AdBlock: A Grim Demise for Online Advertisers?

Ah, online ads. What many consumers consider the pest of Internet browsing.

They stare at you from corners. They blink and infinitely loop in your sidebars. The particularly aggressive ones fill your entire screen. And of course those 15-30 second videos you have to wait through before getting to the content you really want to watch.

Consumers who feel their online experience is becoming overrun with these disruptions are increasingly turning to one of their only lines of defense: ad blocking.

Ah, ad blocking. What many online advertisers consider a pest of their industry.

As more marketers and advertisers adapt to and become involved in the digital landscape, ad blocking is emerging as yet another barrier to reaching consumers. According to Adweek, 41% of publishers report up to 30% of their audience uses ad block, and some are concerned that number will rise to over 70% by 2018. Those numbers translate to less exposure and lost sales.

The Ad Block Monster

It’s a worrisome situation for an industry that relies on visibility. Phrases like “should we panic” and “how to survive” grace even just a cursory search of advertisers’ perspectives on ad blocking. As ad-hating consumers become more zealous, it’s no surprise; the "adblockalypse" is its own movement.

So as ad blocking turns from being an advertiser’s pest to something a little more alarming, proactive measures need to be considered. Identifying the specific issues that consumers have with online ads is a crucial step.

Content is Key

Some argue that it’s a matter of creating ads that people actually want to see. According to Nieman Reports, digital news outlet Quartz has had success showcasing ads “intended to be as compelling for users as the content produced by the editorial team.” This includes content that’s interactive, rather than static, getting the consumer to engage with the ad in meaningful ways.

At this past year’s Advertising Week, Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, spoke of the significance of high quality online ads, saying it’s “really important to keep that ecosystem vibrant” in order to stave off ad blocking.

…But Content isn’t the Only Key

While interesting high quality ads would certainly seem to be a logical fix, others believe that compelling content is only part of the equation. As Advertising Age points out, online ads bog down Internet speeds because of the amount of data-mining that happens when ads appear. Requests for user, ad and site information take up bandwidth and slow down the system. Essentially, in addition to the content and quality of the ad, the data mechanics that come with it are also in need of improvement.

And speaking of data, privacy issues are becoming an increasing concern for many consumers. With security breaches, information leaks, and data being used for nefarious reasons, many are suspicious of online ads. The anxiety is only heightened when targeted advertising comes into play, reminding people that their online activity is always being monitored.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

While addressing these barriers is essential, they aren’t sure-fire ways of busting through ad blocking. Consumers who are particularly concerned about any one of these issues will opt to use ad blocking, and those who have become accustomed to ad-free Internet will likely continue as well.

With all this in mind, however, the light at the end of the tunnel may come in the form of the enemy itself. Adblock Plus, the most popular ad blocking service available, proposed a compromise called Acceptable Ads. Recognizing the importance of ad revenue for many publishers, its mission is simple: allow appropriate, effective and transparent ads through the blockade. In order for advertisers to benefit from this plan, they must first register their ads, which are reviewed under strict criteria.

This move represents a big step toward a better online ad experience for all involved. Not only will consumers enjoy an experience free from “obnoxious” ads, but publishers and advertisers will have a tangible way of getting their material out there.

Of course, it’s not a perfect solution for advertisers. Currently, allowing an acceptable ad is a default feature of AdBlock, a feature that can be turned off if a user chooses to, thus rendering even the most respectable ads invisible. Even so, it opens up a meaningful conversation about the usefulness of ads, helping to transform frustration into acceptance and ad blocks into opportunities.

Published on January 28, 2016