We've been writing a series of emails around the office lately called Intel:Idea:Impact in which we look at some interesting insights or data (the Intel), share an example or two of this in real life (the Idea) and then tie it to a broader trend or business results (the Impact). The following is one that I wrote the other day on the topic of Ad Blocking.
Ad Blocking is not specifically a social media topic, but as it has the potential to affect almost everything we do, we thought it worth talking about in this week’s edition of INTEL:IDEA:IMPACT.
In the last few years, the advertising industry has championed personalised ads, better targeting, and retargeting but Internet users aren’t impressed: the 2015 Ad Blocking report estimates that 16% of the US population blocked ads in Q2 2015 and that the number of people using ad blocking software grew 41% year over year globally. The same report finds that as of June 2015, there were 198 million monthly active users of browser extensions that block ads. On the day it launched, an ad blocker app for iOS 9 became the top paid app.
That same report found that in 2015, ad blocking software has so far resulted in a loss of $21.8 billion for internet publishers, but it’s not a one-sided argument: research by the New York times found that ad-heavy websites are costing users in the form of slower load times, and that they can eat into a mobile phone user’s data plan.
Online publishers are meeting the challenge of ad blocking in a few different ways. The first ones to make a move were technology sites, whose regular readers were more likely to use ad blocking software.
The Guardian is appealing to users of ad blocking software with a message asking them to support the site by donating. Similarly, TechDirt allows users to turn off ads if they don’t like them, but also appeals to visitors to support the site by becoming a member.
Ars Technica, a technology news website, famously stopped showing any content to users with ad blocking technology five years ago in a failed experiment. More recently, they’ve integrated advertising more directly with the site so that while they still have ads, they’re not able to be blocked. The Washington Post, failing to learn from Ars Technica’s approach, has also recently blocked all of its content to anyone with ad blocking software.
While it’s a few years old, we really like Bud Light’s approach: They gave users an ad blocker that replaced banner ads with live-scores from the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament (suitably branded to become ads themselves).
Getting users to pay for content that they’re used to getting for free is a lofty goal, and it probably won’t be a long-term solution to ad blocking software. Already, anti-ad-blocking companies like Secret Media are cropping up with purported solutions, and even Ad Block (the most popular ad blocking extension for the Chrome browser) has sold to an anonymous buyer and will start letting “acceptable” ads through.
The greater business impact beyond unseen ads and revenue loss for publishers has yet to be fully realised, but what’s obvious is that internet users are voting with their browser plugins.
The advertising industry has two choices: We can either continue to ignore this shift, or we can embrace change, and use this an opportunity to work more closely with internet users, content creators and publishers to create something that truly benefits everyone. As The Guardian reminds us in their take on the subject, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”