As Ad Blocking Grows, Brands Must Ask Agencies - How Do I Reach Millennials?

When advertisers themselves begin to ask agencies what they are doing to mitigate ad blocking because it's getting in the way of them and Millennials, you know something needs to be done. Writers can say all they want, and they do, but it's when ISBA -- the body that calls itself the "voice" of the advertisers -- encourages members to have this conversation, you know it's becoming a top issue.

The ISBA call came last night ahead of this morning's revelation from the IAB UK that ad blocking is up from 15% to 18% between June and October this year. An increase was expected, considering that this is a growing trend and this quarter's figures will have included those encouraged to block when the latest version of Apple's iOS platform made its Safari browser compatible. There were no major surprises in the new figures. Blocking is and always has been more prevalent with men and younger demographics -- meaning that 23% of men block compared to 13% of women and 35% of 18- to-24-year-olds block compared to 13% of those over 55.

I've asked the IAB UK whether it has the figure we must all been wondering about. If men are more prevalent and so are 18- to-24-year-olds, what proportion of male Millennials are blocking ads? The answer is that the sample size would be too small when the general audience of more than 2000 people is subdivided to male Millennials alone. I suspect that if more than one in three Millennials are blocking, male Millennials would see an increase to nearly 40%.

That's why it's interesting to see the call from ISBA last night. Following up from an ad-blocking event it ran at the end of last month, advertisers are now being actively encouraged to ask their agencies what they are doing to mitigate the problem of ad blocking. In particular, the body has pointed out that advertisers should be most worried about reaching 18- to-24-year-olds -- and if my hunch is correct, they should be even more worried about getting in front of Millennial males.

The IAB research does hold out the olive branch that six in ten blockers are not intending to avoid all ads but rather those that interfere with what they're doing (48%) and those sites that put too many ads on the page (36%). However, of course, a similar majority still wants free content, although they understand it is paid for by advertising -- like wanting to be paid each month for having a lie in and playing computer games.

The ISBA call for advertisers to address these issues of too many intrusive ads will obviously do little to reverse the tide, but it could be a contributing factor in turning it, or at least arresting it. When advertisers tell their agencies to avoid the sites that play video ads in the background and pack pages with ads that leap in front of content and slow it down, then you just have to hope the budget will be diverted to the good stuff and away from the annoying and intrusive.

The question remains -- how are advertisers going to reach 18- to-24-year-olds, particularly male Millennials, through display? The clear answer is that they will increasingly struggle, and native advertising and sponsored social will surely step up to provide a more guaranteed route that will at least get in front of young eyeballs rather than be screened out by a browser extension.

If Millennials -- and particularly male Millennials -- are you core audience, then brands are going to have to have some in-depth conversations about whether display is the way forward or, at least, if other channels need ramping up to bring back the visibility denied by blocking.

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