Ad-Blockers and the Future of Digital Advertising

On 15/11/2018 by Araceli Almada

Remember Clippy, the Microsoft Office assistant in the shape of a paper clip? From 1997 to 2004, Clippy would pop up on a Word file out of nowhere and offer its assistance in writing or revising a letter. While it was perhaps a nice gesture for first-time users, its exact same offer of help quickly became a nuisance. The animated paper clip was near-universally hated as it never learned user preferences. Once Microsoft decided it was time to put Clippy to sleep, it did so via an online game where ‘haters’ could throw office supplies at the intrusive object. Unfortunately, the tale of eternal interruption did not end there, as pop-ups, autoplay videos, and blinking ads were still shoved into readers’ faces on the Internet. This time, instead of a game where haters could pelt annoying pop-ups, a non-violent solution skyrocketed in popularity: ad-blocking software.

The Rise of Ad-Blockers 

Ad-blockers have had a big impact on today's digital landscape, allowing users to surf the web without ads bombarding their experience. According to a report by PageFair, 615 million devices and 11% of the global internet population use ad-blocking software. All generations, but especially millennials - 67% of them - have installed ad-blockers to combat their frustration with incessant advertising that defies interaction.

Whereas ad-blocking software offers some respite for users, it is a threat to the world of digital marketing. Users of this software access information on the web without generating ad revenue for site owners. Considering that much of the commercial information online is provided under ad-financed business models, ad-blockers have the power to undermine the digital ecosystem. While some publishers have directed their business model into a paywall system, many still heavily rely on advertising. In the latter case, ad-block users are challenging the core existence of varied digital content and services. Not only do small publishers struggle with this issue, but big names such as Spotify need to curb ad-blockers. The music-streaming service has built tech to track and stop accounts of free riders who use its service without paying a premium to skip ads.

The Fall of Interruption Marketing 

The IAB, Interactive Advertising Bureau, doesn’t take a soft approach to fighting ad-blockers. By calling it a robbery, the institution states that ad-blocking is an “extortionist scheme that exploits consumer disaffection and risks distorting the economics of democratic capitalism." The IAB sheds light on the hypocrisy of ad-blocking software that hides behind the claim of representing the interests of begrudging consumers to generate revenue and exploit the system. Such strong language stems from the conviction that by subsidizing the cost of apps and website maintenance, advertising allows for diversification on the web and low app prices. Without advertising, costs would be directly borne by consumers.

At the same time, the IAB does't fail to recognize what really stands at the core of the controversy: customer dissatisfaction. IAB research shows ad-block usage is caused by a general disdain for advertising and concern over the safety of user information. 89% of respondents who have installed ad-blocking technology reported using it to clean up and improve their Internet experience. The rise of ad-blockers must be a wake-up call to brands, and corrective action must be taken by abandoning the old-fashioned thinking where competing for attention is more important than understanding user interests.

A Native Solution

How can the user experience be improved? Looking at Clippy’s case, it’s easy to recognize that its eagerness to interrupt the users’ flow of navigation - and offer its unsolicited advice - was its most annoying trait. People simply don’t want to be interrupted. 

Slowly but surely, digital marketers have adopted native advertising as a central component to their marketing mix in order to match user wants and expectations, and finally be part of the conversation. Native ads showcase brands online without screaming for attention or disturbing users; instead, focusing on relevant content that aligns with user interests. Its format blends in with a website’s organic content and readers have the choice of bypassing or diving deeper into them. In fact, consumers view native ads over 50% more than banner ads because they are that much more engaging, as it advertises quality content alongside similar editorial content, not against. Providing a balanced compromise between respecting the user experience and the need to advertise, today's advertising dilemma is no longer a question of 'if' but 'how' to use native in order to sustain business.

If you don’t want your customers wishing they could throw a stapler at your ad, contact us today so we can help you succeed in setting up your native advertising campaign.