According to the latest estimates from eMarketer, 70 million people in the U.S. will use an ad blocker in 2016, a 34% increase over 2015. As the use of ad blocking continues to grow dramatically, new companies have launched with a specific mission: provide publishers with the tools to combat ad blockers.
These tools are far-ranging, enabling publishers to recoup revenue lost when a consumer visits an ad-supported site, but blocks exposure to all ads. This is quickly becoming a critical need for most publishers, as Juniper Research estimates that sellers will lose more than $27 billion annually worldwide by 2020.
Over the past year, many top-tier publishers have used the “denial of access” tactic as a solution. This involves the use of technology that detects an active ad blocker, and presents a message to the consumer outlining the options for steps to gain entry into the site. Consumers typically select from the following options:
off the ad blocker for this visit
2) White list the site for all future visits
3) Pay for the content
4) Go somewhere else (i.e. we don’t want you accessing our content if we can’t monetize you).
Some publishers, including Forbes, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, have been successful deploying this tactic; so much so that they have even published the results for the entire industry to analyze.
Another approach is to employ technology to detect the ad blocker -- similar to the first step in the above tactics. Then create a proxy domain from which to serve the ad that does not contain the name of a known ad server and is not recognizable to the ad blocker.
The service then retrieves the ad from the agency ad server, as normally happens without ad blockers in place. In other words, publishers are getting around the ad blockers, and continuing to run ads despite the presence of ad blocking technology.
Consumer awareness to these occurrences is case-by-case. And most of the time the advertiser is not made aware that their ad is being served to someone who has actively chosen to block ads.
This type of practice is generally known as “ad re-insertion” or “ad recovery.” It’s important to note, based on our analysis, that this type of scenario does not occur frequently and is not widespread (yet).
However, as an industry, we need to make sure that we are fully transparent, both with consumers and paying advertisers. We must tread lightly on the practice of ad re-insertion. If we do are not, we will continue to perpetrate the bad practices that caused consumers to run to ad blockers in the first place.
First and foremost, through ad-reinsertion without notification, we are trampling on what little trust remains between consumers and the digital media industry. Consumers who have enabled the use of an ad blocker are proactively signaling their choice.
They do not want to be exposed to advertising messages while on the Web. The reasons are many, including slow page load, privacy concerns, annoying creative, etc., and we cannot ignore these signals. Doing so will only further bolster consumers’ resolve to continue blocking ads.
Ad re-insertion without disclosure to advertising clients also damages the relationship between buyers and sellers. Most advertisers would not want to serve ads to active ad blocker users. The advertising message runs the risk of antagonizing the consumer, and could damage brand perception for the marketer.
So if a publisher is running an ad re-insertion program behind their client’s backs, advertisers will become suspicious of the inventory they are buying, which will cause greater scrutiny of the inventory source.
To take this scenario to its logical next step, advertisers will begin relying on verification companies to detect and block the use of ad re-inserters, similar to how they currently detect non-viewable impressions, fraudulent activity and presence of bots.
This means that we could end up in a situation where buyers are blocking the use of technology designed to block ad blockers, which is not good for anyone. This will lead to a new source of discrepancies, create additional steps in our already complicated process, and take us back many years in terms of efficiency and progress.
Since ad-reinsertion without disclosure is happening on a minimal basis right now, this is not yet a major issue. However, ad-reinsertion is on the table as a solution for many publishers. Buyers, sellers and ad tech platforms need to ensure this practice does not become more commonly used.
There are other solutions, and the IAB has published guidelines that all parties can follow, found in the LEAN and DEAL principles. As part of these principles, the IAB recommends “explaining” the value exchange between consumer and advertiser, as well as “asking” consumers for “changed behavior,” which involves transparency and education.
The increasing use of ad-blockers is a global problem for all parties in the digital ecosystem, and the best way to solve the problem is to move towards greater transparency and disclosure, not hiding behind deceptive practices that create more mistrust and suspicion.