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Randall Rothenberg addresses a crowd of advertising executives at IAB MIXX. Image courtesy IAB

Ads are annoying. So what does the ad industry do about it?

Sep 29, 2015

Ad-industry execs are well aware that ad blocking is bad for business. But they also know that consumers have whole-heartedly welcomed software that blocks invasive, annoying ads. Ad-blocking apps dominated the Apple’s App Store the day they were added.

Naturally, the topic was a big theme at Advertising Week, a series of conferences and parties taking place in New York this week.

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of industry trade group Interactive Advertising Bureau, called ad blockers “unwelcome gatekeepers” and “highway robbery” on stage at the IAB MIXX conference Tuesday.

The industry's response to the unwelcome gatekeepers so far is to change the narrative. People are more willing to root for the little guy than for Big Advertising. So IAB showed how ads help small, independent publishers. Ad blockers “hurt the little guy,” Rothenberg said on stage, before asking three independent publishers to tell their stories of lost revenue.

Peter Imburg, founder of gift giving site Elfster.com; Sandy Pelland, founder of MomLifeTV.com; and Rick Jaworski, CEO of Joyofbaking.com, explained how ads power their businesses and lifelihoods.

Ad blocking, they said, is not just a threat to their sites, it’s a threat to what makes the Internet great. What makes the Internet great, apparently, is the ability for anyone to publish something and monetize it with ads. “It’s very disruptive to this ecosystem and it’s a threat to what is the promise of the Internet, the power of the Internet to give a voice to the long tail,” Imburg said. (“Long tail” is an industry term for small, niche businesses.)

MORE: The outrageous new metric for online attention that will completely change the Internet forever

So yes, ad blocking is bad for the ad business. But what do they do about when their product is at best, tolerated, and at worst, blocked?

The independent publishers pleaded with the industry to make their ads less awful. “It’s a wakeup call to try to solve the things that are annoying to audiences,” Imburg said.

Pelland noted that consumers are tired of seeing the same ad repeatedly. Plus, ads could look better. “It’s people who are looking at this,” she pleaded—not algorithms.

Jaworski, who runs an ad-supported site, said even he is "irritated" by annoying ads and occasionally wants to make use of an ad blocker. “As an industry," he said, "we have gone a little bit overboard on the advertising."

For more on ad tech, watch this episode of Fortune Tech Debate:

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