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The Wild & Wonderful World of Ad Blocking

By Nick Price

The usage of ad blockers is at all time high and both publishers and marketers have been left scratching their heads wondering how to cope. I tackled this issue head-on in a post called “Confessions of an Ad Blocker”. In it I explain how my usage of an ad blocker represents my desire for an uninhibited, uninterrupted web experience. Given there are millions of users just like me, this represents a serious roadblock for marketers and publishers. Clearly, marketers and publishers need to stop asking what to do and instead ask themselves why are ad-blockers seeing increased usage.
One could argue that the online experience is over-saturated with digital advertising. Irrelevant ads, interruptive ads, poorly placed ads disrupt the user experience and frustrate users. “Click-bait” deceives users into interacting with content rather than creating strong content to begin with. Essentially, these unscrupulous ad practices are the primary drivers in ad blocking adoption. In AdAge, Adam Kleinberg described the current situation thusly: “[A] lawless landscape [that] has created an environment that has undermined its own potential. It has had a dramatically negative impact on the perceptions of customers and the way they respond to marketers.”
So how should scrupulous marketers adapt? Last year, the IAB rolled out its L.E.A.N. program, laying down some standards for quality ads. Earlier this year, the FCC laid down guidelines as to how publishers should identify a native ad. In theory, these standards will reign in the most unscrupulous behavior, but standards for display ads may not be total cure. Justin Choi, President and CEO of Nativo, put it clearly in a December interview with eMarketer: “If any advertising becomes irritable and delivers a bad experience, there’s going to be an ad block for it.”
Two things remain crucial if marketers and publishers are to win the ad-blocking war: utility and relevance. Utility means that ads should serve a purpose for the user. For B2B, this means helping a prospect in the buying process, providing content that helps them find a solution to the problem they are researching. Relevance means delivering the right message to the right person. Even the most useful content in the world will fail if you fail to reach the right people.
A Shot Across the Ad Blocking Bow
While the IAB may be attempting to clean up the mess left in the wake of intrusive advertising, it’s going to take a while until ad blockers such as myself deactivate the technology. Publishers have been quick to realize this by taking “the best offense is a good defense” approach. When trying to access content, I have been served with notices that alert me that I cannot access the content until I disable my ad blocker. Take a look at these screenshots:

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Forbes Roadblock Ad

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The Telegraph Ad Blocker Warning

The Forbes screen took me by surprise. Designed to look much like a Forbes roadblock ad, I’ll admit that I hit the “Continue to Site” button several times and was redirected back to the alert three times before realizing that I was seeing the screen because of my ad blocker. The Telegraph’s website was a little more upfront about it, putting the notice up immediately and giving you no option except to forfeit the content or disable your ad blocker. I didn’t particularly like this strategy, but here’s the thing: it worked. For both of these sites I have permanently disabled my ad blocker. I wanted both pieces of content and thusly was willing to disable something that I have relied on for seven years.
Relevant Content Always Wins 
I would never have disabled my ad blocker if the content was irrelevant to my needs. What’s more, once I made it through to the article I found that while The Telegraph does have digital advertising displayed around the article, it is not intrusive and does not interrupt your experience. Forbes does not have any advertising at all and is a smooth and actually enjoyable reading experience. Kudos to them! They’ll likely remain unblocked.
Publishers, as purveyors of content, maintain an advantage when it comes to relevance. They’re destination sites, places where users go to find information. B2B marketers have long faced challenges getting their messages in front of their most likely prospects. With the exception of a few outliers who have managed to become destinations themselves, most marketers have turned to social channels, SEO, and targeting technologies to deliver their messages.
It’s important to understand how marketers can make the most of targeting. Account-based marketing (ABM) can help deliver messages to the accounts who might be most receptive to a specific message, but it’s important to realize that IP-based or Demographic ABM can still miss its mark. ABM driven by Intent data can help you reach a prospect when they’re doing their research. A content rich ad, served at the right time is not only likely to be well received, it’s likely to be used…and that’s every marketer’s ultimate goal.
Ad Blockers, Marketers & Publishers: La Lucha Continua
Meanwhile, the struggle continues. Ad blockers are not going anywhere. It will be some time before marketers and advertisers regain the full trust of the online community. Indeed, tensions have escalated as Adblock Plus (the ad blocking technology that I rely on) has been disinvited from IAB’s annual leadership meeting. The most interesting thing to note about this is that both the IAB and Adblock Plus have incredibly strict guidelines on what constitutes proper advertising. However, neither can reach an agreement and there seems to be a growing distance.
Just this week at the IAB’s Leadership Conference, Randall Rothenberg decried ad blocking as a “war against diversity and freedom of expression,” evidence that this is a contentious conversation. But at least it’s a conversation.
Image via DWRose

Nick Price

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