Adblockers: How Concerned Should Marketers Be?


Apple recently created a stir in the online publishing market when it announced that its iOS 9.0 has the ability to block ads from websites. While Apple doesn’t directly remove the ads, the new iOS has tools that allow developers to create apps for the Safari browser that do it. Publishers are not happy with this move from Apple and other such companies to prevent their ads from being seen by the general public.

But what exactly is ad blocking? And why do so many consumers love the idea of it?

What is Ad blocking?

Ad blocking software removes ads that people see on websites, social networks and even at the beginning of YouTube videos. Basically, consumers can view their favorite websites ad-free – both on desktops and mobile devices. This “freedom from advertisement” mentality is very popular among Internet users who can find ads annoying at best – or “creepy” (i.e. ads that follow them around the Internet). Plus, consumers fear what advertisers are doing with their private data.

There’s no surprise that many users are embracing this technology. According to National Public Radio (NPR), nearly 150 million people use ad blocker software, and that’s up 70% year over year.

Why is it Controversial?

The Internet is a free service. No one has to pay to do searches and read content online – for the most part. Websites, however, still need to make money. One way of doing that is by serving ads. It’s a rather hidden deal between the two: consumers receive content for free, and publishers receive money by showing ads.

If ads aren’t being shown, then publishers won’t get paid. An Adobe/PageFair report indicated that publishers could lose over $20 billion due to ad blockers.

To prevent losing advertising dollars, many publishers are asking their users to add their sites to whitelists within their ad blocking software, which allows them to show ads. (Whitelists in the ad blocking world are lists of websites that are allowed to pass through the ad block filters and serve ads to users.) If they can’t get through that way, some ad blocking vendors are offering to add the publisher to their whitelists – if the publisher gives the vendor a percentage of their ad revenue.

Not surprisingly, publishers are not reacting well to the popularity of these programs. They’ve even taken German company Eyeo (makers of Adblock Plus) to court, but they lost. Most companies depend on advertising to offer free content. If they don’t have ad revenue, then they’ll have to start charging users for content. Publishers may also deny access to websites if users have an ad remover installed or require users to subscribe to the site.

If ad blocking becomes the norm, then there will be a lot less free content on the web. Or many websites will simply go out of business.

How Agencies/Brands Are Reacting To Adblockers

Digital agencies and brands have been largely silent on the ad blocking front. While more and more users have been embracing it, those who create the ads have simply shrugged off the threat. They’re only now coming to the realization that ad blocking software may do away with another avenue for reaching audiences: online advertising.

Yet, American advertisers haven’t been overly affected: Some reports have indicated that only between 15%-17% of the US market are using ad blockers. This could explain their attitude, but use is rising. It’s only a matter of time before the American market catches up to the European market.

What Should Marketers Be Doing?

Marketers are in a tough position. They rely on ads and publishers to reach their target audiences. Yet, they must also keep the consuming public happy. For brands to side with the publishers could leave a bad impression on users and vice versa.

The goal of all marketers should be to create content that is relevant to their audience and serve them messages that best fit for what they’re searching and their needs. Yet, they must also keep their eye on ad blocking developments and how it affects the online advertising market: It may drastically change how marketers reach consumers in the future.