Re-establishing the value exchange
Polite, bullish or technical? How should online publishers respond to visitors using adblockers, asks Charlotte Summers
To those who claimed that ad-blocking was heralding the death of internet advertising, the latest figures from the IAB should come as a surprise. They show that, in the UK at least, the use of ad blockers has levelled off: 21.2 per cent of us currently running an ad blocker, compared to 21.7 per cent in February.
The issue of ad-blocking has generated a lot of noise and media coverage, frequently described as a war between publishers and ad blocker providers. It is such a hot topic that South Park satirised it.
Facebook's most recent attempt to stop ad blocking was reported by some as taking aim and others as nuking ad blocking. The language has been highly charged, reflective of the fear felt by advertisers and marketers as their means of generating revenue is put under threat.
But these figures tell us a different story. Perhaps we're not on the brink of adblockalypse. Because of the volume of coverage and commentary ad blocking has generated, you would be forgiven for thinking that it wouldn't be long before everyone was using one.
While there is no denying that it is a real issue, what the download figures don't actually tell us is how many people who downloaded ad blockers are still using them.
However, what can't be ignored is that consumers aren't happy. The responses taken by publishers have broadly been split into three categories: the polite, the bullish and the technical.
The Guardian epitomises the polite response, where users are gently reminded that quality content is not free to produce and advertising is what funds and facilities the creation of the content. At the same time as reminding consumers of how content creation is funded, the Guardian is also trying to enhance user experience.
This involves improving user navigation, making content discovery easier and making its advertising less invasive and more targeted. It is also looking into more customised ad experiences that put the user in control according to the Guardian's global revenue director, Tim Gentry.
The more bullish approach is taken by the likes of City A.M. and Wired, where content is blocked from the view of users who the site detects are using an ad blocker.
No gentle nudge, but a full on shove - remove the ad blocker if you want to see the content. Understand the necessity of ad-funding for journalism. If you don't want a paywall, you have to accept the business model.
Lastly, there is the technical approach: the ad-blocker-blocking arms race, taken most recently by Facebook. Earlier this month Facebook changed the way advertising is loaded into its desktop website to make its adverts much hard for ad blockers to detect. At the same time, it announced it would give users great control over the type of brand adverts they are served.
The most important thing in any response is re-establishing the value exchange. Consumers are not visiting sites for the adverts, they are individuals with unique preferences and not just a number of views. Just like lunch, good quality content doesn't come for free. There must be recognition on both sides that this is an exchange.
There will always be those who want an ad-free experience, who would be willing and happy to pay a subscription instead. But the majority of consumers baulk at the idea of paying for sites they have been previously accessed for nothing.
When it is made clear to them that quality content must be funded either by advertising or directly by them, most are willing to accept the adverts.
There is no room for complacency. Marketers are right to feel threatened by ad blocking. Customers will not accept aggressive, poorly targeted adverts. The alarm bell has been rung and smart publishers are listening.
While the latest IAB figures are evidence that things have plateaued, the issue of ad-blocking is still very much still alive. Some publishers, admittedly not all, are changing how they behave and setting an example to those still aggressively monetising their sites at the expense of the consumer experience.
Charlotte Summers is media planning group head at equimedia