The Arms Race In Ad-Block Land

Last week Facebook retaliated against ad blockers by launching an ad-block blocker. This happened on Aug. 9, and by Aug. 11, the good folks at Adblock Plus had provided an update that continued to block Facebook ad content (note: all dates and times per TechCrunch).

Facebook, not to be outdone, launched an update to the Adblock Plus update, nullifying the quick work of the ad blocker’s engineers. By Aug. 12, at 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time, those engineers launched their latest update. And in return, the Facebook engineers quickly “hackathonned” their way to yet another patch, which they released on the 12th at around 10 a.m. Pacific (so it took them all of 5.30 hours).

Make it stop — please!

I understand that  ad blockers are bad for the online ad business. And I understand Facebook’s concerns regarding 80% of its revenues. I also understand that from a consumer/user point of view, ad blockers make total sense.

Facebook asked Ipsos Research to find out why so many people are using ad blockers. Ipsos reported that “The main reasons… include avoiding disruptive ads (69%), ads that slow down their browsing experience (58%) and security / malware risks (56%).” (Again, per TechCrunch).



Research from other markets  shows similar consumer concerns. In the U.K., mobile phone operator Three experimented with selling phones with an ad blocker built in, saying that many consumers complained about mobile ads slowing down the content they were trying to see, and having to pay for data usage driven by mobile ads.

My view is that an ad-blocking arms race is not the answer. It is not a “winnable war,” since engineers on both sides are clearly capable of outdoing each other turn by turn.

It is also not a solution consumers will appreciate. Those who want an ad blocker will be annoyed by a product that does not deliver ad blocking, and will blame Facebook for its perceived ignorance of users’ needs.

And the ad industry (marketers, agencies, media platforms) will lose, since they will never know if today is a day that ads are served or not served, depending on who has the winning patch that day.

There are those who say that the ad-blocking problem is not that big. Mark Cooper, who is operations director at real-time bidding platform RadiumOne, opined on Campaign last week that much of the ad blocking problem was countered by (a) the growth of total online inventory, and (b) the fact that ad blockers filtered out users who were against advertising anyway, leaving those who do not hate advertising and thus have a higher propensity to click and engage.

RadiumOne must of course state this opinion, as its livelihood is selling online ads. But the technical term for this opinion has to be “utter toss.” The people that do not have an ad blocker today are simply not annoyed enough, or too numb, or not technically switched on enough to find an ad-blocking solution. And that the non-ad-block-using folks are more positively engaged with online ads is simply not true. The non-ad-block users are today’s audience, and we all know how incredibly minuscule the click rates and views are for most forms of online advertising.

Ad blockers truly are an enormous challenge, and I do not know what the solution is. But tit-for-tat isn’t it, for sure.

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