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Johnny Ryan 

How adblock users react to unblockable ads

How adblock users react to unblockable ads

PageFair's Dr Johnny Ryan shares the findings of a new report produced with ISBA and the Advertising Research Foundation examining the behaviour of different types of internet user

Facebook is enjoying a major revenue uplift from using unblockable ads. It, like many other publishers, has found ways to serve ads with which adblock tools cannot tamper. The question arises: is it safe for brands to appear in ads that are displayed to visitors to a website that have installed an adblock tool?

We have just concluded a research collaboration between PageFair, ISBA, and the Advertising Research Foundation to answer this question. There are two attitudes to consider. How many people are both bothered by having been shown an ad and blame the brand for it?

Our objective was to determine differences between regular users and adblocking users in the following areas:

1. Adblock users’ and regular users’ attitudes toward a brand when shown ad advertisement on a website.

2. The percentage of each type of user who is bothered by the presence of ads on websites.

3. Of those who are bothered, what percentage blame the brands that appear in the ads?

To answer these questions more than 2,300 study participants were shown ads on several websites. The ads shown conform to the Coalition For Better Ads standard.

Surprisingly, though adblock users were likely to report being bothered by seeing ads, they actually blamed brands shown in the ads less than regular users did.

Even more surprisingly, adblock users also had a slightly more positive attitude towards a brand shown in an ad than regular users.

Summary of findings


- Both adblock users and regular (non-adblock) users have almost identical levels of satisfaction when viewing a mainstream webpage that includes standard display ads.

- Adblock users are more bothered by ads on webpages than regular users. However, this does not translate into a negative attitude toward the advertised brand.

- Both adblock users and regular users that are bothered at being shown an ad blame the advertised brand less than any other party.

- Even when bothered by seeing an ad, adblock users blame the advertised brand less than regular users.

- Even when bothered by seeing an ad, both adblock users and regular users have almost identical levels of positivity toward the advertised brand. (And when considering all respondents irrespective of their level of bother at being shown an ad, adblock users blame the brand slightly less than regular users.)

These findings are good news for marketers and for publishers. Global adblock usage has climbed past 615 million devices worldwide. Unblocking this audience with tamper-proof ads builds a new, uncluttered environment for brand safe marketing.

This comes at a time when Facebook has attributed approximately 20% of additional y-o-y revenue growth over the three quarters since to its decision to use unblockable ads in August 2016. Facebook will generate about three quarters of a billion dollars in additional revenue as a result.

The study tested reactions to IAB “LEAN” display format ads. This LEAN format adheres to the Coalition For Better Ads “initial standard”, and addresses adblock users’ legitimate grievances concerning UX, bandwidth, and security. This study does not show how users respond to more invasive formats.

Earlier this month Chris Bacon of the ARF presented our findings for the first time, at the Audience Measurement Conference in New York. The full report, “Brand Safety and the Unblocked Web: how adblock users respond to tamper-proof advertising”, is available here.


Dr Johnny Ryan is head of ecosystem for PageFair.

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