Technology has always played an interesting and crucial role in the world of marketing and advertising. On one hand, it has created volumes of new opportunities for brands to connect with the market in both mass reach and highly personalized formats. On the other hand, it has played a role in the creating disruption and fragmentation which creates a whole set of challenges for marketers. Either way, good marketers adapt.
Enter the most blatant form of anti-advertising technology – Ad Blocking. The technology behind ad blocking is a user-managed function that allows people to disable online display ads on their desktop or mobile devices. eMarketer defines an ad blocker as “an internet user that accesses the internet at least once a month via any device that has a blocker enabled.” This year in the US, that estimate includes 26.3% of internet users. The adoption of ad blocking in other regions of the world such as Europe and Asia is considerably higher than the United States.
Ad blocking software is not a 2016 thing. It has been around for the last few years. In the past you needed to have some knowledge of enabling this functionality on your device which took a small research project via Google to learn the steps. However, now companies like Apple have made it a simple click away as it has become a standard, upfront “feature” on iOS devices.
A recent study by MyersBizNet reports that ad blocking is a “high concern” for 60% of surveyed brand marketers. Although the study did not include publishers, one could assume that ad blocking is high concern of nearly 100% of them. Obviously, publishers can range from large global media entities down to small one-person blog sites. The common thread is that publishers often rely on advertising revenue to support their business. Without advertising revenue there is no way to pay journalists, editors, writers or other content creators. Without advertising the only way for publishers to sustain will be via subscription business models. I don’t know about you but I like being able to go to USATODAY.com and read the news for free. I don’t want to pay $9.99 per month to read the news on CNN.com. Or better yet let’s look at Facebook’s numbers. Facebook had an estimated 1.23 billion users in 2015 with ad revenues of $17.08 billion. If ad blocking takes over and Facebook no longer sells ads are you willing to pay a $13.89 annual fee for Facebook? That’s how the numbers shake out. If ad blocking continues those scenarios will become reality.
So what are publishers doing to combat ad blocking? They are experimenting and testing various ways to fight ad blocking by considering anti-ad-blocking technologies on their own websites. The Wall Street Journal recently listed several software companies such as PageFair, Sourcepoint, Secret Media and Admiral that are at various stages of rolling out products to help publishers combat ad blocking and maintain their ad revenues. There are many experts who truly believe free internet is at risk because of the impact ad blocking could have on publishers.
There is also concern that the quality of content, news and entertainment could reach a new low because there won’t be sufficient funding to maintain the talent and standards we have come to expect.
The war over ad blocking is far from over. There are many chapters still to be written. One could assume the Interactive Advertising Bureau is working hard to garner support from the Federal Communications Commission to establish some standards that help control the online advertising environment and the business model that drives the free internet. From an agency perspective we need to keep on top of changing media environment and lead our clients accordingly. As things evolve we need to focus on continuing to develop top notch, relevant creative that appeals to our audience. There is no need to panic regardless of who wins the ad blocking war. Because either way, good marketers adapt.