2016 is the year of blocking. Stickers cover laptop webcams and the Internet is alight with writing about the rise of adblockers. There are the doomsayers like the UK Culture Secretary, who predicts the end of the economic model that’s allowed the web to become a vibrant source of content. Conversely, there are those who wish a swift downfall to poor quality, battery-draining and allowance-eating adverts.

Rather than just discuss the problem, we facilitated a quick workshop at IFF to come up with potential solutions for how the Internet could be paid for, post ad-blocking.

We introduced Doc Searls intention economy, a new model that focuses on consumers broadcasting intent to engage with a product, rather than having advertising seek a consumer out. We spoke about why advertising can be useful in promoting social issues and enhancing consumer choice and explained how better models of consent could facilitate trusted relationships between advertisers and their online audience.

A better way

We split our workshop participants into three groups and they were each given a persona to adopt: thecontent producers who create value on the web, the advertising agencies who use creativity to try and sell us something and the Internet users who expect a free Internet but have become disillusioned by advertising. Each of the groups were asked to imagine what they could do to survive in a post-adblocker Internet.

To get the groups started, we asked them:

  • Is there a need for design standards in advertising?
  • What models for financing content are available beyond advertising?
  • What do ads look like after adblockers?

What we learned

Common themes emerged across the three roles. Both advertisers and the Internet users played with the idea of certain times of the day when advertising could be restricted. Micropayments were discussed by the advertisers and content producers. It would enable the audience to directly pay a small amount for content and would be mediated by an authority like W3C. Relationships between advertisers and content producers, and advertisers and the audience were reassessed. The question of whether advertisers should purposefully disengage with someone uninterested in their product to improve the perception of their brand was suggested.

An interesting idea involved separating advertising from content. The audience would visit a particular page where they could interact with ads, and could then access content without impediment from advertising.

The audience group had a distinctly dystopian frame. They fast-forwarded the proliferation of Internet of Things devices to imagine a scenario where you’d have to watch an ad to get hot water from a smart tap.

Beyond the session

The increasing number of people taking up adblockers shows that advertising is failing the people it aims to engage. We don’t know the answers to the fundamental question of how the Internet is paid for, but it’s clear this will continue to be an exciting space to explore.

The idea of an intention economy is promising, because its use of open data sets makes the data more actionable and useful and can be used to connect consumers with products. But how can this engage people on an emotional level, especially when promoting social causes?

Those who find advertising a strain on their attention while using the web would welcome advertising holidays, but how would the funding gap be filled while adverts are turned off? Micropayments would remove the need for advertising altogether by directly funding and incentivising those who make content, but this deny access to the less well off and make the Internet less democratic?