Commentary

Blocking The Blockers -- No More Mr Nice Guy

Hats off to City AM, which has today confronted Firefox users who have downloaded ad-blocking software with blurry text instead of quality journalism. It has become the first major UK publication to block the ad blockers, and deserves a huge round of applause for its pioneering stance.

Now, I know honourable mentions need to go to Axel Springer for its work with Bild.de and Conde Nast, plus I've also read that The Guardian has started trialling gentle reminders to ad blockers that they are threatening free content. However, I'm all for action on this issue -- or at least, if you have a nice "disable your ad blocker to view this article," you have to actually go through with a threat to block the blockers. The cold, hard reality of ad blocking is that every piece of research has shown it is more prevalent with men and with younger people -- making Millennial males the most likely culprits. The research also just about always shows ad blockers know what they are doing. They completely understand the link between free content and advertising, yet they still opt for the free ride option.

Regular readers of MAD London will know how much this gets my proverbial goat. It should anger everyone in publishing. Sure, sites need to get their act together by not offering overly intrusive advertising and ensure that ads do not contain malware because these are the two main excuses given by ad blockers for their behaviour.

However, tell me this. City AM claims that one in five of those using Firefox to access its site use ad-blocking technology. Do these tens of thousands of weekly users really think the advertising is over the top and will infect their computer, or are they simply looking for a free ride where articles load a bit quicker and the editorial looks more streamlined without ad units vying for their attention around the content? I know which of the two I'm convinced is more likely.

I'll mention once again my complete surprise that free and subscription-based sites don't offer an ad-free model so users can choose a premium level of service without the ads. It just seems to make so much sense to me that I'm bemused it's not on offer because then ad blockers really don't have a leg to stand on. There's an alternative to having ads that funds quality content -- take it or leave it.

So make no mistake -- ad blockers know exactly what they're doing because the most prevalent blockers are Millennial males who have grown up with free content being supported by advertising. The only option is to offer an ad free subscription or freeze them out altogether with no wimpy message to play nicely. They need to be told they are the digital equivalent of shop lifters and the only way they're going to get quality content is to pay for ad-free services (when they're offered) or disable their ad blocker.

For taking a firm stance, the media industry should be applauding City AM loudly and following in their footsteps.

8 comments about "Blocking The Blockers -- No More Mr Nice Guy".
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  1. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, October 21, 2015 at 5:19 p.m.

    City.am obviously does not undersatnd Mobile. That traffic will not want to spend their Data plan $$$ on ads....

  2. Brian Nakamoto from Tightrope Interactive, Inc., October 21, 2015 at 10:44 p.m.

    So long as City AM encourages Google to index their articles, it'll be relatively easy for tech-savvy users of ad blockers to bypass City's ad blocker blocker.

  3. Sara Duane-Gladden from Smartpress.com, October 22, 2015 at 11:26 a.m.

    One of the local newspapers did something similar. The backlash became a trending topic in the area as they were heckled even by people who didn't use adblockers. Instead of encouraging people to disable their blockers, it encouraged people to browse and read elsewhere. I don't think they "blocked the blockers" for longer than a day or two before they took the script down. Probably because news publishers no longer have "the scoop" on things and I can find the same information, sometimes even the exact same text, on other websites or chached in Google. 

    They're going to have to do better than that to solve the issue, because consumers are fed up with the constant bombardment of advertising. 

  4. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, October 22, 2015 at 12:16 p.m.

    Cityam.com works with the Ad Blocker on.....I'm showing 18 ads Blocked and all the content.

  5. Leonard Zachary from T___n__ replied, October 22, 2015 at 12:17 p.m.

    Indexing by Google also bypasses the WSJ subscription Firewall

  6. Keith Huntoon from LiftEngine, October 22, 2015 at 5:38 p.m.

    Sean, I agree publishers should charge for content (fee or walled garden login with agreement to be served ads).  However, ad blocking is not 'stealing' and the consumer isn't at fault.

    Publishers conditioned consumers to expect free content and never required users to accept ads OR AGREE TO BE TRACKED.  The online ad industry has constantly tried to circumvent consumer preferences for privacy and bombarded them ads (See DNT, flash-cookies, super-cookies, native advertising, etc).  Hell, consumers enjoy behavioral ads!

    It's all rubbish.  The only three entities that matter are the ones suffering:  Advertisers (poor ROAS), publishers (lower CPM's) and consumers (poor experience and increased data fees).  Frankly, it's the ecosystem that has been advancing the war because they want their slice of pie.

    Publishers should charge for access or require login and agreement to be served ads, but be prepared for serious consolidation. Perhaps only the likes of MediaPost, Readers Digest, NYT, Hearst, Conde, Forbes, Yankee and other providers of quality content will survive?  We'll see.

  7. Jean Renard from TRM Inc., October 22, 2015 at 8:12 p.m.

    Sean your tone reminds me of the one used by the major music labels. The public is not thinking about the consequence of their actions as they move along and use free music or see free content.  The ad industry seems to have been overtaken by IT folks who deal with numbers and know little about content much less about quality.  On YouTube the ads that rarely get skipped are the "good" ones and most movie trailers.  The rest suck and are eliminated or suffered through.  If the ad community started evaluating the fact that they can do a thing (like taking over your screen) against should they do that thing and making better ads, perhaps this would not be such a problem.  Blaming the consumer is not the smartest strategy.
    The consumer will always be right and new Media powerhouses like Vice seem to understand it.  I'd start there.

  8. Doc Searls from ProjectVRM, October 23, 2015 at 2:48 a.m.

    On a constructive note, How #adblocking matures from #NoAds to #SafeAds: http://j.mp/NowSafe . For a longer and more comprehensive view, the whole Adblock War Series: http://j.mp/awars.

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