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Adapting Ads to Beat the Blockers

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Ad blocking has been around since I was first involved in the internet in the mid-90s. Whilst there was always a debate around the ethics of this, it had pretty much been overlooked. This is because the percentage of blocked ads were minor in comparison to the number of people serving ads and making money off them. However, as more and more options become available to block ads, and as more non-techie people embrace the technology, the debate has increased in forums and has been influencing marketing decisions in meeting rooms across the world.

Over the past few months, ad blocking has reached new highs since Apple implemented ad-blocking systems into iOS (the operating system for iPhones or iPads). Immediately, there were ad blocking apps showing up in the market place, which culminated in the largest selling app, Peace, being pulled from the site by its owners for ethical reasons. This app was the number one selling app on the App Store for 36 hours.

So what is the debate about?

Adobe and PageFair released a widely distributed report last year stating ad blocking cost publishers nearly $22 billion during 2015 (this was before Apple released their iOS ad blocking controls). It also grew globally by 41% in the past 12 months and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. This is a dilemma as creatives have to be able to invest in content and offer it free of charge to the end users, knowing that they will be able to get a return on investment by selling advertising on the site. This model is not new and has been going on in TV, radio and print for years.

As the internet is a different medium, the technology allows the blocking of ads. This means content providers are receiving less revenue to create quality content and have to start looking at different models to generate income. This has been done to varying success. For example, Fairfax media have recently had to significantly cut costs (i.e. jobs) at their their mastheads because their paid model isn’t generating enough income.

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The largest usage of ad blockers are people aged 18-34 who are high-value consumers whom marketers target. These end-users want interesting, free content but they do not like ads. This is mostly due to the online ad industry serving ads that impact usability and privacy. Not to mention bloated code and assets, which slows down websites and sucks data usage. We all know what it’s like to wait for an ad to load on a mobile device, or having to like a page to see the content (why would I like it if I haven’t seen it yet?)

So, ads are blocked and content creators don’t receive an income, ultimately leading to less unique and interesting content. So we, the end-users, have less to look at when waiting for the next train or sitting on the couch playing during TV ad breaks (see the irony there?) But you can see where this is leading and it isn’t a good solution for anyone.

What’s next? 

It seems we are in a transition where new business models will need to be found to serve content. We have seen this already with the music and film industry and the challenges they are facing. To me, it seems that the online ad industry has shot itself in the foot. If the industry addresses their faults which have caused these problems—if ads weren’t so invasive, worked with usability of the website and didn’t have privacy concerns—we would have less people using ad blocking software and the economies around content creation would stabilise.

So, looking at long term options, advertisers need to consider designing ads that will not deter the user and look into ad recovery. Where ad blocking and advertising trends go from here will be an ever-evolving landscape and one only the best marketers will be able to navigate.

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By Gerard Roche


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