is unrecoverable. It’s an unrecoverable asset, and I’m afraid we’ll never be able to regain that trust once we’ve crossed it. So, what can we do? The answer is to try to act honorable for an extended period of time – and here’s the kicker – hope that the rest of the industry does, too. And I ask you, what are the odds of that happening?
DR: Zero, I would say.
BS: There you go. So, our marketing friends are in a tough bind. I think the best thing that you can hope for – and social media could be good at this – you’ve got to go out there and present your image. Your branded image is one that is trustworthy, and if you can achieve that goal, then you can circumvent the mistrust that’s out there. You’ve got to have a program to prove that you are not a pirate on the web.
DR: So obviously, there are people who are doing it right, with integrity. Can you talk about what people are doing to combat this outside of trying to win the trust of their reader base?
BS: Not really. The New York Times has a built-in credibility factor, and they’re parlaying that, and the key is transparency. The only way to get through this is to be above board and transparent in what you’re doing. The public, who are on one level incredibly smart, incredibly powerful, are less educated in our business. They don’t really know what a sponsored ad is, or what it means. They don’t know what native advertising is, or what it means. Now when we gracefully put sponsored content on the top of an ad, they don’t know. Sponsored content is an ad in disguise, and that’s my point. We are using deception to head down the path of revenue. We all want revenue, nothing wrong with that. It should be honorable, but it’s not always honorable. We take shortcuts, and perhaps the longer road is the best road. This may be tangential, but I think it all comes about from greed. That’s the problem. We seem to have gone from seeking an honorable profit in a capitalist system, to unfounded greed, and this is becoming recognized.
The greed has infiltrated into everything, publishing and politics alike. There is less stability and more crassness in everything, and it’s all compounded on the web. I don’t know of any cure for greed.