AdBlockers vs. Advertisers: Who Has All the Power?

Author: Clay Miller
Posted: Feb 12, 2016

Topics: Advertising

The Ad-Blockalypse is coming, and it's scary as hell.

What is it, you ask?

Ad-Blockalypse (noun) [ad-ˈblah-kə-lips] - A coming age in which most or all online advertising is blocked by third-party apps and plug-ins.


When you first consider it, a post-Ad-Blockalyptic world sounds like an idyllic utopia. Just imagine, no more obnoxious, screaming banner ads driving you into foaming apoplexy.

No more stroboscopic webpages packed with blinking, blaring, auto-playing clutter. A cleaner, richer, more fulfilling world it would be. Except, it wouldn't. The coming Ad-Blockalypse could transform the web into a barren, scorched-earth dystopia that is both devoid of meaningful content and exorbitantly expensive to access.

How Did We Find Ourselves Here?

To answer this question, we must first recognize that the internet ecosystem is driven by advertising. In the good old days, newspapers, magazines, TV stations and radio affiliates sold ad space to generate revenue. But nobody buys newspapers or magazines anymore. TV and radio are likewise converging onto a unified online platform.

We consume our content online, on-demand, for free.

Every time you read a free article or watch a sufficient number of Youtube videos, the price of admission is an ad. You see a banner ad, pop-over, or pre-roll and then you read a free article about Kim Kardashian's butt crack. That's not so bad, right?

You cancel your newspaper, magazine and -- if you're really daring -- cable or satellite subscriptions. In return, you get virtually the same content for free. The newspapers, magazines and video providers make money by showing you a digital few ads.

It's quid-pro-quo, tit-for-tat, and everyone's super-happy. Until human nature kicks in. And human nature wants everything for free.

Enter Ad Blockers.

By allowing users to view ad-free content, ad blockers upset the equilibrium of the free web in a fundamental and potentially devastating way. Now, users can view content for free while rejecting the price of admission.

By blocking ads, web users deprive websites and content creators of the revenue they utilize to create content in the first place. And why would anyone create anything for free? They can't, and they won't -- at least not in the long-term.

The current trend toward ad-blocking threatens the very underpinnings of the free internet as we know it. According to a study by PageFair and Adobe, ad blocking cost publishers some $22 billion in 2015, and the trend is growing exponentially. In 2016, global ad-blocking losses are expected to exceed $41 billion.

Extrapolated several years into the future, ad-blocking will strip the web of its current monetization model. In response, publishers and content producers will be forced to charge users for access to everything from articles to music to videos. Are you ready to pony up a dime for every Youtube video you watch?

The solution to the Ad-Blockalypse is neither imminent nor obvious.

According to Campbell Foster, Director of Product Marketing at Adobe, it will involve "... a delicate balance between three constituent rights-holders: Content producers who have a right to profit from their legally produced, owned and distributed product; Advertisers, who have a right to communicate with consumers; and Consumers, who have a right to choose what they read, listen to, learn and feel."

But this is a marketing blog, after all. So let's talk about the interests of the second constituency.

How can we react strategically on behalf of advertisers and their valued clients? Evolving Tactics.

  1. Native Ads -- According to Kissmetrics, native advertising is "a form of advertising that is so tightly interwoven within the site's [content]... that customers can’t tell that it’s advertising." Advertorials, promoted social posts, and ads tucked into newsfeeds are all prime examples of weaving ads into organic content. Humans often can't tell the difference between native ads and content. Therefore, at least currently, neither can ad blockers.
  2. SEO -- When users search for content online, they want specific, relevant information. Google is incredibly adept at developing ever-more-effective algorithms to identify and deliver exactly what users want. Your site should be that thing. Contrary to popular belief, SEO involves much more than dropping robotic-sounding keywords and phrases onto your site. To the greatest extent possible, your site should be the online center of gravity in your industry. Make it a rewarding resource and destination for online audiences.
  3. In-App Ads -- Ad blockers are effective in web browsers, but they can't touch apps. Fortunately, that's where mobile users spend most of their time. In-app advertising is affordable, and the best ads take advantage of the app's context. Don't hire Jay-Z to promote you on Words With Friends. And don't run a word puzzle ad on Pandora.
  4. Good, Old-Fashioned Content -- As deftly pointed out by Ian Forrest of Gravitate Design, there's a reason companies like GE, Gore-Tex and Red Bull produce their own compelling podcasts and magazines. In the case of Red Bull, the company publishes Red Bulletin, a magazine available in print and digital form. It offers adrenaline-filled, bikini-clad, rip-roaring lifestyle content that is perfectly aligned with the company's brand image. And when audiences are reading about the next record-setting skydive, they're living in Red Bull's masterfully crafted brand reality. The bottom line: If you want to attract audiences, make stuff they want to see.

Three evolving solutions to the Ad-Blockalypse are currently taking shape.

  1. Retaliation -- Advertisers and content producers are becoming more effective at detecting the presence of ad-blocking software. And they're asking users to disable it before receiving access to content. No ads, no free stuff.
  2. Bribes -- Ad-blocking companies are now offering advertisers the opportunity to circumvent the software. And it comes at a price. For a fee, you can pay to have your ad shown to users who are actively blocking ads. This will inevitably lead to the rise of ever-more-expensive "premium services" that block even those ads which advertisers have paid to sneak past the ad blocker. It's a vicious cycle that will cost both advertisers and audiences.
  3. Ethics -- Google Contributor is a new approach to ad-blocking that allows users to voluntarily pay sites they use and value. From Contributor's landing page: "Today, the web is mostly funded by advertising. Now, Contributor gives you a different way to help fund the writers, designers, and others who work to create the sites you visit... Contribute a few dollars each month. See fewer ads. It's that simple. The money you contribute helps fund the sites you visit."

The Future.

The Ad-Blockalypse is the proverbial 800-pound black swan in the room. No one knows exactly how it will shape the future of the web. But one thing is abundantly clear. Marketers, advertisers, search engines, and content producers have no intention of waving the white flag.

As the battle unfolds, you need a standing army by your side. Let the pros at VI Marketing and Branding guide you through the minefield of the Ad-Blockalypse. The future of your brand depends on it.

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