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A Good First Step Towards a More Consumer-Friendly Internet: Introducing IAB’s L.E.A.N. Initiative

AcxiomOctober 15, 2015

This morning, the IAB Tech Lab launched a new program called L.E.A.N.  L.E.A.N. is an acronym that stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad Choice Supported, Non-Invasive Ads. It is the IAB’s response to:

  • The ad blocking debate that has recently grown quite noisy due to the release of content blocking on iOS 9.
  • The need for more intelligent practices in the use of retargeting, which has been so upsetting to consumers and whose increased use correlates closely with the increased use of ad blockers.

Why should marketers take notice of these new L.E.A.N. guidelines?  Because these are the four things that have generated so much frustration among consumers and caused them to “vote with their downloads” and install ad blockers.

  • Light. Light deals with the concern that heavy ad payloads are slowing page-loading times to viewers, especially on mobile. The second concern is the amount of data charges that heavy pages cause in mobile and overall impact on wireless network traffic. The New York Times ran a test on October 1 that showed that 50% of data downloaded with web content from the 50 top news web sites is due to advertising[1], and it has been one of the reasons the wireless vendors have threatened to build and sell their own ad blockers.

  • Encrypted.  Encrypting ads is critical in stopping certain types of ad malware (e.g., ad hijacking) and also to protect the integrity and privacy of consumer information exchanged between ad server and the viewer’s browser.
  • AdChoices Supported. Ads should have the AdChoices icon that will allow consumers to choose to opt-out of behavioral targeting, which is one answer (although I would argue not the best answer) to the misuse of retargeting that has made it nothing short of “display spam.”
  • Non-Invasive Ads. Ads should not interfere with viewers’ experience of content on a given web page or in a mobile app, which is clearly viewers’ number one frustration.  Generically, we as an industry understand conceptually what is intended when we talk about “non-invasive.”  But exactly what it means from a standards perspective is somewhat like United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography: I don’t know exactly what it is, but “I know it when I see it.”

These are guiding principles, not standards. As Scott Cunningham from the IAB wrote:

“These are principles that will help guide the next phases of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain. As with any other industry, standards should be created by non-profit standards-setting bodies, with many diverse voices providing input. We will invite all parties for public comment, and make sure consumer interest groups have the opportunity to provide input.”

First and foremost, we applaud the IAB’s initiative as we believe it moves us in the right direction as an industry. It recognizes that what is going on here is an open negotiation, via Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, between sellers and consumers of advertising. Ad blockers are nothing less than the consumers opening statement in that negotiation. As Andrea Reichenbach wrote on our blog not two days ago,

“Rather than discussing the ethics of ad blockers and the peril in which it may place publishers, this dissonance should be taken as an encouraging sign – it is an affirmation that consumers are now able to tell us what’s working, and what’s clearly not. And open communication with consumers should only be seen as a good thing.”

Second, I actually am Acxiom’s representative on the IAB Tech Committee on Ad Blocking that Scott leads, and will be actively participating with him in helping to define technical solutions that can help the industry meet the concerns of viewers. As thought leaders in protecting consumer choice and privacy (you only need to go to our aboutthedata.com site to see a great example of that), we intend to bring at least one voice of the consumer to the discussion.  Our focus will be to ensure that viewers get an enjoyable, safe viewing experience without having all the overhead associated with some of the most frustrating ad practices in use today.

So to Scott and the IAB, including the Ad Block Working Group and the leadership of the Tech Lab Board Executive Committee, I say “Good start fellas!” But to them and to you I also say “A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step and we have a journey ahead of us.”


[1] “The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites.”  (NY Times, October 1, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/01/business/cost-of-mobile-ads.html )