Jun 22, 2015

AdBlocker Blockers: Treating The Symptoms, Not The Cause

Originally published at TV[R]EV on June 22. 2015

A hot topic this past week has been the growth of new ad blocker blockers (that’s not a typo—we’re talking about software that blocks ad blockers and stops them from working.) Given the impact of ad blocking software, it’s sure to be a hot topic along the beaches of Cannes this week, particularly among ad tech types.

Ad blockers are big news because the number of people using them is both huge and rapidly growing. As with most things tech-related, there are conflicting stats, but a recent study by Reuters showed that 40% of UK internet users utilize some form of ad-blocking software, while an Adobe/PageFair study conducted in the US, showed that number at 28%, with a 69% year-over-year increase. Even more troubling, 41% of the more tech-savvy 18-29 year old cohort were using ad blockers. So figure the number is somewhere between the two and factor in mobile, where Apple allows adblockers to run on iOS.
The answer, the industry hopes, is in the invention of anti-ad blockers, software that sounds as if it’s stepped right out of Dr. Suess’s Sneetches tale, that prevents the ad blockers from working. Buzz last week was around Sourcepoint, an ad blocker-blocker from ad tech vet Ben Barokas whose Sourcepoint just raised $10 million in Series A funding.
From where we’re sitting, few things could be as counterintuitive as ad blocker blockers. Forcing users to sit through ads they thought they were avoiding doesn’t exactly lead to good will. And how long till a virtual arms race breaks out as the ad blockers come up with ways to bypass the blocker-blockers, who’ll then roll out an update that stymies the blockers, and so on and so on.
The way to stop users from turning to ad blockers, to paraphrase my colleague Jesse Redniss’s recent answer to similar question, is to make ads people don’t want to avoid. And while that sounds like common sense, you’d be surprised at how difficult that is for most brands.
Or maybe you wouldn’t be.
Most of the online advertising we want to avoid is interruptive advertising: we’re online to do something in particular and we just don’t have time to listen to yet another brand’s sales pitch. The more we can avoid that sort of advertising, particularly if it pops up, rolls over or takes over the page, the better life is. Native advertising and branded content, particularly the #CreatedWith variety, are another story. Users will engage with those because (if you remember therules laid out here by Andy Marks last week) they are first and foremost entertainment. Not sales pitches.
So even if the user doesn’t want to engage with these units right away, they don’t want to block them either. This is content they might want to watch, certainly something they are not rejecting out of hand and if it interests them they will engage.
And that is how you eliminate the need for ad blockers. For as our friends in the medical field have learned, it’s far more effective to treat the cause than to treat the symptoms. Something the ad tech community ignores at its own risk.

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