Ad blocking: You don't need to be afraid of the big bad wolf

There is a fear gripping the publishing and advertising industries over ad blocking, and it is the result of misguided perceptions of the harm ad-blocking could do, rather than the very real opportunities the technology presents us with.

By now we're all familiar with the rising howls of those bemoaning the demise of online and mobile ads.

But when you step back from the fearful narrative, it becomes apparent that the big bad wolf we call ad blocking is, in fact, creating some good little changes in advertising.

Stop and think for a moment about where ad blocking comes from.

Users are huffing and puffing

Ad blocking is not new. It’s a technology created as a reaction to the nuisance of online ads, too many of which are unwelcome, irrelevant and a distraction from the user’s experience.

So start there: ad blocking is not a phantom menace. It’s a problem created by not being creative enough. We didn’t push ourselves hard enough to find better ways to engage so the user got ticked-off and found a way to block us.

But for advertisers and publishers being in a position where the user has told us what they do and don’t like shouldn’t be scary – it’s liberating and the ad industry is evolving as a result.

Creative is getting better, our ability to deliver unique messages in the moment is getting better, real-time bidding, or RTB, helps monetize ad content in more ways. The point is: we shouldn’t be wary of ad-blocking, we should be celebrating it.

But that doesn’t mean the road ahead will be easy.

Early missteps

Crafting tailored messages takes effort – you have to know your inventory and audience and the timing must be right. Early missteps are understandable. Many traditional agencies dove-in headfirst without guidance, buying traffic and display ads that don’t match their audience – a recipe for failure.

The initial need for publishers to monetise their properties led to ill-conceived and ubiquitous advertising. The result was fatigue, a decline in user attention, and loss of goodwill, leaving users with less tolerance and trust.

And along came ad-blocking.

Successful campaigns communicate the benefits of a product without pushing incentivizing right off the bat. Rather than a spray-and-pray approach, precision is key. Offer fewer, more refined messages: ads that enhance the user experience rather than intrude and distract from engagement with the content.

This is not the 'Adblockalypse' as some have worried, but rather a chance for marketers to refine their strategy. Now there is an opportunity to craft a specific approach instead of sticking to a one-size-fits-all ad buy that comes across as an afterthought.

The reality is ad blocking is simply a technical tool – one that early adopters are more likely to feel comfortable using. To date, only a comparatively small number of users have the wherewithal and inclination to seek out and install ad blockers. Rather than banning those who do, perhaps we should ask why they’re choosing to block.

Just like spam email blocking before it, consider the motivation behind the behaviour. People didn't want their inboxes cluttered with messages irrelevant to them, but they also didn’t want the useful ones to be filtered out.

It’s the same with ads. If the audience is bombarded with irrelevant ads the more likely they will look for ways to cut out the noise. Give them something they can use and the less likely they will be to opt out.

Ad blockers are actually a marketing opportunity

Henry Ford once said that, before making automobiles mainstream, if he’d asked people what they wanted they’d have said faster horses – in other words, consumer sentiments aren’t always aligned to true objectives.

In a similar vein, advertisers and publishers need to set aside the noise around ad blocking and instead pay attention to the opportunity signalled in the behaviour.

The International News Media Association has been around since the 1930s and represents the industry threatened by the potential of ad blocking. Its research found that ad block users are disproportionately male millennials motivated by a desire to reduce ad volume and page clutter causing an interruption of their user experience.

Surprisingly, the report points out that ad blockers could represent a "premium audience segment for marketing communications if publishers simplify their ad offerings".

The report goes on to suggest these users are a tech savvy and desirable demographic for many advertisers and publishers. It also suggests a more measured approach with "respectful ads" could be well-received and, going forward, ad blocking will be good for the industry by forcing a move to more creative, contextual ads that consumers won’t rebel against.

In summary, ad blocking technologies are misperceived.

Rather than something to be feared like the big bad wolf, ad blockers are a clear indication that there are hungry users out there just waiting to be fed something they like.

Cristina Constandache is VP of business partnerships, EMEA and Americas at Cheetah Ad Platform