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The State of Digital Ad Blocking

While the future of ad blocking made 2016 and 2017 agency predictions lists worldwide, its evolution or devolution is still unfolding and likely will be for years.

Here’s where we stand today

According to eMarketer, an estimated 69.8 million U.S. internet users will employ ad blockers this year. Why? Because despite the smart people working in UX and marketing, too many publishers have made online ads annoying.

We’re not just talking about the occasional targeting error. At its worst, this is an in-your-face, page consuming, whack-a-mole invasion. Respondents to a recent MarketingSherpa survey cited large pop-ups as the primary reason they blocked ads.

*Source: MarketingSherpa

The same survey reported that only 10 percent of respondents said they don’t see the value in advertising as a reason for using ad blockers. There’s good news to be had in that low percentage. Consumers get it; ads make content possible, just like in other media. That’s partly why some are actually blocking the blockers. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) 2016 research report, 20 percent of consumers stopped using blockers when prompted or because a blocker removed content.

Interestingly, according to the IAB, the guys — men between 18 and 34 — most likely to use ad blockers are the same ones most likely to be convinced to turn them off. The fact that ads no longer bother them or that the blockers themselves slow down browsing ranked slightly above the other reasons for turning them off.

*Source: IAB

Advertisers and publishers play a critical role in shaping their own destiny. They know it, and they’re working on it. But anti-ad blockers and messages begging exchanges of ad views for content, or cash for content, aren’t winning the day.

Where we’re headed

Content – when it’s well written, aesthetically designed and properly targeted – is digestible. It’s livable. It can be either entertaining or economically valuable to the consumer. But, like television isn’t funded by year-round Super Bowl commercials drawing viewers to the screen, digital ads aren’t a sought-after means of financing the medium on a daily basis either.

So, there continues to be an awkward dance between ad blocking developers, publishers, advertisers and consumers where everyone wants to lead. Which brings us to this — everything is about to go up:

  1. Ad investment continues to increase. Advertisers are learning that digital brings in business. In fact, Edelman Digital predicts 2017 to be the first year digital spend will be greater than television.
  2. The risk to publishers goes up with it. Within three years, ad blocking will cost about $35 billion in ad revenue, according to Digiday.
  3. SEO and local search matter more. Optimizing the local search ranking system by ensuring location information is pristine to take advantage of Google’s local packs is crucial. Since these are organic results, business information will still appear seen even when blockers are activated.
  4. Increased consumer choice in ad preferences. Facebook and Twitter are among those making it easier for consumers to wave off ads they don’t value, opening up room for more relevant ads. Others are following.
  5. Greater return for advertisers. See above. Greater relevancy means greater engagement and a more direct purchase path for consumers.
  6. Government steps up. The European Union is proposing that publishers can deny content to consumers if they detect ad blocking software. China announced regulations last summer against ad blockers. Upcoming personnel changes under the Trump administration will likely move the subject up on the list of FCC considerations, shortly behind ongoing consumer privacy issues.
For the greater good

There’s no doubt ad blockers will, and already have begun to, force an improved user experience. The IAB cites top methods for getting users to ditch blockers:

  • Hiding content with a notice that the ad blocker is the cause
  • Cutting down on ad auto-play features
  • Not covering content on the page
  • Protecting users from malware infected ads
  • Ensuring ads don’t slow down pages

While ad blocking has proved to be a thorn in the side of publishers and advertisers alike, the trend does present an interesting opportunity. The state of a free internet depends on ad dollars for fuel and most users understand that. Audiences have indicated they’d be open to dropping the ad blockers for high-quality content and less-intrusive ad experiences. Now, it’s up to those serving the ads to provide that experience.