Ad blocking: The time has come for print wisdom to save digital

One of the loudest voices in the debate is Pagefair, which in summer 2015 joined with Adobe to publish a report into ad blocking that highlighted the extent of the phenomenon. 

At FIPP London Johnny Ryan, head of ecosystem Pagefair Ireland spoke about the growth of ad blocking, what publishers could do to combat it, and how it might impact on advertising in the future.

Ryan began by explaining how ad blocking systems work and their benefits – namely that they load pages faster, especially on mobile.

He said that in many ways the key catalyst the growth was when YouTube, and others, began to experiment with not allowing users skip ads.

UK figures are that adblock penetration is 21 per cent in the UK, which is significantly higher than the previous year. 

However Johnny made the point that the phenomenon is linear not exponential in its growth, which he believes gives some cause for optimism. 

“It is not the adpocalypse, ad blocking is like climate change. It is an incipient thing. It is not going away and is having a big impact but day to day you can’t see it.”

Johnny then discussed how people discovered ad blocking and he claimed that  80% learn through word of mouth/web/social media.

And in terms of who is blocking ads, there is a heavy skew towards the millennials and towards males, though Johnny noted that it is starting to spread to older readers

Some content providers are more likely to have to deal with higher rates of ad blocking, namely gaming, social networking, tech, education and sport. Overall Johnny reports, for all publishers the figure average out at about 10%. “For some publishers it is much bigger, and can be as high as 60 per cent. For some people it matters and for others it is yet to matter.” 

Ryan then asked the key question ‘why do people block?’ He said that five reasons are generally offered.  

  1. Ads obscure content
  2. Privacy
  3. Bandwidth
  4. Slow website load
  5. Security

Ultimately though the key reason is because they can! Johnny linked this to the arrival of the remote control for the TV. After it became available very few people had the patience to sit through ads.  

Ryan then went on to focus on what is happening with ad blocking on mobile devices. He said that in spite of announcements from Apple and Samsung that they are making their latest handsets compatible with ad blocking software, mobile is a non-event in the west so far.

“It is a different story India and China explained Ryan when browsers like UC which have ad blockers already baked in can boast hundreds of millions users.

Ryan thinks that this will happen in Europe soon too.

Ryan then talked about how he felt that the “first 20 years of web advertising have been a disaster.” 

“The need for monetisation lead to unrestrained advertising. They let the advertiser run utterly amok on the pages. There was an explosion in quantity but not the quality of the ads.

“Too much clutter. Publishers have sold themselves short and ended up in a cul de sac. Then it is a no brainer for consumers to install an ad blocker.”

However he then pointed out that publishers were winning the technology war with ad blockers and that Pagefair could get past any ad blocker with ads.

However he felt that this was only worth doing if publishers re-thought what type of ads they were going offer, Pagefair’s research shows that consumer will be happy with most types of ads – text, pictures and video.

After discussions with stakeholders and publishers he said they four points have begin to emerge which should help shape the future of the advertising industry.

Four points

  1. The user must have immediate tools to reject or give feedback on the ads. – e.g. thumbs down.
  2. Publishers should only display a limited number of ads – a limited number of premium advertising slots.
  3. Use of contextual targeting to establish ad relevance.
  4. Better metrics of advertising success are needed to reform the economics and quality of online advertising.

He concluded by saying that “the time has come for print wisdom to save digital.”

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