The good, the bad and the blocked



Our Renegade Writer of the Month Winner for September, Sean Hoadley, takes us through his thoughts on the impact of ad-blockers on the future of online advertising.

It’s a commonly used adage that digital is like the Wild West of media. From click fraud robots, used to attribute fake conversions, to pixel-stuffing and ad-stacking, which falsely multiply the number of ads served; digital has not been without its outlaws. Technology has since been created to monitor and report on this type of illegal activity, but it’s all too little, too late. The seed was sown that digital advertising slows down the user experience and shouldn’t be tolerated. Enter ad blockers; which are now becoming commonplace and costing publishers a lot of money in blocked ad impressions.

The days when ad blocking was available only to the tech savvy are over. It looks set to become mainstream. The ease with which Google Chrome, the world’s most widely used web browser, facilitates the installation of the Adblocker Plus plugin has almost solely contributed to the 41% increase in ad blocker downloads within the space of a year. To further catalyse this growth, Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 9, will feature ad blocking capabilities for the first time on mobile. The major concern is that once awareness of ad blocking spreads, it will become the norm.

So how did we get here? The ever evolving and growing methods by which ad-networks and publishers can monetise their inventory often serves to slow down and hinder user experience. Further to having your experience slowed down by digital advertising, there is also a plethora of tracking technology monitoring and recording your browsing behaviour to sell to advertisers for marketing purposes. Trust is a big issue. In an increasingly monitored and controlled age, people are becoming more cautious and aware of having their browsing behaviours pried upon for marketing purposes. Should internet users accept that there is a trade-off? As a digital advertiser, I would tend to say ‘yes’, but there needs to be more transparency and fewer but better quality ads.

So what does the future hold? Where does this madness end? Content creation is the hot topic. Publishers such as Buzzfeed, The Guardian and The Mail Online are selling opportunities to integrate advertiser content onto publisher websites in the form of native content. This kind of content creation needs to benefit the consumer, otherwise it’s irrelevant. It also needs to provide a strong enough association between advertiser and content to succeed in its aims, whilst remaining authentic to the publisher tone. Certainly a way to dodge ad blocking but not necessarily relevant for all brands. If done poorly it can appear contrived and obvious to spot. I’m not saying there aren’t solid and mutually beneficial ways of doing this, but it can’t be the only solution.

Currently, technology suppliers are engaged in perpetuating ad blocking, making it more pronounced in the name of improving the user experience. To combat the negative effects diminishing revenue, Apple have already begun to work with a variety of publishers, bringing content in-app (Apple News), thus protecting them from ad-blocking and pipelining ad revenue to publishers. On top of this, it will also be possible to overlay all the first party data from Apple IDs. As Apple create more and more of these content aggregator apps (think music, sport, fashion, and so on), so will their user base grow and grow. This also means that the ads within the app will be far more regulated, streamlined and uniform. Surely a positive thing for the user.

The other alternative, which could perhaps leave users with no alternative, would be for websites to block the blockers. Websites could potentially detect when ad blockers are being used and prevent their content from being viewed. The issue here is that the websites would have to hope their audience don’t simply travel to pastures new for their content. Perhaps if you are in a position like YouTube, you could be fairly confident…

I wouldn’t have a problem with ad blockers if they only blocked pop-ups and adware but, the fact is that they block almost all advertising. This includes Facebook and YouTube, where advertiser budgets are increasingly being funnelled.

Ad blocking won’t spell the end for digital advertising, so our jobs is safe for now. That being said, concerns around overloading users with too many ads need to be addressed. Regulation will force advertisers to think more creatively about how to appeal their audience through creative resonance and reaching them at the right time and place.

There also needs to be more visibility. Knowledge is power, and without fully understanding the ramifications of blocking ads, users cannot make an informed decision. Web users must feel that although they are not getting content/services completely free, they are also not being exploited. We can’t have it both ways. If downloads of ad blockers continue to increase at the alarming rate we are now seeing, publishers will need to find new ways of monetising their inventory or else resort to charging subscriptions for access; a situation which no-one wants. However, if the big tech providers can address the core issues regarding invasive and irrelevant advertising through some level of standardisation, this will likely not need to be the case.

This article originally appeared on AdNews: 


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