Today it’s as easy to avoid online advertisements as it is for a New Yorker to avoid the lights and congestion of Times Square. But what does this mean for brands?

The digital advertising ecosystem is abuzz with chatter about ad blockers. Do they harbinger catastrophic change for the publishing industry? Why are people so quick to download them in the first place? Are they meant to preserve the user experience, or are they nothing more than a money-making tool for the for-profit businesses behind them? No matter which side of the debate you are on, the surge in ad-blocking software is a reminder to the advertising industry to be mindful of its audience’s time and preferences. Let’s take a closer look at ad blocking and consider what it means for the future of content marketing.


If you haven’t bought a subscription to read your favorite digital publication, it’s likely the site is subsidized by ad dollars. Most of us understand that if you don’t want to pay a subscription fee, you have to suck it up and view ads. If those ads were always well-done, relevant, and unobtrusive, we might be okay with it, but some of us take issue with disruptive, in-your-face type practices, a la pop-up ads and autoplay videos. In an effort to improve the web-browsing experience, or because of privacy and security concerns, an increasing number of users are opting to download ad-blocking software that filters ads and other unwanted material. 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.


The “ad-blocking profiteers”


At the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) annual leadership meeting this January, IAB President Randall Rothenberg was unabashed in his take on ad blocking—it’s not only bad for business, it’s bad for society. Rothenberg explained that “ad-blocking profiteers,” the for-profit companies that create and sell ad-blocking tools, are motivated solely by money. They may claim to be serving a higher purpose, i.e., the preservation of the digital user experience, but they allow publishers with means to pay to circumvent the ad-blocking software, a practice Rothenberg describes as “an old-fashioned extortion racket” and a threat to freedom of speech and diversity, because smaller publishers who can’t afford to “pay the toll” will be the ones who suffer most. Do we want to live in a society where our only news source is media companies with deep pockets?


Some publishers have begun fighting back – by installing solutions that recognize when a user is using ad-blocking software. Forbes, for example, asks visitors to turn off their ad blockers if they want to view Forbes’s content. It’s had success with this method, reporting that 44 percent of its test pool turned off ad blockers.


But the digital advertising industry would be remiss not to reflect on why so many users feel compelled to download ad blockers in the first place. It’s understandable that users would not want their viewing experience interrupted by annoying, irrelevant commercial messages. Many experts predict ad blocking will give native advertising even more momentum, since native ads aren’t blocked by these tools. But delivering an ad that looks and feels like the surrounding editorial environment is only half of the story. If advertisers and publishers don’t ensure native ads are high-quality, relevant, and clearly labeled, it’s possible someone will a find a way to block those, too; or at the very least, consumers will become resentful, and native ads will become less effective.



Do it right



We are all for digital advertising, but it has got to be done right. The message has got to be relevant. The onus is on the ad industry to step up its game and invest in quality creative, and to respect the way in which consumers would like to receive it.


Mediaplanet has been trumpeting the benefits of content marketing since long before the ad blocking upsurge. When you create content that is truly useful, content your target audience will want to engage with because it’s entertaining or educational, you foster meaningful relationships with your clients and prospects. You demonstrate that you respect their time and preferences—and you simultaneously demonstrate your own thought leadership.   


What’s your take on ad blocking? Let us know on Twitter @Mediaplanetusa