Although ad blocking software has been around since 2009, its impact on publishers and advertisers wasn't truly felt until 2015. In the past year, growth of ad blocker usage has exploded. This year, nearly 70 million Americans (27.8 percent of the internet population) will use an ad blocker, creating an estimated of $20 billion loss in ad revenue for publishers. The eMarketer charts below detail the growth of ad blocking software usage:
While I've covered the topic of ad blocking in the past ("How ad blocking will change digital advertising"), my focus was primarily on the impact to the publishers ("10 ways publishers are dealing with ad blocking"). For this article, I plan to focus on how brand advertisers and agencies can mitigate, if not leverage, the impact of ad blocking software on digital advertising.
Ad blocking is a global phenomenon. Surprising to some, the U.S. has a smaller ad blocking population than other countries, where ad blockers are native to operating systems and browsers. Europe and Asia dominate the ad blocking usage statistics, for the time-being. That said, I expect the U.S. will catch up over time.
It is helpful to know who is blocking ads, especially in the U.S. The good news is that only 10 percent of U.S. desktop internet users deploy ad blockers, according to comScore data from December 2015. Most ad blocker adoptees are millennials, between the ages of 18 and 29 years of age.
Mitigating ad blocker impact
The best way for brands and creatives to effectively mitigate the impact of ad blockers, is to understand the motivations behind usage. The chart below covers the top five primary drivers for ad blocking, of which annoying, intrusive, and irrelevant top the list.
Let's take a deeper look at each of the key motivators and provide mitigation strategies for each:
- The ads are annoying. Bad creative can be downright irritating. Recommended fix: Invest more time on development of compelling creative that resonates with the target audience. Spend more time and effort on market research, strategic planning, and testing, to hone the creative.
- The ads get in the way of what I'm trying to do. While intrusive ads (think pop-ups and expandable ads) can generate a higher number of clicks, it is not usually because people find the creative or product compelling. Similar to mobile devices, people tend to click accidentally on intrusive ads. This only infuriates the user and can result in a negative brand perception. Recommended fix: Buy ad placements that are less-intrusive or completely non-intrusive. Examples might include sponsorships vs. display ads. According to recent research, one in three users was positive toward an ad-light experience with fewer advertisements shown in exchange for turning off their ad blockers.
- The ad is irrelevant to me. As web surfers, we tend to ignore irrelevant ads, but that doesn't mean they don't have a negative impact and inspire blocker usage. Recommended fix: Invest more time in audience segmentation and targeting. Understand your audience motivators and preferred media outlets and have the discipline to actively manage digital campaigns for optimal ROI. Run-of-site or run-of-network ad buys are a lazy approach and key driver of ad blocking.
- I find the ads too intrusive. If you've surfed the web for work or play in the past year, you've probably experienced intrusive ads, including pre-roll on YouTube or interstitials on large publishers. Overlay ads are popular because they demand the user's attention and advertisers can guarantee impressions. Unfortunately, users find these ads frustrating. Recommended fix: See No. 3. Stay away from intrusive ad buys. Look for alternatives, per No. 2.
- The pages tend to load faster when adverts are blocked. Any web developer will agree that fewer ads = faster download speeds = better user experience. In fact, Google has indicated site speed impacts rankings in search results. Unfortunately, this insight conflicts with a publisher's need to generate revenue. Recommended fix: Consider ad buys on websites with limited inventory, elegant user experience, or perceived faster download times. Also consider creating ads that are small in file size that minimize impact on the user experience.
- It leads to a saving of my mobile data. This is perhaps the most difficult to combat, but is thankfully the least important of the top motivators. Recommended fix: Not much you can do here, unless you plan to buy those viewing your ads additional data on their mobile plans. Perhaps suggest they view the website on Wi-Fi or at work. Yeah, right.
Advertisers and creatives are in a tough spot due to the growth of ad blocking. I've mentioned a few mitigation strategies above, based on the top six motivators. Here are a few additional thoughts from other industry influencers.
During a recent panel at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Randall Rothenberg, president-CEO of the IAB, suggested that brands should "serve people and not impressions through better creative." The panelists also suggested less intrusive ad formats with better targeting. For more, read the AdAge article, "Mobile Ads Are a 'Disastrous' Afterthought, Says Cannes Ad Blocking Panel."
In another panel at the same event, PepsiCo's president Brad Jakeman said "Ad-blocking is the best thing that has happened to this industry," arguing it will drive the industry to act more like entertainment brands. For additional details, read the full Campaign article, "PepsiCo: Ad-blocking 'best thing to happen to industry'."
My fellow teammates at Anvil came up with additional workaround strategies for ad blocker users. The first strategy is to get "white-listed" by following ad blocker best practices in order to advertise through ad blocker networks or related technology platforms like PageFair and Ghostery. The second is my foundational recommendation from previous articles: native advertising. Create your own content that is so compelling that nobody cares that it is technically considered advertising.
Additional workarounds include in-app advertising, which can still be considered intrusive, but users may be more tolerant depending on the application and creative. Increasing engagement levels can also decrease user frustration. Consider unique ad formats that incorporate multimedia. This is a riskier approach, as it can increase download times and be considered even more intrusive than static ads.
At its core, ad blocking software is a powerful response by consumers tired of poorly executed and placed creative. Brands and agencies that heed the call will invest more time on developing data-driven creative, further audience segmentation, improved targeting, and thoughtful media placement. Publishers must also do their part to provide more options for advertisers that address many of the consumers' biggest complaints. Consumers have voiced their concerns, and the advertising industry is now starting to listen. The result should be a better experience for all parties involved. At least we hope that is the case.
- US Ad Blocking to Jump by Double Digits This Year
- How To Take The First Step In Addressing Ad Blocking
- Digital Ads To Exceed $285B By 2020, $27B Lost With Ad Blockers
- Juniper Research report: Worldwide Digital Advertising 2016-2020
- Juniper Research white paper: Digital Advertisers vs the Ad Blockers
- Mobile Ads Are a 'Disastrous' Afterthought, Says Cannes Ad Blocking Panel
- A 'Weather Report' On Ad Blocking And Analytics Blocking
- 3 strategies to survive the "Adblockalypse"
- PepsiCo: Ad-blocking 'best thing to happen to industry'
- The digital media industry needs to react to ad blockers … or else
- Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web