The simmering tension between tech and media companies and ad-blockers boiled over at a panel at the Mobile World Congress on Tuesday, with one ad executive calling a prominent ad-blocking company a "nuclear weapon" that threatens the advertising industry.
Executives from Yahoo and Google argued with ad-blocking giant Shine Technologies' chief marketing officer, Roi Carthy, over the real purpose of ad blocking and its potentially damaging effects. Carthy asserted that Shine's services are "a stellar opportunity to reset the relationship with consumers," while insisting the company is not against advertising but instead believes "new rules of engagement need to come about."
That statement was like red flag to a bull for Yahoo's vice president and general manager of advertising Nick Hugh and Google's managing director of media and platforms Benjamin Faes. The latter called ad blockers a "blunt" solution to the problem of predatory ad tech. "More and more publishers just can't afford to give their content for free," Faes said. Hugh added, "You're blocking at a network level, but actually at a publisher or property level some (ads) are very good and if you block everyone you completely destroy the value exchange and the ecosystem."
Things just got more dramatic from there, with Carthy resorting to military rhetoric to describe Shine as a "nuclear weapon" pointed at the ad industry. But whether advertising is good or bad for consumers, the debate's true undercurrent is the estimated $22 billion that dripped out of media and tech pockets in 2015 thanks to ad blockers. Some companies, like Apple, are embracing the technology, including it on iOS 9's Safari. Google meanwhile is working on improving ad content with its Accelerated Mobile Pages feature, which Faes says "challenges the ad to be as quick as the content."
Meanwhile, Nestle's Pete Blackshaw sought to make peace by anticipating a "golden age of advertising" in the future—if tech companies and ad blockers can learn to play nice together.