It’s time to stop fighting against ad blockers

By Nick Timon | chief innovation officer

July 8, 2015 | 5 min read

News that Apple is soon to launch a mobile version of Safari that supports third-party ad blocking extensions is creating ripples of panic throughout the industry. And it’s no wonder when you consider that ad blockers are destroying traditional revenue models for publishers and brands.

But ad blockers are here stay. Although there’s a certain amount of consumer apathy around installing ad blockers, 2014 saw a rampant 70 per cent year-on-year increase in the use of ad blocking software in the US. And we’ve just heard from the IAB and YouGov that ad blocking software is now being used by 15 per cent of Brits. Once the preserve of the technorati, adblockers are going mainstream. So it’s about time we stopped trying to fight against them.

In fact, it’s time we looked at ad blockers in a positive light. Display advertising’s interruptive nature creates jaded consumers so anything that can restore their faith has got to be a good thing. We have become so immune to the display ad in recent years that we automatically filter out the ads on a page.

We are all highly familiar with the eye tracking report from Nielsen a few years ago that shows how consumers have already developed a very good ad blocking sense of their own. Ad blockers are merely automating the process.

Note: red areas indicate where users looked the most; yellow areas indicate fewer views; areas coloured blue depict the least-viewed portions of the page; grey areas didn't attract any views/actions; and the green boxes are used to highlight advertisements. Source: Nielsen Norman Groups.

So what has the display industry done to remedy this? Two things, first of all it has become ever more aggressive with pop ups and other intrusive advertising techniques to make the advertising so interruptive that it’s impossible to miss. The side effect is that it cheapens online publications and makes consumers turn away in droves. Or, in the case today, out of sheer frustration, install ad blockers.

The other thing the industry has turned to is hiring bots to click on the ads. A survey by comScore between May 2012 and February 2013, reported in the Wall Street Journal, found that 54 per cent of display ads paid for by advertisers between May 2012 and February 2013 never appeared in front of a live human being. The value of that fraud? About $7.5 billion annually. This is without doubt the advertising industry’s very own PPI scandal – and yet vey little has been done about it.

So who suffers from all this damage that display has wrought? The publishers, the consumers and brands. Now with ad blockers coming into play, the consumer is fighting back and the industry is finally taking note.

So does the death of display spell doom for brands and publishers? Not at all. It’s a new beginning, because ad blockers are the tipping point forcing brands and publishers to collaborate in fresher and more native ways, delivering more relevant content to the right people, rather than ‘spamming’ the world with irrelevant and unwanted messaging. And at the same time arguably preventing outright fraud.

However, native alone isn’t the answer – there also has to be a parallel revolution in creative. At the end of the day, people filter out ads because they are usually creatively very poor. Being native to a publisher and therefore (at least in theory) less interruptive and easier to measure means very little. If the creative is still rubbish then they are still unwanted and consumers will become equally adept at filtering these out too.

There was a brief sliver of time when the best thing on TV was often the ads – the same goes for print. Ad blockers are simply a new form of digital Darwinism – adapt or die. Let’s hope that ad blockers don’t just become the catalyst for an overhaul of the industry but also herald a new dawn for creativity.

Nick Timon is chief innovation officer at Adjust Your Set and Pollonize


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