Rational Reactions To Ad Blocking Emerge As The Emotional Debate Rages On

Louise Gordon-Jones in Advertising

in Advertising

Randall Rothenberg, president of the IAB recently branded ad blockers as rich and self-righteous, and even “blocked” Adblock from the IAB conference where he made his speech.

As the ethical and highly emotional debate rages on between publishers and ad blocking software providers, this week on ADTEKR we look at some of the more practical and rational reactions surfacing in the market, as brands and publishers accept that ad blocking is not just going to be swept under the carpet.

Publishers say Enough

Forbes recently made a bold move and asked readers who have ad-blocking software installed, to turn it off to access the Forbes.com site. Once disabled, users were promised an ad-light experience. Forbes reported stats as follows:

Forbes said that its actions were part of a series of tests it is carrying out to see if users can be convinced to drop ad-blocking software.

City AM was the first UK publisher to stop users who used ad blocking software from accessing its website back in October. The code it is using blurs the text of stories for desktop users when it detects ad blocking software is in use. Readers receive a message over the top of the blurred content asking them to switch ad blockers off to continue to see the rest of the content.


How City AM appears if an adblocker is detected on a user’s device.

After the trial City AM said 21% of people using ad blockers switched them off after they were prevented from viewing the content and that there was no noticeable difference in the website’s exit rate. Campaign also reported that City AM used the tech company Rezonence who offer services and technology to help publishers increase revenues, to identify ad blockers. Other publishers are turning to the likes of Sourcepoint and Pagefair for help with the ad blocking dilemma and we will no doubt see more technologies and start-ups in this area offering a solution for publishers. Such solutions will evolve over time, becoming more complex and harder to circumvent for the tech savvy computer user.

In Germany, Axel Springer’s Bild website also took steps of banning users with ad blockers from accessing its site last year. According to comScore figures 25% of its 10 million unique visitors were blocking ads. Bild asked users to either turn off their ad blockers, whitelist the site or pay per month for an ad-light experience. Following this request it was reported that the number of people using ad blockers on desktop declined by two thirds.

The Rise of Ad blockers on Mobile

Despite the extent of online browsing taking place on smartphones, ad blocking on the mobile has been further behind in its develop than on desktop due to the lack of ability for developers to create “plugins” on mobile browser. However, there is growing resentment and criticism aimed at mobile advertising because of the amount of data that is used in loading ads on publishers’ web pages and as a result the increased loads times (particularly given the speed constraints of mobile networks), diminished processing power and battery drain on smartphones.

Source: Shine (www.getshine.com)

Shine estimates that ads are using (dependent upon geographical location) between 10-50% of user’s data plans, making ads expensive for users.

The IAB has attempted to answer these criticisms by launching L.E.A.N (Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads), which aims to set up standards to guide development of ads on mobile, to ensure they are lighter and non-invasive. The hope is that such guidelines will encourage better practice and as a result there will be less demand for ad blockers on mobile.

The release of iOS 9 last year by Apple, which allows ad blocking apps to be installed from the App Store, really pushed the issue of ad blockers on mobile into the spotlight. Pagefair expects, with the support for ad blocking apps in iOS 9, that ad blocking on mobile Safari will trend towards the levels seen in the mobile version of Firefox, where around 16% of Firefox users on Android configured ad blocking using their browser settings. Apple has however removed some ad blockers from the App Store that use potentially dangerous (as they allow third parties to view and interfere with browsing) root certificates and VPNs to filter ads. Some of these ad blockers were topping the download charts on the App Store, demonstrating the desire from users to combat the poor ad experience on mobile.

The use of ad blockers on mobile is reported to now be a quarter of mobile users in Europe according to GlobalWebIndex research. This will likely continue to grow as people become more aware of ad blocking on mobile, with the mainstream media coverage generated from the level of debate and outrage in the industry acting to bring adblocking to the attention of even the least tech-savvy user.

The use of ad blockers on mobile is reported to now be a quarter of mobile users in Europe.

Mobile network operators have also weighed in on the debate. Towards the end of 2015, EE announced that it had started an internal review on how it can give control to its customers over the type and number of ads that they receive. This could mean that EE at some point in the future may offer users the option to block certain ads. It may be the case that, if mobile operators start operating in this way, they will use ad blocking as a way to charge the larger publishers and/or advertisers to ensure that their ads are not blocked, acting as a kind of payback to the mobile networks for the huge amount of data and bandwidth these ads use on their networks.

Whatever the practical impact, this type of whitelisting will only strengthen the arguments put forward by Rothenberg at the IAB conference that ad blocking whitelists resemble “protection rackets”.

Will solving the underlying issues really defeat the ad blockers?

The advertising industry has admitted that it messed up with online advertising both in terms of how content has been delivered since the advent of online advertising and what content has been delivered. Since this admission there is a greater commitment to making online advertising better, with more accurate targeting, richer and more dynamic content, faster loader times and a reduction in retargeting, all with the aim of a better user experience. As Michael Bertaut, EMEA MD at Adroll, wrote on ADTEKR:

[ad blockers have been the] … push we need to raise the bar for higher quality, more user-centric advertising”.

Simply making ads better won’t solve the problem of ad blocking whether it’s on desktop or on mobile, but there is no doubt that beyond the technological solutions emerging to tackle ad blocking, solving the underlying issues driving users to turn to adblocking will continue to be important, especially in convincing new users to not switch on ad blockers. This means that marketers should not just be focusing on producing “quality content”, but “quality content that functions well for the user and provides a great user experience”.


There is no doubt that ad blocking is here to stay, this much we know. What we also know is that there is no easy solution to defeat it. Publishers will have to take reasoned but difficult decisions when it comes to the more aggressive approaches we have seen from the likes of City AM and Forbes, analysing their readers and how they will react. Active steps like this from online publishers show a change in attitude. Many publishers, although very aware of the problem, were not ready to face up to how it might mean they have to change and evolve their sites. It is likely we will see this practical reaction from an increasing number of publishers in 2016. On mobile it is very likely that soon we will start to see publishers using similar ad blocking detection.

Meanwhile in the background the industry will need to continue to develop enhanced online advertising, with the hope that this will stop people diverting to ad blockers both on the mobile and desktop. The conversation between users, publishers and advertisers needs to be more informed. The industry must educate internet users that advertising funds access to free content and that without it, the diversity and landscape of the internet as we know it would fundamentally change.

Rational Reactions To Ad Blocking Emerge As The Emotional Debate Rages On was last modified: January 29th, 2016 by Louise Gordon-Jones