Ad blocking is on the rise and it comes as no surprise that this increasing trend is worrying more than one in the industry. But how did we get there? Wasn’t the internet supposed to be the mother of all channels for ads? Early 2000’s, advertisers saw the internet as the new advertising Nirvana. Advertising skyrocketed and users were bombarded with low-quality and badly targeted ads – we all remember visiting websites back then, loaded with ads on all sides of the screen, click-baits promising you to lose 20 pounds in 3 days, and that one annoying audio ad which we did not know how to turn off (or even where it came from for that matter). So, what happened?
Well, Internet users quickly became alienated and started to react negatively to online advertising. Plus, with the debate around privacy and security on the rise, the market created a perfect context for a new technology: ad blocking. So how did that turn out? In 2016, approximately 200 million internet users around the world were using an ad blocking software; During the previous year, ad blocking had resulted in a 22 billion dollars’ loss in advertising revenue and is now expected to reach 35 billion in 2020 if publishers don’t counter it. Solutions have also emerged in response to that threat and while some of them can only be seen as short term solutions, most require the whole industry to come together and rethink how advertising is done.
It’s a fact: for every 15-feet wall, there is a 16-feet ladder and digital walls are no different. With ad blocking growing in popularity, many companies reacted quickly in developing technologies to counter the trend, called ad recovery software. Those tools are designed to help publishers recover their lost revenue to ad block by finding a way to serve ads anyway, but not all of them use the same methods.
Some like PageFair focus on serving ads through the publisher’s server, making the ad look like content and therefore bypassing ad blockers. Others, like Secret Media, use coding so that no pattern or keywords can be found in the code, URL or tag, and therefore cannot be detected by an ad blocker. For their part, SourcePoint became widely popular when it was created in January 2015, and uses a different approach to ad blocking, specializing in engaging a dialogue with users to create awareness around the impact of ad blocking and giving the users options to choose the type of ads they are willing to see. This is call an opt-in method and is gaining in popularity, as users are demanding more control over their advertising experience.
Another solution also lies in listening to the users and creating a better advertising environment. All right, so 44% of users find digital ads intrusive, irritating and downright annoying. Then, how can advertisers and publishers both improve that experience? A study has found that 61% of users find interactive ads more appealing than interstitial ads, which are generally perceived as practical and boring. That’s where the issue lies. The industry cannot expect users to be excited about ads if the ads aren’t exciting. As Paul Verna, analyst at eMarketer, said:“The best way for the industry to tackle this problem is to deliver compelling ad experiences that consumers won’t want to block.” This needs to come from both fronts: Advertisers finding new ways to build compelling and interactive ads, and publishers by creating an integrated environment for ads that will better the user’s overall experience. That’s where Native advertising came into play – by creating more integrated ads, the users are not irritated by invasive ads and more likely to be more receptive to the advertiser’s message. That’s one step the industry has taken and that is bound to be developed over the next years.
This is similar to what SourcePoint is trying to do in the first place. While the solution might sound simplistic, many publishers, news sites in particular, display a pop-up message asking ad blockers to whitelist their website to access the content, explaining how the site is being damaged as result. For instance, the Financial Times recently toughened its sentence on ad blockers by blocking the content to the website until it is whitelisted. The result was impressive with 69% of users whitelisting FT.com to access content.
Many in the advertising and news industry have expressed their concern over the rise of ad blocking and how it may lead to the downfall of the free internet. As a majority of publishers are ad-driven, the cut in their revenues due to ad blocking threatens their ability to give good, diverse and, of course, free content.
The rise of ad blocking is no coincidence: it appeared for a good reason and unfortunately, we have to realize that it was self-inflicted by the advertising industry. However, as much as the industry has created the problem, it has in its hands all the tools to be part of the solution. That starts by building a more integrated experience for users and educating them. Users need to understand how the survival of many businesses they love, the news industry being the most obvious one, rely on it. Because let’s face it: ad blockers are not the real issue – it’s how many people use them. That’s why change needs to start by educating and focusing on user-experience.
An initiative by IAB has already been started with the LEAN Initiative, which aims at making ads Lighweight, Encrypted, Ad Choice Supported and Non-invasive, thus addressing most ad blockers’ concerns. While this is a good first step, advertisers and publishers need to work together to create an experience that users won’t want to block if they want to avoid ad blocking becoming a more destructive problem over the next couple years.