Why Dennis Publishing is optimistic that it can persuade ad blocker users to view ads

Dennis Publishing will extend the ad blocking test to other other titles such as The Week (above) this year.

For all the existential posturing from publishers amid the rise of ad blockers, Dennis Publishing has reason to cheer. The publisher might have found a way to convince ad block users to watch ads after seeing more than five in 10 (57%) do so when it tailored different messages to different readers.

While it’s still early days, the publisher says it’s in it for the “long haul” and plans to expand the test, which used Sourcepoint’s Dialogue technology, to the rest of its portfolio using the insights gleaned from the first six months. In that time, a mix of messages were tested across the Week, Cabuyer.co.uk, IT Pro and Alphr.com, with the key learning being that what worked well for one brand didn’t necessarily perform well for another.

The more nuanced approached managed to convince nearly 60% of users to opt in to see ads, while the technology’s ability to adjust the messaging to their preferences and the brand persuaded as many as 38% of readers to actually whitelist the site. Given that 13% of Dennis’ readers are using ad blockers across its sites, it’s clear why the business is excited by the potential to recoup lost revenue.

As obvious a conclusion as it sounds, it flies in the face of the carpet-bomb approach currently peddled by other publishers, many of whom are yet to come forth with any statistics. “We’re at the start of the journey but it will take many years to stabilise that acceptance among users that editorial does cost to produce,” says Nick Flood, Dennis’ director of product and commercial operations, as to why he is optimistic that readers will eventually understand the value exchange behind free content – “the main highlight for us was that the test worked for such a large number opted in to the scheme”.

Part of the success seemed to come down to the plethora of options available, with those messages that featured two options instead seeing engagement rise 61%. Another discovery was that readers don’t like the understated approach, as just 3% of those tested clicked on a small caption at the bottom of the screen urging them to disable their ad blockers. However, when content was blocked, eight in 10 users responded, while the remaining 20% opted to leave rather than view the publisher’s content with ads.

“The CTRs have been decent and the consumer engagement with those ads was great,” explains Flood of how well advertisers have fared during the trial. “It goes to show that if premium publishers have great content then users are willing to accept the value exchange if the value exchange is properly articulated.”

Branded video also fared well: when users to chose to view video content in exchange for ad-free browsing, Dennis tracked a 75% view-through rate. Consequently, it will extend the choice to view video ads in exchange for ad-free content to more of its titles as part of a full roll out of the test to the likes of the Week and PC Pro that could include new ad experiences or newsletter sign-ups.

“We’re going to get faster,” says Flood, and it will “take a bit of time to fully understand what’s best at influencing and how it gets the message right to resonate with the user”, particularly when it comes to how people are accessing articles. Whether its referral, social, search or paid, Dennis has already been looking at what type of messages chime best with users coming from those sources.

During the initial test, the publisher saw engagement rates differ between the traffic sources, “because social from Twitter or Facebook might lead to a typical bounce rate off our page but if they have an ad blocker installed then we need to get across the message faster compared to someone who comes from search and therefore might be more loyal,” says Flood. “We rested and varied the messaging accordingly.”

Dennis could be poised to profit from what appears to be a shift in how people understand the value exchange that governs the internet, whereby ads fund free content. A YouGov report, commissioned by the IAB, found that the proportion of British adults online currently using ad blocking software has remained at around 22% for the last year.

Ben Barokas, co-founder and chief executive at Sourcepoint, urges publishers to take the opportunity to improve the online experience for all users rather than get sidetracked by trying to ward of add blockers.

“The results from Dennis’ test campaign are impressive and demonstrate the impact of clear and balanced communications,” he continues.

“Rather than the assumption that digital advertising is received negatively by audiences, it highlights the fact that many accept advertising as a means of paying for content once a user is educated on the principles of a value exchange. Publishers must also take the opportunity to see beyond solely ad block users and focus on improving the user experience while educating the entire audience at scale.”

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