Ad Blocking

Ad Blocking: The Digital Publishing Industry in a State of Denial, or is it Ignorance?

By August 27, 2019 No Comments

It seems that ignorance is bliss when it comes to ad blocking and the digital publishing industry. Ignoring the impact of ad blockers or sticking to inadequate strategies is neither viable nor sustainable in this ever evolving industry. Publishers are missing out on potential revenue and Advertisers are missing out on reaching their most coveted audiences.  Would you trust a website or advertiser that deliberately shoved ads past the ad blocker to get rid of the cluster of ads in the first place? Or how about whitelisting a site so everything that drove you to use an ad blocker gets turned back on. They say knowledge is power, so it is vital to consider what ad blocking consumers are telling you and the levels of ridiculousness they are willing to put up with. In this market, where the consumer is in charge, a lack of trust and ethical behavior is a harpoon to that which is most treasured by all: revenue.


Ad blocking gained traction over the last few years as consumers became simply fed up with the sheer amount of intrusive advertising and the little value they provide.. Not being aware of ad blockers remains the number one reason consumers do not use blockers, but this is rapidly changing. They are being adopted because of security and privacy concerns. That doesn’t mean that consumers aren’t willing to see ads as long as these ads respect their right to control their own data and do not ruin their viewing experience as many do.


A false sense of security

Right now, the affected herd tends to fall into two camps. Those who say ad blocking doesn’t affect me, are being lulled into a false sense of security by their web and data analytics tools. They don’t realize that ad blockers block these tools and while they think they have a 10% ad blocking rate, the reality is that it’s more likely to be over 25%, depending on the publisher’s audience demographic. That’s a serious threat to survival. 

Then there are those who realize they might have a problem but the best they have to offer is either:

  • Trying one of the many ad tech vendors who pitch publishers on their amazing capabilities “well it’s as simple as just loading a line of JavaScript!”, only to find out in practice the amount of work it takes to set it up is very cumbersome and many times does not work.
  • Asking consumers to turn off their ad blockers or worse yet, forcing ads through ad blockers. 


And then there are those that have fallen for the short term, extortion practices of  “Acceptable Ads” via EYEO (a.k.a AdBlock Plus) and the ad tech vendors that front them. This is no better than forcing ads on adblock users (they just don’t know it), but pretends to be “O.K” with them. It’s not and it’s not sustainable as this only works with a couple of ad blockers and those ad blockers are rapidly losing market share to more aggressive blockers. And it rarely works on  mobile or network blocking (this is really important)


Any right thinking person would know they’re being asked to give up all of the privacy, protection and interruptions that made them use ad blockers in the first place. In any case, a publisher asking a consumer to whitelist sites simply doesn’t work, it’s a failure of technology and adds more steps to an already complicated process.  Whitelisting flies in the face of the very privacy concerns and perpetuates the invasion of their internet experiences. Forcing ads, takes that to a whole other level. 


Recent scandals, like #LeaveFacebook and the laws that are now in place or coming, have made privacy a mainstream concern; it took a media outcry for many people to realize their privacy was at stake. Consumer data itself has become a commodity. But make no mistake, consumers know their privacy has value. And some are willing to trade it for real benefits. Our Capitalist society encourages self-interest and that is not limited to businesses. Consumers want a return for their time and attention. Respecting that is critical.


It’s in plain site

So when will common sense prevail? There are billions of dollars in revenue available and a market opportunity for those willing to give consumers a choice. Why don’t publishers use a simple, yet straightforward, strategy of asking for consent? You are about to or are already doing that for consumer data,  It is mind boggling that the concept of just asking consumers for their permission to show advertisements, and thereby fund their favorite websites, has received very little attention. Noam Chomsky simply stated, “People have the capacity to see through the deceit in which they are ensnared, but they’ve got to make the effort” (“A World of Ideas”, 1988). The evolution of ad blocking on the web demonstrates that consumers are making the effort.


You may ask, what about users paying for a subscription to use a website? People have become so used to usage being free; it is ineffective to suddenly start charging for access. A few people may be willing to pay but realistically how many sites is each person going to pay for? So unless you are sure your website is the Game of Thrones of the internet, it is ridiculous to expect most people to pay.


Consumers are willing to give up their ad free experience, but not go so far as to pay out of pocket, for websites and companies they care about. The relationship and loyalty between brands and their audiences is a powerful force that creates value for both parties. If your brand isn’t a dumpster fire, that delivers value, consumers are willing to support it in some way. Now, if your website is garbage with no customer value, then by all means force ads through the ad blockers, demand whitelisting or whatever you want to try. You will do consumers a favor with the red flare of a vile lack of respect for them. They’ll quickly take care of the rest.


If a consumer denies their consent and does not want to see ads then that should be respected. “No means no” can be applied to users that want their privacy and ad free experience. It is a simple fact that not 100% of the population will be interested in what you’re selling. Accept it and move on to those that are. In an ad blocking arms race, eventually everyone loses.


Inaccurate detection produces inaccurate data and leads to missed revenue opportunities. Mobile ad blockers and more and more desktop ad blockers (plugins, dedicated browsers and network blockers) are fooling publishers into thinking there is no ad blocker present, or more importantly that they don’t have an ad blocking problem. That is causing publishers to miss this  opportunity because most don’t accurately detect and measure.


And it just gets worse from there. Millions of consumers access the internet from within companies, government institutions, universities and many other places where “network” blocking is not happening on the device, but on an arbitrary server in the “network fabric”.  Those users can’t do a damn thing about whatever publishers might be trying on them. So asking them to whitelist does not work, period.


If you think you are exempt from ad blockers you are in this category of systematic ignorance. Any online presence is affected by ad blockers.  According to the 2017 GWI Custom Report 15% of mobile, 30.1% of PC/ desktop, and 40% of laptop devices use ad blockers. Your platform may be impacted less, but you’re affected. And these percentages continue to grow.


You need to take care

The evolution of ethics in online advertising is in its infancy stage. Most publishers don’t fully understand the impact ad blockers have. “Have” not “will have”. This is not an issue for a future board meeting. Soon, if not already, grad students will be writing case studies on the failure of those too slow to move on this issue.  Do you really want to be in the disaster case study hall of fame? “In advertising, not to be different is virtually suicidal” (Bill Bernbach). To ignore changes in the online ad industry is a sure-fire way to fall behind and possibly implode.


 If you find yourself thinking “why should I care” then you are either a hermit with no internet (in which case how and why are you reading this?) or you seriously need to re-evaluate. Ad blockers affect most advertisers and all websites but, ad funded websites are the most at risk. To ignore this opportunity in the market is a mistake. If you are not concerned, you are not paying attention.

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