Is ad blocking really an issue?

Is Ad Blocking Really An Issue? 

Written by: Stefanie Beach, Founder & CEO


It's no surprise that the use of ad blocking software has transformed the digital media landscape and the impact it has on publishers’ digital ad revenue. According to Business Insider, the industry has encountered a 30% increase in ad blocking usage from 2016 to 2017. That’s a big jump for just one year.


The digital ad industry has been experiencing this threat for a while now. But it hasn't been until now that blocker usage has reached such a high that it is influencing an advertisers’ strategy. So what is causing the rise of these ad blocker installs, you ask? Millennials! According to eMarketer, two-thirds have installed an ad blocker on either their mobile or desktop device. This is a generation that grew up with the internet at their fingertips and have the expectation that they can answer any question, find what they are looking for or look something up in an instant. This also means that this generation expects quality content to be immediate, effortless and for free. But, since their media consumption habits are so different from previous generations, they are oblivious to the relationship between publishers and consumers: In order for consumers to have access to content, someone has to pay for it. Which means publishers need to run ads. So, when they encounter an ad that interrupts their online experience, they are very quick to remove that experience and install an ad blocker. They see this as solving their problem, but it really is hindering both the advertiser and publishers way of generating sales and revenue. 


Time will tell whether this trend leaves a lasting effect on the industry. Will ad blocking become the norm for millennials? Will other generations adopt the same behavior? Or will it all just blow over? These questions have publishers taking notice, adjusting their strategies to address ad blockers and planning for an alternative future.


According to Vieo Design, 91% of people say ads are more intrusive today than 2–3 years ago, and 87% say there are more ads in general than 2–3 years ago. But there’s a critical distinction to be made here: not all ads are disliked. According to the same study, 83% of people agree with the statement “not all ads are bad, but I want to filter out the really obnoxious ones.”


Based on eMarketers most recent study, one in four US internet users say they block ads, which is equivalent to more than 70 million people. The growth in ad blocking has slowed significantly, but it is still on the rise, and the same frustrating ad experiences that have driven consumers to block ads continue to be the culprit. 


Publishers, advertisers, agencies and other partners believe that relevance is the best weapon in a digital marketer’s arsenal. The theory is that consumers are more receptive to ads for products and services that they might actually be interested in, and will be less annoyed if the messaging makes sense for them and is timely. The biggest problem with relevance for those who don't understand how digital advertising works is that it can seem creepy. 2018 was a year of consumer backlash. They are more concerned with privacy and data collection then ever before and want to know what data is being captured and how it is being used to target them.  So what this tells us is that while consumers want a better experience and more relevant ads, they still don’t like being tracked. 


In reviewing the eMarketer study and with additional research, I found that most users don't like ad formats that are intrusive, disrupt their experience or cause the performance of the site to slow down. And thinking about it as a consumer, I agree. I cringe when I see intrusive ads and I am usually the one giving the format and placement recommendations. Formats like auto play video ads, especially with sound, ads that pop-up/over or cover the page content, or those that cause the page to load slower are the most troublesome to consumers and cause them to block ads to begin with. 


Advertisers can take various steps, like ensuring better frequency capping and messaging based on customer lifecycle. The industry may also be moving toward lighter ad loads, and less intrusive formats. 


A big concern for publishers is user experience and preserving brand integrity, so having a mindful ad placement and format strategy is important. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. They can try bypassing ad blocking by offering their readers a better ad experience, or by being creative and smart with how they monetize their inventory. Regardless of how they decide to move forward, one thing is certain: if publishers want to be successful in 2020 and beyond, they will have to strategically think through how they monetize their inventory and interact with their users, and continue to evolve and adapt their strategies. 


For marketers, this means the amount of digital advertising options will continue to grow, providing even more options to choose from when trying to find the right solution to drive the best performance. This can be a pro or a con, depending on how you look at it and utilize the assets at hand. This also means that traditional approaches that once provided strong performance may no longer work. Success may evolve to newer more innovative formats similar to how vertical video and social has taken off. So, like publishers, marketers must continue to look to new and innovative ways to drive success.


Stefanie is the founder and CEO of SMB Media Consulting. Being in digital advertising since 2006 and working on the buy and sell side of the business has given her a unique approach to clients business. She lives in the Bronx with her wonderful husband Nick and 6 year old daughter Audrey.