How ad blocking could be the saviour of the advertising industry
(as appeared on The Wallblog, BrandRepublic)
Apple’s introduction of ad blocking software into its latest iOS update last month has pushed the industry into overdrive as commentators from across the web share their opinion on why the public is becoming a community of digital thieves.
Suddenly, a morally righteous advertising industry is on the defensive — empowered ad blocking consumers are being branded as the reason why publishers are losing revenue and why adverts have had to become more aggressive.
But solving this ethical dilemma isn’t quite so simple. Just days after the launch of bestselling iOS ad blocker Peace, creator Marco Arment — who also founded blogging platform Tumblr — withdrew it, claiming its exponential success ‘just doesn’t feel good’.
Consumers don’t like it when advertising comes at a cost to them. With the average site loading 30 to 40 scripts, there’s a very real impact in terms of battery usage, loading time and data allowance — all three of particular concern to mobile users.
Crystal, one of the first ad blocker extensions to be developed for iOS and to lead Apple’s App Store charts, directly taps into these primary concerns, claiming to load pages four times faster and free up half of users’ mobile data allowances.
From ‘blockers’, the obtrusive banners that cover content and force you to interact, to ‘stalkers’, which appear over and over as you move through the internet, it’s these adverts’ impact on usability that’s forced millions to turn to ad blocking.
It started with pop-ups. From the flashy and distracting to the downright annoying, they were a constant blight to the desktop browsing experience, but far more so for those surfing the internet on a mobile device.
Very quickly, in-browser desktop extensions to block them became a thing, and then that functionality naturally just got brought into software and mobile as standard. It killed pop-up adverts. What we’re seeing now is a similar journey. Consumers aren’t naïve — they know that advertising is necessary to keep websites ticking. And they aren’t powerless. So we, as an industry, need to take this chance to re-engage with all the internet users we’ve disillusioned.
One insight from within the ad blocking community perfectly sums up the situation. Topping the list of most requested features for one leading open source ad blocker is the ability to not hide an advert until the user is fed up with it.
What we’ll undoubtedly continue to see is advertising becoming inextricably linked with content. High-quality, relevant and consistent advertorial content not only makes ad blockers redundant but also reduces dependency on traditional digital advertising.
Agile social marketing will continue to develop as a more powerful alternative, as we see the strength of brands responding in real-time to news events or interacting with other companies on an open social forum like Twitter or Facebook.
But not all advertisers are embracing the trend, and retaliatory actions from companies like Google, who have removed the ability to shorten adverts for YouTube users with ad blocking tools, aren’t the way forwards.
With just one popular ad blocker boasting 400 million installs on browsers across the globe and an active user base of 50–60 million people, it’s unrealistic to think that this huge, technologically empowered group can be beaten.
We need to stop thinking of the rise of ad blockers as another stumbling block for the industry, and instead start approaching it as an opportunity to make advertising more relevant to our switched-on digital generation.
Matt Meckes, technical director at Cohaesus