Ad Blocking: How Worried Should You Be?

Since the agency’s last report on ad blocking, the subject has become a continually pressing issue for marketers, publishers, and digital content providers alike. The following facts from PageFair’s Ad Blocking Report 2015 reflect the growing use of ad blockers:

  • An estimated $22 billion in global ad revenue was blocked in 2015
  • Ad block usage in the US grew 48% during the past year
  • 45 million monthly active users during Q2 2015
  • 16% of the US online population blocked ads during Q2 2015

ad blocking

Source: Posted on Forbes, originally sourced by PageFair 2015 Ad Blocking Report

What do marketers need to know about ad blockers for 2016 and beyond? What are publishing, marketing, and advertising industry experts thinking?

Most importantly, what can be done about the unforeseen threats to the advertising industry? Before that is covered, it’s essential to completely understand ad blocking – how it works, how it started, and why people use ad blockers.

HOW DO AD BLOCKERS WORK?

Ad blockers are applications that a user downloads to their device which denies or alters the code from a list of known URLs/domains associated with companies that serve ads. Some ad blockers allow users to approve, or whitelist, certain publishers or ad servers, but there is usually an additional fee for this service. Ad blocking used to be known by just the tech savvy group, but since Apple unveiled its new iPhone and the iOS 9 operating system, which included a new feature called Content Blockers, the ability to block ads is gaining recognition.

HOW DID AD BLOCKING START?

At the birth of the Internet, the news industry committed what some call “original sin” – giving away digital content for free. Publishers began including ads as a way to offset some of the costs of creating original content. Advertisers loved (and abused) the idea of using ads of every shape, size, and file weight to reach a targeted consumer.

Now, consumers are inevitably fighting back in the form of ad blockers. 68% of consumers underestimate the amount of revenue that advertising contributes to media sites (Teads.tv).

“Maybe if the ads weren’t so bloated, annoying, and difficult to distinguish from content all the time…they wouldn’t be blocked as much.” – Source: Consumer opinion from PageFair 2015 Ad Blocking Report

WHY DO PEOPLE USE AD BLOCKERS?

ad blocking 2

Source: Forbes

Forbes found several reasons why people use ad blockers:

  1. Ads are just way too annoying (36%)
  2. Phishing scams and malware (19%)
  3. Privacy (17%)
  4. What ad blocker? (9%)
  5. Ads use up too much bandwidth/data (9%)
  6. Other (11%)

PageFair’s 2015 Ad Blocking Report found the reasons people would start using ad blockers are:

  1. If I feel my personal data is being misused to personalize the ads (50%)
  2. If the quantity of ads increased from what I typically encounter today (41%)
  3. If marketers don’t improve their ability to target ads (10%)
  4. N/A or I would never use an ad blocker (11%)

These surveys show that consumers are not just annoyed by the intrusiveness of the ads, they are also concerned that these ads are part of phishing scams, and dumping bugs onto their device.

INDUSTRY REACTIONS TO AD BLOCKERS

THE INTERACTIVE ADVERTISING BUREAU (IAB) RELEASES AD BLOCKING PRIMER

In March 2016, The IAB Technology Laboratory (IAB Tech Lab) released its Publisher Ad Blocking Primer, outlining the tactics publishers can employ to persuade users to stop using ad blockers. The organization recommends that publishers start a dialogue with the consumer, explaining the value of advertising through its DEAL process.

 

ad blocking

Photo source: IAB

Publisher Ad Blocking Primer DEAL Process:

  • Detect ad blocking to initiate a conversation
  • Explain the value exchange that advertising enables
  • Ask for changed behavior to maintain an equitable exchange
  • Lift restrictions or Limit access in response to consumer choices

If we view ad blocking as a way of consumers voicing their issues with slow load times and irrelevant ads, then it follows that beginning a conversation with them is a good place to start.

PUBLISHERS REACT TO AD BLOCKERS

Pay for an advertising-free experience

Some publishers now request their users pay for an experience without ads, or allow deeper content consumption only with payment.

Conde Nast’s GQ and Epicurious are asking people to disable their ad blockers or pay 50 cents to read an article. Conde Nast asks users set up an account with CoinTent, a digital wallet that’s designed to make it easy to buy content around the web.

Wired.com is offering either an ad-free experience or requesting a user adds the site to a user’s whitelist. There are two options to access its content:

  1. You can simply add WIRED.com to your ad blocker’s whitelist, so you view ads. When you do, we will keep the ads as “polite” as we can, and you will only see standard display advertising.
  2. You can subscribe to a brand-new Ad-Free version of WIRED.com. For $1 a week, you will get complete access to our content, with no display advertising or ad tracking.

Forbes has long been a leader in both journalistic excellence and digital innovation, so it’s not surprising they are leading the way by testing different user experiences. Forbes offered an “ad-lite” experience for people willing to turn their ad blockers off for 30 days. They found that the users who took advantage of this experience spent more time on the site and consumed more page views than other test groups.

ad blocking 4

Source: Forbes

Users will tolerate ads if they are not intrusive and feel they are getting a good value for their “currency.” Forbes also found that consumers don’t fully understand what ad blocking does. Some consumers don’t even know how they got it in the first place. So as publishers and advertisers are scrambling to come up with innovative solutions, sometimes the best place to start is a simple conversation.

 

WHAT CAN WE DO TO FIGHT AD BLOCKERS AND USAGE?

There’s not one solution. At a recent i612 industry panel on ad blocking, members of several advertising and publishing entities discussed different options. The main theme was to improve user experience. This requires the efforts of all parts of the advertising process, from content creation to the deployment of creative assets. Users are fighting back, and we need to be listening to what they’re saying.

We can do the following to fight ad blocking:

  • Test and learn: Test and measure the effect of ad blockers now – so that a strategy is in place if ad blocking usage increases.
  • Be up front with the consumer: The examples from several publishers prove that consumers are willing to interact with sites that are honest about how advertising helps the bottom line. Users don’t mind ads as long as marketers don’t abuse the experience.
  • Team effort: Publishers, brands, and agencies should work together to prioritize and deliver the best UX for visitors, while still working within the confines of a profitable publishing company. Brands and agencies need to understand that obnoxious or intrusive ads are contributing to the problem, and in the end do not really create a good brand experience for the user. Media and creative teams need to lead the way when it comes to changing the way ads are created and served, again putting the consumer first.

The growth of ad blocking seems scary to publishers and advertisers, but it doesn’t have to be. Use it as a catalyst to improve user experience, whether via your website or advertising. A simple conversation with consumers could be the key to slowing the growth of, and possibly stopping, ad blockers.

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