Ad blocking? Oliver von Wersch explains G+J’s experimental approach

Yet many publishers had been working on alternative strategies for dealing with ad blocking for some time, among them Gruner + Jahr. Oliver von Wersch, who is responsible for the company’s Growth Projects & Strategic Partnerships, has been tasked with working out how online display advertising can be both visible and effective in an age when so many readers seem to want to avoid it.

Here he explains to Ashley Norris G+J’s experimental approach stressing that publishers need to think carefully about applying a unified approach across many diverse online titles.

Oliver will speak at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, from March 20-22 (with the main Summit in the 21st and 22nd). Save hundreds of Euros on the final delegate rates by booking with our Early Bird offer – ending soon. 

How long has ad blocking been on G+J’s agenda? 

Ad blocking has been on our agenda for quite a while now. Its importance has rapidly increased over the last 12-18 months as the number of users has massively grown, and the effect on the way we monetise our content has become palpable.

Do you think ad blocking is more popular in certain territories – especially Germany? Do you think then that German publishers are leading the response to the phenomenon?

In Germany, people tend to be more sensitive about their private data than in many other countries. If someone is being followed by personalised and targeted ads it makes the feel like they are transparent on the internet. At the same time ad blocking gives them a feeling of not being visible to advertisers. So yes, certain territories are probably more likely to suffer from high ad block rates than other countries – and Germany is one of them. Nevertheless it is a web phenomenon and is relevant for all countries.

In your position as being responsible for Growth Projects & Strategic Partnerships for G+J, do you talk to other key publishers about ad effectiveness. Is a unified approach possible?

Since we are generally all on the same page in how we see ad blocking, we do talk about approaches and their effectiveness. A unified approach is not realistic due to legal restrictions though. In addition we are all well aware of the fact that display advertising has to become better and less disturbing for the user. We know that as publishers we have to work closer together to solve the latter problem.

What is G+J’s key response to ad blocking? Do you think different approaches will work with different titles. Are you able to experiment? Or are you concerned that your bottom line will be impacted?

There is no key response yet, which is why we are in a test mode trying different approaches and learning from them. This is necessary as there is a wide variety of users for different titles who are likely to react differently to those approaches. Our users value our high quality journalism, which is why we are able to experiment and find out the best way for the user as well as the advertiser. Our latest tests have shown that our approach has no negative effect on our reach or brand reputation.

Do you think that the move of companies like CityAM in the UK, which checks a person’s browser for ad blockers before letting them see content, is a legitimate one?

Ad blocking is an innovation that destroys the online business model of publishing houses. It is not in the interest of the user to accept a lack of journalistic quality, but then some users do not want to pay for online journalism. 

Many users are however not aware of the fact that online journalism needs a separate editorial team and is no simple reproduction of printed content. Also they don’t understand the complex technology and workflows that make online journalism possible. Therefore we need approaches that help users understand the necessity of advertising and protect the quality of online journalism. As times goes by we will see whether or not approaches, like the one from CityAM, are the right way.

Should publishers ever pay money to ad blocking companies to be put on white lists?

No. Publishers should not support those business models which we believe to be highly dubious.

Are there any third party systems for working with ad blockers that you have seen and like?

At the moment we are in a test mode and are evaluating different approaches from communication concepts to technological solutions. Some of them we work on with third party systems, some are developed in house.

How should mainstream publishers improve the online display advertising experience? So much of the ad effectiveness debate has focused on mobile, but are there things that publishers can do to make their desktop ads more effective?

To provide high quality online journalism, which is free of charge for the user, publishers have started to enable many ads that obviously have not always been in the user’s best interest. That is why publishers have to work on better ad standards and enable native ad formats with added value for both the user and the advertiser.

Do you think that display advertising will decline as more publishers adopt native approaches?

Different advertisers have different goals when planning their campaigns. There will be more native advertising in the future, which we believe to be a good thing. At the same time advertisers with sales focussed marketing strategies will always need a mix of branding and performance campaigns and therefore native as well as more flashy formats. Ad blocking will not end display advertising but it will change the way we use it today.

For more on the Digital Innovators’ Summit:

DIS website

• Preliminary programme

Speakers confirmed to date (with more to be added soon)

• Get discounted tickets with our Early Bird rate – ending soon

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