I can see all sides of the ad blocking conundrum. On one hand, we are fed up with obtrusive, irrelevant ads that interrupt our online experience. But then again, advertising subsidizes publishing. We need ads to monetize digital journalism. Plus, when used correctly, ads are a powerful marketing tool for raising brand awareness and driving conversions. But what I hadn’t thought about are the people and businesses behind the ad blocking solutions. Turns out, their mission isn’t always noble. It’s not just about protecting the user—it’s about profiting.
An increasing number of users are downloading tools that allow them to filter out ads. There are now more than 198 million people using ad blockers worldwide, and it cost the publishing industry nearly $22 billion in 2015, according to PageFair’s recent research. They are using this software because they’re concerned about privacy or security, or frankly, because ads can be annoying (enough with the pop-ups and auto-plays, people). I assumed the creators of ad blocking tools were akin to the protagonists in Mr. Robot—brilliant antiheroes brave enough to challenge the establishment. But at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) annual leadership meeting earlier this year, IAB President Randall Rothenberg explained that many of these ad blocking creators are for-profit companies that are using nefarious tactics to make a buck. They’ll actually allow publishers to pay a fee to circumvent ad blocking software, but if a digital site doesn’t have the means to “pay the toll,” they are out of luck! Rothenberg claims that this is actually a threat to freedom of speech and diversity. Slowly but surely, smaller, independent publications will be forced to close their doors (or laptops, if you will), and the only news sources remaining will be those with deep pockets. (Click here to read more about his speech.)
That there is a market for ad blockers speaks volumes about our industry, regardless of the intent of the software’s creators. (And hey, maybe there are some guys who are in this to improve and preserve the user experience. I can’t pretend to know everybody’s motives, but Rothenberg’s words resonated with me.) Marketers and publishers should see this as a wake-up call. We have to respect the user. We have to use the tools available to us (and believe me, there are plenty) to create relevant creative and to effectively target audiences so the right messages are reaching the right people at the right time.
By Jacqueline Lisk