According to ClarityRay (whose technology provides "ad-blocking protection"), ad blockers are already the most popular browser extensions in the world. They’re used by 80 million people, a number that’s apparently growing by a million people a week -- especially in Chrome, where ad blocker usage more than doubled in 2012, and is now up to 20% of people who use the browser. Ad blocking is less prevalent in Safari and Internet Explorer, but keep in mind that ad blocking extensions for both of those browsers have been around for less than a year.
Worse, the demographic that’s the most appealing to many advertisers -- people who are young, well-educated, and tech-savvy -- is also the demographic most likely to be installing ad blockers in droves. Gaming site Destructoid, for example, estimates ad blocker usage to be as much as half its readership.
When an ad gets blocked, you don’t pay for it. But imagine you have a pool of viable consumers, and every time someone installs an ad blocker, that person is contributing to the shrinkage of that pool. Which begs the question: Who is actually seeing your ads?
Those of us in digital advertising complain a fair amount about ad blockers, but for the most part, the industry hasn’t figured out how to do anything about them, and they remain a challenge to stop. Let’s revisit the comparison to DVRs here. DVR technology will, by all accounts, be manufactured by a large corporation, which at least provides a concrete organization with whom advertisers and networks can negotiate. (Or, in more unfortunate circumstances, litigate.) But ad-blocking software can practically be built by a kid in his or her mom’s basement. If publishers find a way to circumvent it, you bet another ad blocker will pop up that goes two or three steps further. Then, In order to make ends meet, publishers will have to serve more ads to users who aren’t using ad blockers, further incentivizing them to install ad blockers of their own because the user experience is so degraded. It’s a vicious cycle.
The manufacturers of AdBlock Plus, a company named Eyeo, say it’s not out to bankrupt publishers, but to teach them a lesson. In the “Acceptable Ads Manifesto” released by Eyeo last month, the company details its criteria for ads it doesn’t want to block. Namely, it wants to support ads that are good. The manifesto calls out ads that are annoying or irrelevant, ads that are noisy but ineffective, and ads that don’t make it adequately clear that they’re paid media: all very real problems indicative of the low quality of ads on the Web.
Some people in the advertising and publishing world see the Acceptable Ads Manifesto as a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing sort of thing, an attempt to make ad blockers look more benign than they actually are. But whatever the motivation for the manifesto, Eyeo has a point.
Maybe, instead of publishers trying over and over to circumvent ad blockers -- and believe me, browser extensions will keep getting more sophisticated if they do so -- publishers could start to demand better, more relevant, and more effective ads.
I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’d do.