Earlier this month, Facebook rolled out a code to bypass Adblock Plus, a browser extension that allows users to block tracking, banner ads, pop-ups, and video ads. The code change makes it difficult for ad blockers to tell the ads apart from organic content, which means that people will see Facebook ads even if they use ad-blocking software.
Adblock Plus was quick to respond in a blog post that “Trampling on users’ free will is not sustainable - even if you’re Facebook.”
The issue raised a debate about ad blocking software: Is it a way for users to protect themselves from malware and privacy violations? Or is it a form of data “shoplifting,” robbing publishers from their compensation?
In 2015, ad blocking was estimated to cost publishers nearly $22 billion in revenue, and this number is on the rise. When Facebook announced its “block on Adblock,” the open source community quickly came up with a counter-solution. And Facebook again responded by pushing another update, nullifying Adblock’s workaround. It’s clear that it’s a battle with endless gameplay.
Adblockers benefit neither publishers nor consumers – who want access to quality content that costs money to produce. The New York Times may survive, but a local political news site and a pie recipes blog most definitely won’t. Even if people do agree to pay for content with subscription fees, it will be only for premium content from the big players on the market, leaving indie publishers without means or incentive to exist. There should be a better way to deal with ad blocking – and addressing the reasons consumers install ad blockers is a good place to start.
Why People Block Ads
In a recent research study, when asked why they installed ad blockers, AdBlock users named the following reasons:
“Ads are annoying and intrusive” - 64%
“Ads are disruptive” - 54%
“Ads create security concerns” - 39%
“Ads affect load time and bandwidth usage” - 36%
People don’t hate ads. What they do hate are ads that are irrelevant, untimely, threatening to their security, or simply eating up too much time. Is there a more cooperative, not an “all-or-nothing” approach to help publishers (and marketers) improve user experience without sacrificing ad revenue?
Make It Contextual and Consensual
Whatever the reason people install ad blocker extensions in their browser, the battle against ads is unsustainable. Blocking software is a quick fix, but a working solution will require thoughtful and consistent effort from both publishers and marketers. Here are some ways to fight ad blockers that don’t involve coding hacks:
Compare the following:
'We may modify these terms or any additional terms that apply to a Service. If there is a conflict between these terms and the additional terms, the additional terms will control for that conflict.”
Will our privacy policies change?
Clearly, Option B sounds more “human” and will likely encourage more opt-ins. When terms and conditions read more like Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, the level of ad sharing consent will be similar to the student “bounce rate” from reading this early 11th century classics.
2. Marketers: Target very specific audiences and use dynamic ads to personalize experience
Sometimes less is more, and this is true for Facebook audience targeting. Low ad scores, a logical consequence of generic targeting, affect campaigns’ ROI and hurts the brand long-term. Ad relevance scores are calculated based on the positive and negative feedback Facebook users assign to a specific ad; a good score lowers the cost of reaching people. With over 1.71 billion people on Facebook, it’s critical to get very specific with it comes to ad targeting.
Compare the following two Facebook audiences for an ad featuring a new local organic skincare brand based in Sausalito, California:
Women, between the ages of 25 and 45, located within a 50-mile radius of Sausalito, CA
Women, between the ages of 25 and 45, located within a 50-mile radius of Sausalito, CA, who are “fit moms” and “green moms”, who liked “Sephora”, “ULTA” beauty brand pages, identify as liberal or very liberal
Facebook allows to get into depth when it comes to political affiliations, interests, hobbies, and pastimes, helping marketers target audiences with a mind-blowing level of granularity.
3. Marketers: Show video ads on mobile only when connected to wi-fi. Publishers: Disable autoplay
Video ads on Facebook show a high ROI, but they are also expensive. All this ad money goes to waste if the ads are served over poor cellular connection or a saturated wifi network (for example, at concerts).
By selecting Wi-Fi traffic in your mobile-only campaign featuring interactive content, marketers can ensure that people are more likely to have the bandwidth and time to stream ad content.
4. Publishers: Educate consumers about the connection between ad revenue and quality content
Most people think ads are disruptive and don’t add value. Some publishers, like Forbes, fight this by disabling access to content for users with ad-blocking software. Others, like Smashing Magazine, bring readers “behind the scenes” of their editorial process and explain the costs associated with content production.
Educating consumers about how the publishing business works and being transparent about where the ad money goes can incentivize people to “whitelist” websites and foster a culture where people understand the explicit connection between advertising and free content and consider ad blocking as a form of digital piracy.
Trying to outsmart technology to beat ad blocking may work - until someone finds another workaround. To survive and thrive long-term, publishers and marketers should consider alternative strategies and focus on creating better ad experiences – and customer-brand relationships based on transparency and consent.