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The Ins and Outs of Ad Blockers

April 6, 2016

The advertising world is hotly debating Ad Blockers and what it means to businesses and consumers alike. In this blog post we will explore 'What is Ad Blocking?, 'Who do Ad Blockers affect?', and 'How businesses and advertisers can work around an Ad Blocker.'

Ins and Outs of Ad Blocking

What is Ad Blocking?

Ad Blocking technology blocks digital ads before they are loaded on the website you are browsing and they exist for both your computer and your mobile devices. Each Ad Blocking application works in a different way; some replace the ad with something completely different while others remove the ad, leaving a broken-looking and error-ridden page behind. Furthermore, some ad blocker programs will block all ads while others will block ads limited to those with tracking features for retargeting purposes. At minimum, most ad blocking programs target and block the most invasive, annoying ads such as pop ups, banner ads, and the unskippable ads that play at the start of many videos.

Web browser extension Ad Blockers are certainly not a new phenomenon, but Apple's i0S9 update in September 2015 now allows people to block ads shown in the Safari browser on their iPhone. With this new iphone-Safari feature, Ad Blocking was elevated to a new level of prominence.


Guardian page before Adblock Plus is installed:

Guardian page before Adblock Plus is installed


Guardian page with Adblock Plus installed:


Why Ad Block?

As a consumer, unless you're the ultra-rare person who loves being advertised to, there are no negative repercussions to using Ad Blocker software. Let's get into the specifics of why someone would choose to use an Ad Blocker:

  1. The ad blocker user will get quicker webpage loading times as compared to normal users who have to load the webpage + the ads.
  2. This follows #1 - less data to load per web page = less data used through your cellular/data carrier = less money spent on your data plan each month. Double win!
  3. Some reports (such as this NY Times report) even show moderately-improved battery life on mobile phones.
  4. There is increased privacy through the exclusion of tracking cookies which can be used for consumer profiling in various ad delivery platforms.
  5. Improved user experience (UX). Pop-up ads, especially ones with no clear exit button, are extremely irritating to the customer regardless of how relevant the ads are.
  6. Surprising to most consumers is that some online ads pose a higher computer-virus security threat than from browsing adult sites. Yikes!

For all of these reasons, there is a lot of fuel to the fire propelling the pro-Ad Blocking supporters.


The Impact of Ad Blockers on Advertisers & Online Publications

For many online publishers, advertising is their only or main source of revenue and Ad Blockers pose a huge threat to their business model. The reduced income means publishers have less money to spend on producing or purchasing quality content, which in-turn means they attract fewer readers, and fewer readers means advertisers are less willing to spend money to advertise on the publisher's website, thus beginning a vicious cycle trending towards the inevitable demise of their business. This is a gloomy future many companies see with the widespread use of ad blockers. So while customers enjoy the use of ad blocking programs, they are also unintentionally destroying the longevity of their favorite online publications. Are advertisements the price we as consumers must pay to have quality content?

Another Ad Blockers side-effect is that they can play havoc with a site's analytics. For example, Crystal (an ad content blocker) blocks analytic scripts from being loaded, so any visits to your site from an iPhone with i0S9 and Crystal activated will not be reported in your data. The other major issue with Ad Blockers is that of user experience. With some blockers simply removing the ad altogether, the design of the page breaks, leaving a page looking disjointed. Many consumers don't realize this is due to their Ad Blocker and will simply think the site is broken. This problem with Ad Blockers was detailed in an investigation by Fortune where they showed that one of leading Ad Blockers, Crystal, had glitches that made products disappear (shown below on Bass Pro Shops mobile website.)


(Right) Without Crystal enabled, (Left) With Crystal enabled:



Facebook and Twitter platform advertising seems to be a safer advertising option at-present as Ad Blockers only affect some advertising for the desktop user. As most advertising happens in-app for these platforms, the Ad Blockers cannot function in the Facebook and Twitter systems, thus making the ad unblockable. However, it's important to note that Facebook Inc. warned investors in a regulatory filing that revenue could be adversely affected by Ad Blocking technology.


How popular is Ad Blocking?

Ad Blocking isn't a new trend; the most popular application, Adblock Plus, was first released in 2006 as a free-to-use Ad Blocking tool. However, Apple's iOS9 announcement brought Ad Blocking to the forefront of concern for business models built on the supposition that advertising money would sustain their businesses. But just how much Ad Blocking is really occurring? According to Adobe and Page Fair's 2015 global report, there are 198 million active users around the world who use Ad Blockers, a 41% growth from 2014-2015. In the UK specifically, Ad Blocking grew by 82% to reach 12 million active users in June 2015. Hubspot, a business leader in online marketing, found that 41% people who use Ad Blocking applications are in the 18 to 29 age group and that men are 48% more likely to use Ad Blocking technology than women.

What can be done to make people avoid the use of Ad Blockers? A global study by Teads showed that 79% of people would consider uninstalling an Ad Blocker if they had more choice over the ads they saw while 57% of people said that the ability to skip an ad from the beginning would make them consider not installing an Ad Blocker.


Quality Content

There is a strong debate that the quality of advertising content has diminished over the last couple of years. Advertising has simply become more accessible to businesses with more online guides, lower price points, and more simplified advertising models than ever before. There is a crowded field vying for the public's attention which leads some businesses to throw money at advertising with no real creative vision. As such, it could be argued that ad blockers are gaining popularity due to the amount of ads served to consumers that aren't particularly relevant to what they're doing or searching for. This is why businesses need to get smart and start thinking of other ways to effectively advertise to the correct audience for their products or services. A shotgun approach to advertising online does not work in an advertising climate more suited to ad blockers than ad servers. Some other ways to spread your business's message are as follows:

There is some debate about how native advertising will fair, but this article from Page Fair seems to show the war against Ad Blockers might not be faring very well as a lot of native content is becoming blocked.

The overwhelming reason for people claim to use Ad Blockers is due to the lack of quality advertising content. It is time for marketeers to step up to the plate and start creating and/or curating valuable content highly targeted to their customer. Develop a deep understanding about the types of customers you are targeting and the reasons they will want to choose you as a business in order to decide what form of advertising will interrupt them in their search for the solution you provide. Just because you have the capability to advertise via every marketing channel available doesn't mean you should be.


Fighting Back

Ad Blockers are thought to have cost the advertising industry as much as $22 billion in 2015, so it's no surprise that publishers are fighting back. For instance, CityAM is one of several publishers who attempts to block any visitors from their site that have Ad Blocking technology enabled. When visiting the CityAM site with an adblocker you receive a message saying "We are having trouble showing you ads on this page, which may be a result of Ad Blocker software being installed on your device. As CityAM relies on advertising to fund its journalism, please disable any adblockers from running on cityam.com to see the rest of this content." The content is then blurred to prevent users from disregarding the error message. Since launching this initiative in October 2015 they have reported "no perceivable drop in traffic."


An Ad Free Internet?

In reality though what does an ad free internet actually mean? Advertising allows for content sites such as The Guardian or Buzzfeed to produce content that is free to read. If the world blocks ads, what does that then mean for the internet? Quite simply it will stop becoming the free entity we know it as; a point that is rarely mentioned or ever understood by the public. Some publishers are already successfully converting users into paid subscribers with pay-walls for consumer access. This works fine for some of the publishing power-houses or specialized academic journals, but this raises many issues for the smaller publications, without whom the internet would not be the varied and colourful entity it is. Is it practical for a small publisher to ask their audience to pay? Technically they can implement a pay-wall, but will their audience be willing to pay to see their content at all? With so many subscription services bubbling up today, the answer is "likely not."


The Ad Blocking Protection Racket

As you browse the internet Ad free you may wonder why you can still see ads from Google, Amazon or Microsoft. Well, this is where the story gets interesting. While AdBlock Plus is free to use for consumers, don't think they're not making money off of you. Adblock Plus has a whitelisting process where publishers can pay to have their ads "unblocked," so to speak. In a speech at the Oxford Media Convention, UK culture secretary John Whittingdale likened this activity to a "protection racket" excluding smaller and less financially cushioned publishers. In essence, as a publisher you will be blocked by an Ad Blocker but then you can pay the same Ad Blocker to not block you. The irony is clear.


All in all

The heated debate of Ad Blockers will be one to watch in 2016, but the reality is that businesses really need to look at the type of advertising they are distributing both on and offline. Even if Ad Blockers disappear, the fact still remains that poor quality, untargeted, and lazy advertising is rampant, which leads to consumer's being exhausted and irritated by the ads. This is something that the industry should be up in arms about since this problem is why there exists so much demand for ad blocking programs. It is time for businesses to go back to the drawing board and not just rely on paid advertising platforms. There are many marketing alternatives to consider, it's time to pick another card and play it well.


Posted in: Business Tips