Ad-dendum by Tripti Lochan: The threat of ad blocking

Updated: October 27, 2015 1:58:18 PM

Ad blocking is emerging as a big concern for publishers and advertisers. Here’s a lowdown

Ad blockingAd blocking is emerging as a big concern for publishers and advertisers.

The general audiences don’t want advertising. It is as simple as that. They don’t want to see ads; they don’t want to interact with ads. But advertising is an integral part of the everyday use of the Internet. Without advertising, the majority of online publishers can’t survive. Advertising revenue is how publishers (both online and offline) fund the content they produce. So how threatening is ad blocking to the industry? And who is to decide what advertising should be blocked?

If someone decides that all advertising they are supposed to receive should be blocked, in all fairness they should be denied access to those websites which rely on advertising revenue to survive. The Washington Post, for example, has gone as far as to block content for users using blocking tools. The UK’s top broadcaster ITV also turns away those using ad blockers.

Whilst the tech and advertising news staff are all talking of ad blocking, and publishers speak of the ‘end of days’ and how they are going to have to change their business models, agencies and brands are sitting back and waiting to see what happens. There will always be advertising inventory out there and we will make the most of it whilst we can.

According to PageFair and Adobe, there are 198 million ad blocker users, up from 21 million in 2010. AdBlock Plus claims to average 2.3 million downloads a week. And the estimates are that ad blocking will cost publishers $22 billion in revenue in 2015.

This leads to how we now reach out to those people who are blocking ads. Publishers will find other ways to monetise their inventory and we may see a return to old-fashioned affiliate links and revenue share models, or an increase in ‘native advertising’. It should also be noted that the ad blocking apps may not prove as successful as the industry fears as on mobile, more content is distributed on apps and social networks. So we will see an increase, from an already high revenue base, for search marketing and paid social media—which can’t be blocked.

Perhaps this will benefit the industry as a whole. All the scaremongering by the ad tech press also revolves around the industry agreeing that digital advertising has, as a whole, spiraled out of control. Users are fed up with the proliferation of advertising they are bombarded with, and how their personal data is being utilised (although the same members of the public will also agree in general that they want free access to news and entertainment and are willing to provide a limited amount of personal data to achieve that end).

Whilst the likes of Ben Williams, director of operations at AdBlock Plus argue that “No one ever opted in for advertising online. It came after the fact”, they seem to ignore the fact that people don’t really complain about ads in newspapers or on TV (or if they do, they put up with them, as they understand that they are the way in which these publishers monetise the medium you are consuming).

According to PageFair, the number one reason they use ad blockers, or would use ad blockers, is, “If I feel my personal data is being misused to personalise the ads” (though PageFair also says ad quantity was the most common complaint among millennials). This is a major distinction from AdBlock Plus which claims that ad annoyance is the main factor.

TechCrunch highlighted recently that an ad blocking software such as Disconnect doesn’t block all ads, as it is focused on privacy. So if an ad only uses first-party data then the software won’t interfere. From a user and publisher perspective perhaps this is a more preferable route to educating the industry.

From more openness around data use to a better advertising experience, publishers need to adapt. Determining who your audience is and whether they are more or less likely to block ads on your site will help to create a more tailored approach for each and every publisher. From that, advertisers and agencies need to adapt their tech approach to media.

The author is CEO, VML

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