It’s growing, it’s causing panic and it’s been given a contrived, buzzword name – Adblockalypse cometh.
Sick of ads? You’re not alone. Whether to accelerate page loading, avoid malware or simply get some respite, adblocker usage is increasing. Up 41% over the previous year1, in fact, and it’s this growth that’s causing grumbles of unrest in the media and ad industries.
The internet is founded upon advertising revenue. Even Google still relies on ads for 90% of its income2, so falling impressions affect everyone. Indeed, Marco Arment — creator of the Peace adblocker for iOS — pulled his application from the App Store, explaining “Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.3” But not all developers share that sentiment. UK mobile giant Three is taking the cull a step further with plans to roll out a network-level adblocker to 8.8 million customers4. It hasn’t yet decided whether to charge for the service, but it expects to launch some time this year, and block 95% of banner and pop-up ads in the process.
Some publishers are fighting back. Yahoo is trialling a system on its US service whereby users employing an adblocker are unable to access their emails unless they disable the application. Members of the adblocking community found a way round the so-called ‘new product experience’ in a matter of days, but the intent is clear. Other publishers are taking a less assertive tack — asking visitors to disable their adblocker and add the site to their whitelist, or offering an ad-free viewing experience for a subscription fee.
It’s for this reason that stemming the ad revenue stream is being billed as the end of free content and services, such as email. And the old adage ‘If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product’ certainly applies. With an impenetrable barrier between the product (you) and the customer (advertisers), how will publishers survive? Some are turning to paywalls, just as others did when print sales began to flag from the original shift to digital.
News UK, perhaps the most notable exponent of paywalls, brought an end to subscriptions for The Sun at the end of November having lost ground to competitors. Chief among these is the MailOnline, now the most read English language news service in the world, attracting 14 million visitors a day. But despite receiving this level of traffic it still operates at a loss — underlining the difficulty of making the digital ad model work.
From a marketer’s perspective, if no-one is viewing your ads, then what’s the alternative? The spotlight has fallen on native advertising of late. But the same reasons that brought adblockers into existence also apply to native. People are evermore online savvy and increasingly weary of being pestered while going about their lives.
It’s important to remember that adblockers are not the cause of a change in the industry, they’re a symptom. It’s impossible to process the thousands of messages we see everyday, so we have instinctively become partially-sighted to advertisements. Now, people are putting on the blinkers themselves. The key for marketers is showing that they can add value, and thereby gain consent to take up users’ time.
To do that, brands must find better ways to tell their story. To explain why what they do is important. Now, it must be with something that is wanted by the customer. It should add value, not just try to sell. There’s no cure all, but good content is the cornerstone of this. It lets you inform your audience without alienating them. Share a tip, furnish some knowledge, entertain. If the viewer gets something out of the experience, it won’t be blocked. It will be read and it will be shared.
And it’s this added value aspect that probably makes whitelisting the happy middle ground between the two sides of the argument. It’s unrealistic to expect to consume content for free without ads and it’s unjustified to keep pestering people with poorly-targeted, obtrusive ads every minute of every day. If ads are only viewable on sites that provide the best and most relevant content, the standard of what’s published will increase. And if those ads themselves go through a similar user-review process to weed out the rubbish, inappropriate and misleading, the standard of ads will go up too.
Ablocking is part of a much wider debate on how we pay for the content we consume on the internet. We’ve all got used to being able to access whatever we like for free. But that’s not really sustainable. Different models will emerge. Although it was blocked in India on net neutrality grounds, Facebook’s Free Basics service that provides free internet access, but only to selected sites, is a prime example. We can’t have it all for nothing.
1 “The 2015 Adblocking Report”, PageFair, August 10, 2015.
2 “Google rallies as profit beats forecasts on ad revenue growth”, Anya George Tharakan & Yasmeen Abutaleb, Reuters, July 16, 2015.
3 “Peace, The Top Selling Ad Blocker From Instapaper Founder, Removed From App Store”, Sarah Perez, Techcrunch, September 18, 2015.
4 “Three criticised over plans for network-wide ad-blockers”, Zoe Kleinman, BBC News, February 19, 2016.