Abba Newbery, former director of advertising strategy at News UK, on ad blocking, whether print advertising has a future, the risks for publishers going all in on native advertising and how paywalls and ads can coexist.

Ad blocking is on the rise, what does this mean for publishers?

Many publishers have raced to maximise their digital advertising revenues by embracing every possible ad tech solution and the result has been that too many readers are either blinded by or to the advertising they are bombarded with.

It’s now time to get back to what publishers have always been good at: understanding their audiences, through content and lifestyle choices, and providing relevant and engaging advertising solutions. If done right, readers will see advertising as an additive and enriching part of their reading experience.

For these same readers to be using ad blockers shows that relationship has been broken, and it is time for publishers to bring back a more experience-led model.

Who do you believe is to blame for the ad blocking issue?

Blame is a strong word. I think the fundamental issue is that advertising has become too short-term in its outlook. Short-term performance is vital for a successful business clearly, but not at the expense of brand-building and a longer-term strategy.

Do you think ad blocking will kill off programmatic?

I think first it’s important to define programmatic. If it means automating the media buying process then I believe all media, digital and traditional, will be much more automated and systems driven in the future.

If programmatic is seen as a low-cost way of buying millions of eyeballs and fundamentally technology focused, then yes it will continue to suffer from ad-blocking.

However, the real power of a programmatic is to process large data sets to create engaging advertising solutions to the right audience in the right place at the right time. With a focus on the brand rather than pure response, then quite simply readers won’t need to use an adblocker, the ads will become an additive part of the experience.

Moreover, a programmatic approach actually has the ability to inform the creative that can help deliver solutions that complement the editorial/content and therefore the consumer experience.

What should publishers do about ad fraud and viewability?

Viewability should be 100 percent in my view. Every publisher should have the ability to measure what’s in view and only sell advertising accordingly. I very much like the Financial Times approach, selling ads based on cumulative time spent in view.

Fraud is trickier to solve due to the high level of data leakage that most publishers will be suffering from, with every third-party ad network, analytics management tool, and syndication network we use on our sites, we open ourselves up to the skimming of our data by others. This data can then easily be used to create audience based offerings which compete with a publisher’s properties.

Data security and leakage should be a pivotal part of every business’ data strategy, considering usage and ownership, streamlining the ad stack, and a clear process to assess and address leakage. It’s not sexy but it is vital for all publishers to control their own data and ultimately access to their audiences.

Is native advertising the answer?

Native advertising – one of the catch all terms for advertising space, editorial spaces, offsite assets and advertiser funded programmes and promotions. I think there is only one risk for publishers, just don’t dupe the reader. Anything paid for should be clearly marked as such. End of.

Great native content should be engaging in its own right, and therefore does not need to masquerade as editorial. As consumers turn to ad blockers to avoid digital advertising bombardment, native is the perfect way to create high value content, that builds relationships between brands and readers, and has relevance and resonance.

Do you think paywalls and advertising can coexist?

Firstly, I think its more helpful to use the term subscription business rather than paywall. And yes as super-successful business like Sky and The FT have shown. As consumers have paid for the experience it is even more vital that the advertising is an additive experience: informed and enriched by subscriber data, engaging in its experience and relevant to its environment.

Do you think print advertising has a role in the future?

Yes! Although let me qualify this by saying I believe Edition-Led publishing has a future and by Edition-led I mean a linear, curated, edited, finite publication, published on a timely rather than rolling infinite basis. These editions encourage their readers to spend time, immerse themselves, learn and question, and ultimately these curious well-informed readers sit at the heart of the digital landscape. In the case of The Times for example spending 4 times longer on Google than the average internet user, searching for more information inspired by the contents of that day’s edition.

Why is this so important for advertising?

Firstly, a reader’s relationship with an edition is different to the one they have with a content-led website. A listicle is for laughs but a newspaper is for life. Research proves that people have a much deeper and more trusting relationship with their preferred newspaper brand and that relationship reflects on the advertisers that live within it. People trust, remember and act upon advertising in their newspaper of choice (whether they’re reading it in print, online or on tablet) more than they do elsewhere.

Secondly, edition-based publishers increasingly have a much better understanding of their readers. As subscription models (whether paid, free or hybrid) begin to dominate the newspaper market, these organisations are gaining a completely new depth of relationship with their readers, a better understanding of what they want, what they buy and what they do. This understanding is much harder to gain with non-subscription sites and it reflects directly on the effectiveness of advertising targeting.

Clearly, great content creation can and does exist outside of and edition-led approach and this should equally be supported and applauded. However, it is within these iconic publications that great writing and journalism is best known, best respected and best funded. Moreover, it is within those editions that readers largely expect to find this sort of content and so where the reflected advertising value is most concentrated.

Does there need to be better cooperation between publishing functions, for example sales and editorial?

The skills of journalism and advertising have been brought more closely together as a result of mobile, social networking revolutions and technological advances, creating a consumer requirement for a speed of communication from brands, much more akin to a newsroom than a traditional quarterly marketing cycle. Both sides embrace the power of storytelling and iconic imagery to make an impact, change opinions, and create new behaviours. As long as that is done with integrity and transparency on both sides then journalists and marketers can be happy bed fellows.

And with content and agencies?

This is a hard one to answer. As commercial content creation becomes an exciting revenue stream, it is hard to manage the business of news and the business of news content for brands. A studio is an obvious solution, but only if is staffed by the high quality journalists who make up the newsrooms brands are so keen to help tell their stories. When we launched the Newsroom at News UK it was therefore vital that one of our most respected editors, Style Editor Tiffanie Darke, was charged with running the studio.

The role of an agency has regularly changed over my career in advertising, and this will continue. The role of a planner cannot be under-estimated. The ability to pull together multiple communications channels into something coherent, to find the human insight to capture imaginations, to apply a holistic view to the zeroes and ones is vital. If planners survive then agencies will survive.


Abba has worked on both sides of the media industry, most recently running Creative Solutions and Commercial Strategy for The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, and previously leading the Planning Department at Universal Mccann, working on brands such as Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Hovis. 

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