Charlotte Summers, media planning group head at equimedia, examines if ad blocking is really the greatest threat to digital advertising.
Recent research from YouGov has suggested that there has been no increase in the overall numbers of UK adults using ad blockers. The news was welcomed by the IAB, which commissioned the research. But hold on a minute. We regularly hear about adblocking as the scourge of media owners and barrier to advertising revenue. Is adblocking really as endemic as we think, or are consumers becoming more accepting of the advertisements they are served online?
Perhaps most telling in the IAB research is the revelation that a portion of people don’t actually understand ad blockers at all. Over 20% of people claiming to use an ad blocker were in fact using completely unrelated software. Marketers might fear the mass use of ad blockers, when the reality is that some people aren’t as technologically savvy as they might think.
Some publishers are taking steps to educate their users of the merits of advertising for their business. Visit some sites, such as Wired, with an adblocker enabled and you’ll receive a simple request to whitelist the site, with an explanation on why advertising revenue is so important to the business. The Financial Times has taken this even further by drawing up an Advertising Charter for its readers. Instead of going to war with the adblocking technology or punishing users, this educational approach addresses the concerns of users and engages with them directly.
Other online content publishers and digital platforms are taking an entirely different route. Facebook has recently gone to battle with ad blockers, adopting a technical approach that forces people to see ads on its desktop site. What’s followed has been a cat and mouse exchange, with the ad blockers rushing to counteract Facebook’s efforts. Nevertheless, Facebook is still taking steps to address the concerns of its users. It has given more control over the types of advertisements that users see in their timelines and is developing new ad formats that are designed to complement the user experience.
What’s clear to see is that there are efforts underway across the online space to serve advertising that is relevant to users and doesn’t interrupt their experience. The IAB research suggests that this is working, with less people using ad blockers. What remains to be seen is whether the mindset of consumers will shift, so that they are happy to choose the ads they see, as opposed to bearing with all the ads they are served – relevant or not. We as digital marketers can aid the process by ensuring audiences are profiled to receive appropriate advertising. Maybe then, the likes of Facebook can lay down its digital advertising arms.