Portrait of A Young Man As An Ad Blocker

Thomas Pence is a 22-year-old senior studying international business and marketing at NYU. He’s been coding since he was 11. By 16, he had created a fan site and social media presence for the international pop sensation Shakira. It’s worth noting that Shakira became the first person to rack up 100 million "likes" on Facebook.

Pence is also an avid ad blocker.

When I sat down to chat with Pence about ad blocking, his nonchalance was striking. First off, he’s been doing it a while. He consults on website design, UX and UI and has had several internships that have required extensive webwork. “The ads slow me down,” he said.

Pence downloaded a plug-in from the Google Chrome store a while back. The ad blocker is provided by Google, he noted. “It took two seconds to install and saved me hours of time that would have otherwise been spent having to watch ads.”

Can’t argue with that.

Pence has an ad blocker installed for Safari, Firefox and Chrome, and won't watch an entire YouTube video -- like the "Ellen" show clips he favors -- without blockers:  “If I have to watch a 30-second ad when I might only watch 10 seconds of a video because I’m checking to see if I actually want to watch it, it’s annoying.”  I’m with you, Thomas.



When he’s trying to choose music for the spinning class he teaches, he quickly searches 50 different videos in about 10 minutes to try all the songs out. He only listens to the songs for 10 seconds apiece. “If I have to watch the 30-second ad 50 times, I just give up.”

You and me both.  And how many others? Millions. A June 2015 study by Page Fair and Adobe cited 198 million monthly active users who block ads. Usage of ad blockers in the U.S. grew by 48% in 2015, increasing to 45 million average monthly users in Q2 2015.

Pence said he’s also annoyed by what the networks do. “A lot of websites like ABC, NBC, etc. ask me to deactivate the ad block if I want to watch shows on their sites,” Pence noted. “That’s new in the last few weeks. I don’t do it. I‘d rather not watch the show. “ Networks, are you listening? Are you?

“I think ad blockers are really relevant today because people my age have such a low attention span," Pence said. "We consume content so fast, we don’t read entire articles or view videos completely. We only read 140-character tweets, if that. I haven’t read a book in years. I read summaries online and go on Wiki [for] all the important quotes for papers. I haven’t bought a book since freshman year and even then, I didn’t use it.”

This technologically precocious 22-year-old is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an exception -- he's the rule. And he’s beyond hip to the ad-industrial complex.

What, dear advertising industry, are you going to do about all the Thomas Pences of the world?

18 comments about "Portrait of A Young Man As An Ad Blocker".
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  1. Michael Elling from IVP Capital, LLC, January 11, 2016 at 12:02 p.m.

    And it's worse in the mobile environment where the data costs us money.  They should be "paying us" to watch ads in that instance.

  2. Rick waghorn from addiply, January 11, 2016 at 12:10 p.m.

    You Message Thomas that his life might be in danger.

    Simply. With a big, fat X.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 11, 2016 at 1:27 p.m.

    I hope that Mr. Pence realizes that the TV networks sell advertising on the sponsored program episodes presented on their websites and they get paid nothing for "reaching" him if he watches but blocks the ads. Yes, they are listening...but, so what?

  4. Lance Jackson from Neudesic Media Group, January 11, 2016 at 2 p.m.

    TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  What are we to do about all the Thomas Pences' of the world?  Nothing.  "Free Content" is not free Mr. Pence.  Economics, Technology or a combination of Economics & Technology will be the "doing".  Advertising costs will go up to cover for those using ad blockers and/or "Free" content, will no longer be "Free" - hello monthly subscriptions!  Or, quite possibly, the advertising community tries to stay one-step ahead of the ad-blocking community and figures out a way to block the ad-blockers.  If you want to continue to enjoy free content, you must realize it Ain't free.  Deal with the ads.  They pay for your ability to continue to enjoy "Free" content. 

  5. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC replied, January 11, 2016 at 2:48 p.m.

    This problem is more profound in markets where the bandwidth-cost as a percentage of income is higher, such as Latin America and Africa.  

  6. Chuck Lantz from, network, January 11, 2016 at 8:25 p.m.

    As a somewhat innocent bystander who is not as directly involved in the industry as other commenters here, please allow me to offer a small slice of advice:

    Mr. Pence, right or wrong, is one example from the "other side" of the advertising social contract.  As such, his reasoning and his needs should be studied, and not belittled or condemned.  I see very little difference between insulting users of ad blockers in this era and insulting those from earlier eras who grabbed a snack from the kitchen during TV commercial breaks.

    If ad agencies want more viewers, they have to earn them, in exactly the same way content providers must earn theirs.  "There's no free lunch" works BOTH ways.

  7. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, January 11, 2016 at 8:34 p.m.

    Dear Tobi (& MediaPost Editor),

    The Reader knew he/she was in trouble when your pretentious, presumptuous title appeared.

    You are no James Joyce or Stephen Daedalus.  Your writing is more like the epic utterances of the tragic Cassandra (aka Alexandra or Kassandra).

    Let's just answer your foolish closing question and get this foolishness over with.  So, what should the advertising industry do about Ad Blockers like Mr. Nonsense (rhymes with Mr. Pence)?

    NOTHING.  Period.

    When people avoid Content and Commercials it is because they stink, by which I mean they are irrelevant, unrelatable, nsulting and repulsive ... like the reference Joyce.

    The Advertising Industry needs to worry about creativity and compassion.  
    If we spoke to our friends the way much Advertising speaks to us,
    we would have no friends.  Understood?  TV/Video Programming ... the same.

    Don't you and Mr. Pence ever get cold up there on the Technology Highground?

    We're not in Dublin circa 1916 ...  (Yes, we are approaching the 100th Publication Anniversary
    of the book you bastardize and the author you plagiarize.)  Or in Anywhere USA circa 2020. Come back to the Present.

    Well, that's it.  Onwards & upwards.


    Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.
    ("And he turned his mind to unknown arts.")

    — Ovid, Epigraph to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

  8. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost replied, January 12, 2016 at 9:24 a.m.

    I highly doubt it. I think this is the way of life for most millennials...

  9. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost, January 12, 2016 at 9:28 a.m.

    Mr. Schiavone,
    Thank you for your comments. Yes, thank goodness I'm no James Joyce. I don't share the "high ground" of which you speak with Mr. Pence. I'm merely offering a glimpse into his media world. I believe that if there are millions of Mr. Pences the advertising world as we know it is in trouble. But then, that's not news.

  10. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, January 12, 2016 at 3:13 p.m.

    Tobi, can you please refrain in the future from sharing honest insight of why so many people like your subject, are more than happy to block ads and have zero patience when the value proposition is so lopsided (ads vs content) -- we as an industry prefer to ignore this kind of insight so we can continue to tell one another how great things are. 

    Thanks very much :) -- good to see you back at MP


  11. Barbara Lippert from, January 12, 2016 at 5:33 p.m.

     Just want you to know that "doesn't it get cold up there on the moral highground?" was one of the great questions uttered in the first episode this season of Downton Abbey by the Dowager Countess to Isabel over a dispute. So you're in great company.

  12. Chuck Lantz from, network, January 12, 2016 at 8:08 p.m.

    Tobi:  After reading the comments on your article I had to jump back in and add a very positive "thumbs-up" for your insight into the mind of an ad-blocker.

    In an odd way, Mr. Schiavone's comments, though negative, highlight one of the major downsides to the habits of Thomas Pence. For example, since Pence admits he rarely reads books, preferring to get his "facts" (sic) from Wiki, Mr. Schiavone's literary references in his comment would fly right over Pence's head. But since Pence can successfully code and build stuff - Gawd only knows how vital hits on Shakira's site are to mankind - he has value. Narrow and limited value, but value nonetheless. 

    All of which, thanks to your article, got me to thinking that Pence and others like him are essentially robots, able to do a few things really well, but otherwise empty-headed. And if we take that premise to the extreme, maybe all those sci-fi writers were right and we will soon be ruled by robots. The only difference being that those robots won't be built in factories, but rather "produced" by moms and dads who then send junior off to learn coding and app-building.

    ... "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Danger!"

  13. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost replied, January 13, 2016 at 9:16 a.m.

    Thanks, Ari....! : )

  14. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost replied, January 13, 2016 at 9:18 a.m.

    Thank you for pointing that out... : ) I think I recall that line; so apropos. Love the Dowager. I think Maggie Smith may well be the best thing about Downton Abbey, among all the other "bests"!

  15. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC replied, January 14, 2016 at 12:43 a.m.

    Thanks for your gracious response.  
    Look forward to real dialogue going forward.
    Appears we boosted circulation
    ... and circumvented the Ad Blockers.
    Best regards,

  16. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost replied, January 14, 2016 at 11:11 a.m.

    Thanks, Chuck for your comments. I believe we need more "research" on the media habits of ad blockers of all ages. We are all so sped up (fed up) -- searching for work-arounds, working against impossible deadlines and looking for helpful, time-saving solutions. And, we want what we want, when we want it, which was like 5 seconds ago.

    We live in a culture of "swipe" and "hype" -- "tapping" is de riguer. Can the product designers build us anything faster?! I "get" Pence in the sense that I, too, don't have time to view every single video or listen to an entire music clip or even read an entire article (unless it's the Sunday NYT which is my pleasure). If I'm in review mode, I challenge myself to view and listen to creative work in its entirety.

    I still believe people are reading books--our devices have made it easier and quicker than ever. I have consumed more books in recent years on a Kindle vs. physical copies. However, even with bookmarking, highlighting and other terrific functions, I still need a physical book to return again and again to meanginful passages. I am not alone in this.

    On robots: I can see how you might view Pence and his ilk that way. And I need to think about that some more.

    Human beings with real emotional intelligence and so-called "soft skills" are necessary to our economy and culture--we will always need them to make hard judgement calls, critical observations and for their creativity and imagination. And sometimes, in our haste, we forget that creativity can be cultivated in many different forms. We don't all need to code. Or do we? Maybe we do. Scary to think of a new crop of "robots" -- I sure hope this is not the case.

    Don't get me started on how high school and college students haven't heard of Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Cather and others.

  17. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost replied, January 14, 2016 at 11:14 a.m.

    Lance, I agree with your comments. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Someone is paying the freight--whether it's the advertiser or the consumer (in a subscription fee). If we don't want to pay for the privilege of no ads with our content, then we'll have to become hackers and pirates.

  18. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost replied, January 20, 2016 at 4:45 p.m.

    Agree, we should study the Pences much more.

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