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Goodbye selling ads, hello branded content?

The war between ad blockers and publishers has been scaling up for some time now, and if you're on the internet, then you've inherently chosen a side.

Lindsay Boyajian

Whether you have a loyal ad blocker in hopes of a better browsing experience or ignore the ads and have access to those sites that combat ad blockers, there is no doubt that ad blocking technology is on the rise. The number of people using ad blocking software globally grew by 41% from 2014 to 2015. Adblock technology removes advertisements from webpages on the internet. Most people use the browser extensions AdBlock or AdBlockPlus. AdBlockPlus (ABP) alone has over 300 million installs worldwide.

However, just recently, there has been a major plot twist in the evolving story of adblockers versus publishers. AdBlock Plus announced an Acceptable Ad (AA) Platform. Publishers battle to monetize off of their content but now it seems that ad blockers will capitalize off of the digital ad space they've just seized.

Publishers can sign up on the platform to allow “Acceptable Ads” on their sites. Acceptable ads are allowed to pass through ABP’s filters. These ads abide by certain criteria, making them, “less intrusive and disruptive”. ABP asserts that this ad marketplace will allow publishers to generate revenue from non-intrusive ads.

Yet, these ad blockers are seen as a major threat for digital publishers and advertisers. For years, publishers have relied on display ads to generate revenue. In 2015, ad blockers reportedly cost publishers $22 billion dollars. With the rise in adoption among consumers, revenue loss will only continue to grow. Where does this leave the people and the publishers?

Publishers have tried to discourage users from using ad blockers to preserve this key revenue channel ﹣sites like Forbes, GQ, and others prevent users from accessing their content if an adblocker is detected. However, you need quality content and a loyal following to create such a wall. Otherwise, there are too many outlets where users can find comparable content without the nuisance of ads.

For users who have installed ABP, the new AA program feels disingenuous. Google's senior VP for ads, Sridhar Ramaswamy, echoed these sentiments by indicating that it's "uncomfortable" watching Adblock Plus transition from purely blocking ads to pushing them. The introduction of AA program highlights the bigger problem within digital marketing today-- Publishers are focused on short-term user and revenue objectives.

The shift in advertising for publishers

There is a disconnect between the experience users are demanding and how publishers are setting out to generate revenue. The 300 million installs of ABP indicate that users are taking advantage of the luxury of the safety net provided from ad blockers. Repackaging traditional intrusive ads is not a long term sustainable solution.

Given the use of ad blockers, brands and publishers need to rethink their traditional advertising spends and look beyond display ads. Branded content (when done well) is proving to be one of the most valuable advertising channels today.

Branded content is paid content that is the most organic form of native advertising, syndicated on the publisher’s platform. Branded content is not a long winded pitch of a product or service, but rather value for your readers by educating or entertaining while driving awareness, traffic, and conversions for brands.

This form of advertising will expand into the most prominent avenue in the future but it’s already common practice for platforms and agencies today. Content campaign RFPs can reach seven figures, which is why publishers are investing in branded content teams. For instance, in 2014 The New York times launched "T Brand Studio, an in-house team that creates and distributes native advertising for brands. Similarly, for Condé Nast branded content is projected to make up 15% of its overall advertising revenue for 2016.

Branded content campaigns not only contribute bigger deals, it protects the look and feel of the publisher’s site by seamlessly integrating advertising within their editorial content. It creates the experience adblock users desire by eliminating intrusive and disruptive ads. At the same time, it introduces brands to engaging audiences usually through fun written or visual content. Ad blockers are now on the offensive as they begin to push their own content platform. With publishers and ad blockers still vying for ad revenue within a pleasant user experience, publishers may make the full transition towards branded content.

Augment's content marketing manager Dennis Williams II contributed to this piece.

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