Ad Block Is The New DVR, And You Should Be Concerned

You hear publishing execs griping sometimes about ad blockers: browser extensions that strip the Internet experience of advertising, even YouTube and Facebook ads. But that griping’s on the verge of getting a lot louder, because ad blockers like AdBlock and AdBlock Plus are hitting the mainstream. Think the introduction of ad-skipping DVRs posed an issue for TV advertisers? Wait until you see what’s happening on the Web.

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.

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10 comments about "Ad Block Is The New DVR, And You Should Be Concerned ".
  1. Sara Duane-Gladden from Smartpress.com , May 15, 2014 at 1:34 p.m.
    No one installs AdBLocker to block simple banner ads or text link ads like those on Google. If all ads were like that, I would have no need for AdBlocker. But they aren't all like that. I installed AdBlocker when I got tired of video ads that make webpages load really slow, video ads that auto play really loudly that cause everyone in the office to wonder what I'm doing, as well as ads that purposefully cover up half of your screen when your mouse just happens to scroll over it. A few bad apples have made ads the bane of an internet surfer's existence.
  2. Joe Marchese from true[X] , May 15, 2014 at 1:44 p.m.
    Sara - True. And the problem will get worse as it simply builds on itself. the less effective the advertising, the more the advertisers have to interrupt, the more the advertiser interrupts, the more consumers adblock, and so on, and so on.
  3. David Carlick from Carlick , May 15, 2014 at 1:55 p.m.
    I have long believed (Don Quixote is my middle name) that if ad blockers went a step better and let users 'tune' the ads received, we would have the Holy Grail. Whoops, mixed medieval metaphors.
  4. Ash Nashed from Adiant , May 15, 2014 at 2:43 p.m.
    The implicit agreement between websites and users is that users can view their website content in return for viewing their ads. Unfortunately, overly aggressive ad tactics by some publishers have trampled on that relationship. Publishers need to be more respectful of their users, rather than trying to squeeze every last ad dollar from each page view. The problem is that just a few high-volume, obnoxious websites can ruin the entire ecosystem for all pubs and advertisers by pushing users toward ad blockers. Advertisers can help preserve their digital opportunities by focusing media buys on those publishers that don't overdo it, particularly by using additional intelligence when setting up programmatic campaigns. If it's true that one million people per week install ad blockers, than the industry needs to take immediate action.
  5. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC , May 15, 2014 at 5:03 p.m.
    If enough users aren't willing to accept the implicit agreement Ash describes of free content in exchange for viewing advertising, the pendulum will eventually swing to the point where quality publisher respond with a pay wall that is specific to those who are blocking ads. A site could be free for those who view and accept ads, but charge a micro payment for those who are blocking them. Ash, perhaps it's time to bring back Congoo.
  6. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , May 15, 2014 at 5:51 p.m.
    I agree with the fact that Ad Block could be serious difficulty for an already quite challenged digital advertising world (why are rates so low? it doesn't return impact). That said, the DVR analogy is quite off base. Fundamentally, TV ad impact has increased since DVR's appeared. Whether they CAUSED this or not doesn't matter. Primarily the existence of the DVR hasn't hurt TV ad impact - contrary to all the ad industry hype pleading for it to hurt things (do ad people have a desire to kill their own industry?). Cheers...
  7. Augustine Fou from Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc. , May 15, 2014 at 7:15 p.m.
    Joe, here's some additional research that estimates ad blocking: PageFair - estimates 23% our survey - estimates 33% http://www.slideshare.net/augustinefou/ad-blocking-impact-on-digital-advertising-by-augustine-fou-2014
  8. Augustine Fou from Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc. , May 15, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.
    And, as a result of the ad blocking, the % of "productive" ads (display or video) is far smaller than the total that is shown. Sometimes advertisers have to rely on the integrity of the ad network to not charge them for ad-blocked ad impressions (and that's not a good bet) http://www.slideshare.net/augustinefou/productive-display-ads-video-ads-by-augustine-fou-2014
  9. Andrew Walmsley from Various , May 16, 2014 at 10:55 a.m.
    Ad blockers have been around for years, and I'm astonished that publishers continue to permit access to viewers with Adblock installed - after all, I'm not allowed a copy of the newspaper if I don't pay the cover price... It's a separate but connected issue that publishers often fail to manage the impact of ads on their user experience- in doing so they diminish the value of their content, and so of the ads they show (and further, drive users towards ad blocking)
  10. Sara Duane-Gladden from Smartpress.com , May 16, 2014 at 11:44 a.m.
    R.J. - Users are willing to accept the implicit agreement as long as it doesn't cause aggravation. Once advertisers started trying to make themselves more important than what users clicked for - the CONTENT - that's when people started seeing AdBlock as necessary. The relationship between the reader/user and the publisher is what get's people to seeing the ads in the first place. If the publisher doesn't respect that relationship and allows intrusive ads, the user does one of two things: Installs AdBlock or stops visiting that site alltogether. Either way, the advertisers don't make money from that user. To your paywall comment, ever since the NYT put so much of its content behind a paywall, it made me less likely to click on ANY of their links (even the ones that are public facing) because I don't want to get my hopes up to read something interesting just to find out I need a subscription. Paywall is just as much a poison bullet as a magic one.