Ad Blocking As A National Sport

Word is that 198 million people around the world now use digital ad-blocking tools, at a cost to advertisers of $21.8 billion in lost revenue — 14% of the global ad spend — with the damages set to rise by 2016 to more than $41 billion. In the U.S,. ad blocking apparently will cost advertisers an estimated $10.7 billion this year and $20.3 billion in 2016.

First let's put aside the argument that these folks are stealing content. Since most people pay a considerable monthly fee for broadband and/or cable access, they do not think this is "free" content; they have already paid a toll to see it. We can agree that they are disrupting the system for monetizing said content.

We can also dismiss the usual rant about how annoying some online and mobile ads can be, and the stats about banner blindness. I would like to see how these numbers compare to "loss of income" in other media from folks who avoid those ads.

Honestly, nearly everyone you know uses every possible tool and technology to avoid advertising — especially on TV, where an average of 17 minutes of a prime-time hour are taken up by commercials and promos that can run a mind-numbing seven to 10 in a row. In fact, some cable networks speed up their content in order to squeeze more commercials inside their ad breaks.



Exhausted viewers have five choices, all of which they exercise with vigor: 1) mute the sound; 2) switch over and watch three minutes of “Andy Griffith” reruns; 3) tape the shows and fast-forward through the ads; 4) watch pirated shows online (which, according to some relatives of mine who will go unnamed, are plentiful); 5) or cut the cord.

I suspect if you took all of that activity in the aggregate and put a number against it, it would be considerably higher than digital's $21.8 billion in lost revenue.

Every steering wheel in America has a button that allows you to switch from one preset radio station to another. This was not put there in case you get tired of top-ten songs and want to listen to a little classical. No, it is there so that the nanosecond you hear the start of a commercial, you can avoid it.

And if you are one of those dotty old farts who listens to terrestrial radio in the background while you work on a new bird feeder or scrapbook, you have outlived your usefulness to the consumer society anyway, although radio is thrilled to have your tune-in stats to prove that "radio works." Ad dollar impact of pre-set switching, and folks who aren't paying any attention anyway?

I lived in New York for 23 years and went to Broadway shows more than most, so I was in Times Square a fair amount. With the exception of some tobacco brand that used to blow smoke rings out of its billboard, I could not tell you a single company that I recall from their "outdoor" advertising.

And I am skeptical that when tourists get home and show their snaps to envious friends, that any of them take note of which brands festoon the background. If the term banner blindness had a gestation moment, I would wager it was somewhere in the vicinity of the discount ticket booth.  

There is no way to "respond" to a billboard, and I am convinced that walking past (or under) one has utterly no impact on branding. So while this is not really avoidance through technology, I would argue that the clutter alone constitutes a fair amount of "lost revenue."

Let's eliminate place-based ads like on taxis, in subways, on placemats, stenciled on streets, slapped on construction sites, pulled by airplanes, etc. as simply environmental pollution that help raise the of number of ads we are exposed to each day to over 5,000, since the ROI on any of that crap is probably impossible to accurately calculate. It is a given that we don't "see" most of it anyway, because we have trained our brains to shut it out, like we do with the neighbor's dog barking all night.

Which bring us to print. Not electronically produced print (where we can enlist technology to avoid THOSE ads), but genuine dead-tree, hold it in your hands, tear out a page to save it, print.

Compared to digitally delivered ads — which are by and large meant to be disruptive — print ads just kind of sit there, hoping beyond hope that your eyes will fall on them. And that if they do, something about the advertiser will register with you.

But there are a lot of IFs in the way. Like IF you even bother to pick up that issue/edition. (Yeah, you remember that stack of unread magazines that grew on the bed stand until you dumped them unceremoniously into the wastebasket.) If you bothered to turn to that page, and if you bothered to read the oh-so-carefully crafted headlines or body copy. And if any of those ifs drew breath, the result is a vast fortune in "loss of income" for advertisers.

Which is why I am not so concerned about digital ad blockers. They are but one arrow in the consumer's growing quiver.

4 comments about "Ad Blocking As A National Sport".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 14, 2015 at 9:14 a.m.

    According to some estimates, about 20% of ditigal media users in the U.S. have ad blockers and this percentage is, no doubt, higher among the affluent, better educated and younger segments. Also, ad  blocking is growing, and is enabled by digital entities, who, on the one hand want to increase their ad revenues, while, at the same time, encouraging and helping users to avoid ads. Which gives "the medium" a split personality that makes no sense, long term.

    An even bigger problem concerns the ability of digital ad campaigns to deliver the kind of reach levels that TV advertisers are used to and feel they need. Many of the tabulations I have seen of the reach of digital ad campaigns show considerably lower levels than their TV counterparts---at equal GRPs----despite TV's fragmenting ratings. Once advertisers begin to explore this subject as well as the whole guestion of ad "viewability" the flood of TV ad dollars that some believe will shift into digital may never materialize. Ad blocking creates artificial reach ceilings for digital ad campaigns that do not exist on TV.

    I know that some will contend that SVOD viewing is TV's counterpart to digital ad blocking-----but it's not. A typical Netflix subscriber devotes about 45% of his/her total viewing time to ad-free TV. This estimate includes DVR zapping, exposure to other SVOD services like Amazon, use of pay cable and watching PBS. The remainder---roughly 2.5 hours per day---consists of commercial TV---which means Netflix subscribers do see TV ads, though not as many as non-subscribers.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 14, 2015 at 10:12 a.m.

    Greed. All comes down to greed. 60 minute show including 10 minutes or less of ads would probably not have such a backlash but not hanging a hat on that happening.

  3. Steve Baldwin from Didit, August 14, 2015 at 3:23 p.m.

    George, you've written a wonderful, witty summation of the greed, absurdity, psychological violence, and innate toxicity of our much vaunted "ad ecosystem" (every time I read the word "ecosystem" in this context I think of the old Secaucus pig farms). 

  4. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, August 14, 2015 at 10:06 p.m.

    It's not greed. If an hour show only had two minutes of ads, I'd still skip over them.

    Occasionally I forget to skip an ad. I love the Geico commercials. I see ads in live shows unless I can switch between shows on my two-tuner DVR and manipulate how live the show seems when it's buffered. I see ads along the highway on billboards or at the gas pump. I see the ads before the movie starts in a theater. But for the most part, TV and the web are a lost cause.

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