Ad Blocking

How Publishers Can Solve Their Ad Blocking Problem

By October 9, 2019 No Comments

2019 State of Ad Blocking Solutions.

If you’re reading this article, I assume you have been convinced that ad blocking is a problem, but just to cover our bases, consider this quote from our recent piece, Demographic Profile of an Ad Block User:

“Prime demographics are using ad blockers at alarming rates. We estimate, based on Pew Research and our own data, up to 50% of high-income, college-educated millennials are joining the trend. Industry averages don’t take into consideration the inaccurate data, skewed by the critical impact of demographics. The increased usage by premium audiences is clearly overlooked, to the detriment of advertisers and publishers.”

Many advertisers are beginning to realize that their most prized customers are exactly the people who use ad blockers. Premium advertisers need premium audiences and that is exactly who uses an ad blocker in one of its three main forms: desktop, mobile and network blocking.

Desktop ad blocking is what most people are familiar with where a user installs an extension or software that detects ads and stops them from loading. Not only does it block ads, but it also blocks most javascript which is used for tracking and other purposes, which in turn, leads many publishers to inaccurately measure their ad blocking rates. Mobile ad blocking, which has lagged behind desktop, is now gaining tremendous steam and is poised to take a chunk of ad inventory that many publishers have already been struggling to monetize. Lastly, network-based ad blocking, which is very common at universities, government institutions and large corporations, is rarely mentioned in these conversations but should be a huge concern. A reader working at a large corporation has no actual control over the ads that are being blocked as they read your publication.

Solution #1: Forcing Ads

Some publishers have attempted to simply force ads through readers’ ad blockers. I wish I didn’t have to explain why this is a terrible idea and yet, here we are. This solution treats your ad blocked audience like an enemy and escalates the war between publishers and their readers. This solution degrades trust and as advertisers become more aware of this, they will be unwilling to risk their brand safety by supporting this method.

Solution #2: Membership

In theory, this is an amazing solution. In practice, it fails for all but the most narrow of use-cases. Subscription-fatigue, lack of brand-loyalty and decades of using a free-internet all conspire against readers being willing to pay even a pittance for access to a website. If you are able to execute this successfully, enjoy your victory because you are in the minority.

Solution #3: Whitelisting

Whitelisting is the most common solution publishers are turning to in order to solve their ad blocking problem and unfortunately it is doomed to fail. The first problem is the number of steps required to accomplish this. After the publisher asks their readers to add them to their whitelist, the reader must stop what they are doing, access their ad blocker settings, add your site to their whitelist and then continue what they came to your site to do. This seems simple but in practice, it is too many steps. Think about how much time you have spent optimizing your website so that nothing is more than a click away. There is very little data available but our research suggests that only 5-10% of ad block users are willing to whitelist. On mobile, it is even harder or virtually impossible. With network blocking, it’s simply impossible.

Even if we ignore the effort the reader has to put in, there is an even greater reason why whitelisting doesn’t work. When you ask a reader to whitelist your site, you are asking them to give up control. You are asking them to expose themselves to all of the privacy invasion, tracking and security threats that caused them to install an ad blocker in the first place. You’re asking them to willingly degrade their user experience and step backward in time. Once a user has glimpsed an ad-free internet, you’ll be hard-pressed to put that cat back in the bag and quite frankly, we shouldn’t even be trying. It is time to embrace the future of the web in which users have more power.

Solution #3.5: Eyeo and the Acceptable Ads Program (aka the extortion racket)

This is an extension of whitelisting where you skip the step of needing to ask a user to whitelist you and instead pay to have your site added to the “Acceptable Ads” global whitelist. This solves the issue of putting the burden on the reader to make the effort to whitelist however, several serious problems remain. First, it does not solve the problem stated above, exposing the user to the threats that drove them to use ad blocking in the first place. Publishers in this program have to meet criteria set forth by the Acceptable Ads program, but this doesn’t address many of the security threats. Second, it is only supported by two ad blockers: Ad Block and Adblock Plus who are losing market share to more aggressive ad blockers like uBlock and Ghostery. When users sign up for either Ad Block or Adblock Plus, users are automatically opted-in to this acceptable ads program and it is their responsibility to learn that these ads are being allowed through. This is deceptive in the same way that Facebook has been with privacy settings, burying all the options and requiring users to opt-out rather than opt-in. Third, Acceptable Ads and Eyeo are simply extortion.

Adblock Plus screenshot of Acceptable Ads default to allowedAdblock Plus (Eyeo) has effectively stolen a portion of your premium audience and if you are willing to meet their demands, they will allow you to monetize a certain percent of that audience. It is certainly a clever solution for them, but it leaves a bad taste in our mouths and reeks of a “shakedown”. We believe that consumers will not tolerate this either which is why we are seeing more extreme ad blockers gaining traction.

The Actual Solution: Permission

At Adtoniq, we have long held the belief that the resolution of this escalating crisis requires a change in thinking and action, recognizing that consumers now have the power to decide what is acceptable and practices that will not be tolerated. There is only one way that we see this working; getting permission from a user. It shows an understanding and respect for those that have chosen to use an ad blocker for whatever reason. Simply put, companies need to offer permission-based engagements that give consumers choices within their digital experiences.

Foundational building blocks have been around for years such as the attention economy and permission marketing, famously presented in a book by Seth Godin. Consumer engagement will transform over time, rebuild mutual respect, increase consumer interest, trust and attention that in turn will lift brand value and create new revenue streams back to brands and publishers and directly address many of the issues facing the industry today.

If you are interested in a more detailed look at the state of the industry and how ad blockers work, consider reading our Ad Block Battle Theater piece.

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