Is Ad-Blocking a Blessing In Disguise?

October 1, 2015by Rémy Rey-De BarrosMarketing0

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Ad-blocking isn’t new, but the topic gained prominence, or should I say exploded, with Apple’s release of its latest iOS9. The new OS brought along ad-blocking extensions to the Safari web browser and allowed ad-blocking apps on its Apple store. There has been lots of discussion online about how ad-blocking can kill content publishers who survive on paid advertising, the raging war between the tech giants behind these, as well as doom-sayers purporting the end to free internet.

Well, as with every new trend, we can be sure to find lots of online information by people who know little about the topic, just trying to grab reader attention or place products within the articles. How about I say we block them too?

Jokes aside, online ad-blocking does have a huge impact on consumers, advertisers and publishers and anyone who does business on the internet. The topic is probably too wide to cover comprehensively here, but we’ll give anyone who gives a hoot about ad-blocking the lowdown on what you can expect with this shake-up.

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Why We Hate Ads

Blinking banner ads, pop-up windows that disrupts reading, autoplay videos… do we really need to go into why we loathe them? In the last decade, the internet has been plagued by information pollution. What started as a revolution to increase information reach and spread of knowledge became an information dump, with more time spent filtering out quality content than finding relevant information. So much so that online audience has adapted to these annoying ad-tactics by building up immunity against them – developing banner blindness, buying ad-blocking software and increasing their reflexivity in closing off pop-ups in nano seconds.

What we saw next was advertisers becoming more creative and attentive, turning towards inbound marketing as a solution – creating quality content that drives consumers towards its products rather than trying to reach potential customers with annoying email blasts and telemarketing.

What’s Next?

While the proliferation of inbound marketing is all good for consumers (less spam in the face), ad-blocking seems to push advertisers increasingly in this direction. The main problem though, is that not everyone makes money using this model, especially those that publishes quality content. Most quality content sites make use of paid advertising to sustain themselves, without which there’s little generation of revenue, except if consumers one day decide to pay for these content. (Nooooooooo).

The Good

Faster Load time – even with our extensive 4G network in Singapore, we still have problems with loading up websites on mobile phones in certain areas, say in the MRT. Imagine that in other countries that has less access. An experiment on how ad-blocking helps load times on websites turn up some compelling results.

TNW - How Crystal affects page load times in iOS 9
TNW – How Crystal affects page load times in iOS 9

Less disruption on web activities – cleaner-looking websites with less distraction, no video ads, flash ads, flashing ads or pop-ups. Enough said.

AdBlock - The most popular extension for Chrome
AdBlock – The most popular extension for Chrome

Increased Privacy for Consumers – One of the problem consumers have with ads is the concern with privacy. Advertisements no longer work innocently as marketing text coupled with enticing pictures of products or desire. Technology has enabled advertisers and sites to track your browsing habits, gather personal information and even have ads “follow” you through retargeting! Now THAT is creepy. Having ad-blocking software installed can perhaps, solve these concerns, or even raise awareness about “acceptable ads” if you still want them as part of your life.

The Bad

Reducing Quantity of Quality Content – one of the biggest threats of ad-blockers is that it can affect quality publishers badly. Advertisements have been the traditional source of income for publishers who charge a small fee – newspapers, free movies on TV, magazines. With the advent of the internet, free news is already eating into the profit margins of traditional media. With reputable news websites earning most of their keep with advertising, ad-blocking will literally kill them. What’s so bad? If you don’t mind paying a subscription fee for quality news/publishers who are free now, or don’t care that there will be even less quality content online, please support ad-blockers.

CNET - Please disable ad block
CNET – Please disable ad block

You May End Up Paying More For Internet Content – Consider your usage of the Internet now; you’d need a computer, you pay for internet access and you pay zilch for youtube, google search, news articles and Facebook. But are these really free? Most Internet content costs zero dollars to consume because advertisers sponsor them for you. There’s no free lunch, so in exchange for these “free” content, users have tacitly agreed to give advertisers their attention. And going by this study by Reuters Institute, the majority of people isn’t really ready to pay for online news.

Reuters Institute - Amount of people prepared to pay for online news
Reuters Institute – Amount of people prepared to pay for online news

Maybe you do like ads – well, at least the quality ones. One primary use of advertisement for consumers is that of product knowledge or brand awareness. In short, knowledge is power. Say if you are looking to buy a new mobile phone, the features, specs, look and feel of the mobile phone seen in advertisements would probably be your first touchpoint with the product you will eventually buy. So if you block out all ads, especially those that are targeted towards you, you might need to do more legwork for yourself.

The Ugly

Advertisers pay to be whitelisted – Ad-blocking software work by preventing ads to be called by ad servers and stops them from being displayed on your browsers. While there are various technologies used to block ads, Secret Media, an Adtech company that wants to help independent publishers against ad-blockers said,

the source for ad tracking is a collaborative database called EasyList. It gathers a list of regular expressions, sequences of code written to spot keywords or frameworks inside a webpage…The size and reactivity of EasyList’s community is so important – 80,000 regular expressions, and counting – that it has become the number 1 reference for ad blockers.

And the problem with this? The hypocrisy that major publishers can pay these ad-blockers to “whitelist” them, unblocking their ads. So it does look like we are back to square one, since who actually can call themselves an authority to decide what are “acceptable ads”?

Other Ways To Push Ads To Consumers – ad-blocking focuses more on browsers and display ads and are less effective on mobile apps. This means that advertisers could turn to avenues that are less affected by ad-blocking to increase their marketing budget – ad irritancy may well take the forms of more mobile advertising in-app and ads disguised as content or information.

Ad-Blocking Affects The Economy Of The Internet – why ad-blocking is such a hot topic is because the economy of the internet is affected in multiple ways. Journalists for one, are the first casualties such as those at USA Today. Others include those that rely on advertisement revenues directly or indirectly – publishers, programmatic advertisers, data analytics company and e-commerce sites. Increased costs if anything, is very likely to be passed on to consumers. So since you prefer ad-free, you probably need to pay for it now.

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The Future

Nobody really knows the extent of impact of ad-blocking on the internet. Some say that the potential of its ‘disruption’ is overblown. UBS pointed out that most users are probably not using ad-blockers, and that the impact on mobile browsing is small since most users spend their time within apps. If the outcome is to return advertising to its fundamentals, then that’s great. People get quality content for free, sponsored by advertisers. Brands earn the trust of their customers through good quality ads or investment in quality content instead of disruptive clutter or those that infringes on your privacy.

If all these turn out to push advertisers in spending their marketing dollars more wisely, a more ethical advertising environment and a more informed consumer, then perhaps ad-blocking could be a blessing in disguise.

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Rémy Rey-De Barros

Founder & Creative Director at Pixel Tie. Rémy has a particular enthusiasm for all things digital and interactive. He is also a Serial Bread & Cheese Eater, Mountain Biker & Proud Philatelist.