Blocking ads, either through browser plugins or hypothetical service-provider software, presents a fundamental risk to the business model of most digital publishers. Consumers have effectively created a tragedy of the commons – each acting in their own “best interest” while sacrificing the greater good of the very resources they look to consume. But the rise of native advertising might mitigate the causes that led to the popularity of ad blocking.
Naturally, this requires an exploration of why users block ads, generally due to three trends: 1) browser experience negatively impacted by ad loads and related calls; 2) unease with privacy online; 3) dislike of advertising in general.
It can be hard to blame consumers for looking to circumvent the experience of the worst offenders. But native advertising addresses the above concerns: Publishers typically earn significantly higher RPMs, meaning fewer total calls are required. But also, intrinsic to native, a publisher can run only so many ads on any given load, reducing the total number of calls being made. Finally, native ads themselves typically require less of the browser in terms of resources and bandwidth, since they often do not involve the complexity of a flash or HTML 5 ad call in terms of rendering.
When consumers want to address the issue of digital privacy, blocking pixel calls to data and advertising firms through ad blocking is often a first step. That said, the same ad blocking firms ironically offer pay-to-play advertising schemes that circumvent their entire raison d'être. The advertisers that participate thus continue to collect data, and are often the largest platforms. As a result, ad blocking fails users from a privacy perspective.
In fact, native ads tend to meet the criteria of ad-blocking exemptions, and thus can circumvent certain ad blockers if the ad blocking bounty is paid. As to whether native ads provide greater privacy, nothing precludes native vendors from making the same pixel calls as banner companies. That said, contextual advertising typically proves more important for native targeting than demographic or other user targeting, meaning less data is required. It is unlikely, however, that native advertising will fundamentally address privacy concerns. Ad blocking fails to provide more privacy and native does not require more privacy — it just tends to provide it.
Finally, a certain percentage of users simply want less or no advertising in their lives. For those completely against ads, native is no solution. But for the consumer that simply wants fewer ads, native is an elegant offering. It is less obtrusive and generally requires fewer overall ads.
The unfortunate reality is that ad blocking is not a reaction to any given publisher. Consumers choose based on the sum of their experience online, deciding that ads have degraded their experience – or they respond to a particularly bad actor and block all sites. Ad blocking costs users nothing, and they generally have no insights about the aggregate impact of their decisions on the publishers whose content they consume.
In fact, while native advertising may be a significantly more palatable form of advertising to consumers, these ads are blocked just like any others. As a result, an improvement in advertising will not be visible to ad-block users. Only through an overall improvement in the state of advertising — and perhaps by making it more evident to end users the cost of ad blocking — will publishers begin to see an improvement in ad blocking.