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Adblocking on the rise again according to new research

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

September 28, 2022 | 6 min read

New research shows that adblocking is on the rise as consumers react negatively to increased pageloads. What can advertisers can do about it?

A white hand signifying stop over a digital stream of information

As more users choose to block ads again, what is driving this uptick?

While it has fallen off the agenda for many as the depreciation of third-party cookies has come to the fore, the use of adblocking tools is on the rise once again.

Estimations around how much the practice of adblocking costs advertisers and publishers run to the billions – so as the digital marketing industry gears up for a potential cost of living adspend freeze, that rise in adblocking behavior is a sore point. To what is that rise attributed, and what upcoming developments might affect it?

Research from tech company Blockthrough shows that desktop adblocking increased 5% over the course of 2021, with 290 million users across the globe using some sort of adblock tool. Desktop adblocking growth had slowed and then decreased between 2016 and 2020.

In the US, desktop adblock rates came across internet users at 19% in 2021 – slightly lower than the global average of 21%. In the UK the rate stood at 18%.

Blockthrough chief executive Marty Krátký-Katz explains that with the steady rise in adblock use against a tough economic backdrop, advertisers are now going back to the same bad practices they had tried to stop. This has in turn prompted an uptick in adblocking behavior.

“After a few years of trying to make ads on the ‘non-adblock web’ better in response to the original rise in adblocking, much of the online advertising ecosystem has gone back to trying to stuff more ads on to every page and more ‘engaging’ ads on to every page (‘engaging’ ads are also more disruptive). Case in point, most people I know agree that YouTube’s ad experience has gotten out of control,” he says.

“Two consecutive economic downturns in 2020 and 2022 probably haven’t helped. When times are tough, publishers have a heavier incentive to squeeze more impressions into every page view to hit their numbers.”

In order to minimize the impact of adblocking, some 62% of the top 100 Comscore publishers are using some type of adblock countermeasure, with the majority adhering to Acceptable Ads standards. Despite that, a 2022 Pagefair report demonstrates that 96% of publishers can’t say with any certainty how much revenue they lose to adblocking behaviors.

Eyeo is the company behind one of the most popular adblocking tools, Adblock Plus. Its chief revenue officer Jan Witte believes that, since adblocking has become an integral part of the internet ecosystem and the daily internet experience of many users, it is beholden on Eyeo and platforms such as Google to inform the public about the “benefits of ad filtering and adblocking.”

“250 million of the users mentioned are ad-filtering users, meaning they consent to seeing light, nonintrusive advertising formats that respect the user experience and create a fair value exchange by enabling publishers to generate revenue from online content,” says Witte.

Tech solutions

But while much of the push and pull of adblocking take-up is driven by publishers and users, it is the adtech providers such as Google that are changing the landscape. Google has been making significant changes to how third-party extensions and apps work on its browsers and devices. In July, for example, it made amendments to its rules for developers to reduce the efficacy of VPN-based adblockers.

That is effectively forcing many adblocking tools to adhere by Google’s rules – or discouraging third-party adblockers entirely. That makes a lot of sense from Google’s point of view, but given that adblocking was originally created to provide internet users with more choice, it does suggest there is still work to be done to provide that choice to users.

Witte explains: “Privacy is a growing concern for users, and a top reason why they block and filter ads. Increasingly people are aware their data is at risk, and they are being tracked online. This growing trend of a privacy-oriented mindset will see online users continue to take measures, such as downloading ad blockers, to ensure their data remains secure.”

While desktop adblocking has rebounded to pre-2018 levels, mobile adblocking is likely to be a greater concern for many platforms. With 530 million people blocking ads on mobile devices, this hits some of the fastest-growing advertising sectors such as mobile video. It suggests that while consumers are habituated to ads on desktop (at least those that aren’t intrusive), the nature of mobile devices means that ads are inherently more intrusive.

If, as Krátký-Katz suggests, publishers attempt to push more ad units in the face of potential economic downturn, they risk inciting more adblocking behaviors among their audiences.

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