Adpocalypse now, or can we give peace a chance?

I’ve been writing about the growing use of ad-blockers for some time now: people are becoming increasingly tired of having to accept megabytes of advertising and tracking aimed at finding out what sites you visit as the quid pro quo of being able to read a couple of kilobytes of content, and so are installing software that removes advertising from what they are looking at.

Now, largely as a result of Apple’s decision to accept extensions that block content on its iOS9 and OSX, the adpocalypse is on its way: apps such as Crystal, Peace, Freedom, Blockr, Purify, along with navigators such as Adblock Browser are now the top sellers in the App Store. In response, some publications are starting to refuse to allow users to access content if they have an ad blocker installed on their device. Marco Arment, the creator of Peace, one of the most popular apps of this kind, has removed it from the App Store shortly after it became the best-selling pay app, only a few days after it was launched. The number of people using blockers is now around two hundred million, which means losses of some $22 million to the ad industry. We have reached the tipping point.

The question now is how to design valid income strategies in the midst of a war that the adblockers have barely started? Below, a few suggestions for advertisers and site managers:

  • More and more people will begin to use ad blockers. If your publication hasn’t started looking in detail at this problem, you need to do so, now.
  • Don’t blame users. The fault for all this lies with advertisers and publications for trying to apply a print model to the internet. One thing is building your business model on advertising, but it is quite another to hassle people with intrusive advertising formats that get in the way of what people want to see. The advertisers have killed the goose that lays the golden egg. Deal with it.
  • Right now, the situation can only be described as “competitive chaos”. Apple’s decision means that more and more companies will come forward to offer ad-blocking. At the same time, using an adblocker is still not that straightforward: maintaining the filters, combating new strategies, deviousness, and strategies takes time and energy. Furthermore, more and more advertisers are cutting deals with ad blockers, meaning their content gets through. In the meantime, other ad blockers will still block all publicity.
  • Intrusive advertising is the root of the problem. But even if your publication doesn’t accept this kind of publicity and you look out for your users’ interests, you’re still going to be sucked into this war, because the default setting on blockers is “everything”. So the solution isn’t quite as simple as just dropping intrusive advertising formats.
  • The starting point here is clear enough: any publication that accepts advertising it considers intrusive (such as pop –ups or pop-unders, interstitials, extensibles, along with pre-activated sound and video) will see how the number of people visiting the site installing ad blockers will grow rapidly.
  • And it will do no good to point the finger elsewhere. You can say that you don’t want advertising in these intrusive formats, but if the advertisers themselves, along with the agencies who dream up their ads, refuse to play ball, you’re going to tarred with the same brush. You have to get rid of all intrusive advertising on your site.
  • If you are an advertiser and still believe that your product deserves to be seen at all costs, then you’re soon going to find that it is more difficult and more costly to place those kind of advertisements, and perhaps more importantly, the very people you’re trying to reach will end up hating you.
  • Nobody is denying that telling an advertiser or an agency that you’re not going to take their advertisement because it is intrusive, but we have now reached the point where you have to ask yourself if you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution.
  • Sure, these blocking methods are aggressive and will only intensify the war. But people feel that they are under attack from advertising, and are prepared to ratchet up the conflict, or simply stop visiting sites that insist on publishing intrusive advertisements.
  • Similarly, if sites decide to invest in software that can detect when users’ devices have ad blocker software installed and then deny them access to content, all they are doing is taking the conflict to another level in which only the software manufacturers win.
  • At the same time, it is essential to keep count of the number of people using ad blockers. Until now, these were mostly tech savvy types, but this is no longer the case. When all is required is to download an app somebody has told you about, then ad blocking has gone mainstream.
  • Therefore, the first step is to get rid of all advertising you think is intrusive from your site, at the same time as making a clear commitment to your readers that you won’t allow it any more. Step two is to renegotiate the psychological contract with your readers, asking them politely to disconnect their adblockers for your site, reiterating that you won’t allow intrusive ads. This is pretty much your only option as a site manager, otherwise you’re just going to help prolong the situation.

Are we ready to make this commitment? If you’re not, then get ready for the adpocalypse, which will sweep all before it. Some publications have already joined the program: “this is how blocking works, but please don’t block us”. That’s the only way: politely telling readers that they are free to install adblockers, and we’re not going to respond tit for tat, but please don’t, otherwise we’ll find ourselves unable to run this operation. As the man said: give peace a chance.


(En español, aquí)

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