Adblock Plus owner Eyeo last week won the latest in a series of legal showdowns against those who say web users shouldn’t be allowed to use its ad blocking tool. As ad blocking continues to grow – I’ll get to some scary numbers in a moment – this is going to become a more contentious subject.
A definitive report about ad blocking from Adobe and PageFair shows the meteoric rise of this kind of software, which really started to take off around the start of 2013.
Ad blocking is generally more popular in western countries and, even then, usage varies quite a bit. In the Adobe/PageFair report, Poland shows a 28.6 per cent usage rate, compared to 14.5 per cent in the UK. In the US, 27.6 per cent of internet users said they use it.
Who are we talking about? Forty-one per cent of millennials, those aged 18-29, said they use ad blocking software but older people are less likely to do so. And a major catalyst has been the spread of the Firefox and especially the Chrome desktop browsers, the research found. Ad blocking is much less popular on Internet Explorer and Safari.
Now consider this: the Adobe/PageFair research I’m referring to is already a year old and the numbers it cites are believed to have continued growing.
Think this problem will go away as we continue to consume more and more over mobile? Think again. Not only are various ad blocking providers targeting mobile now – Eyeo has recently built its tech into a Firefox-based mobile browser for Android – but European mobile operators are considering implementing ad blocking [link no longer available] at a network level. They recognise not just consumer dislike of most online ads but the efficiencies in terms of network performance.
Ordinarily, you’d say the clout of the media and marketing world would eventually triumph over companies like Eyeo. But mobile operators are even bigger fish. Such a move could be seismic.
For anyone dependent on online advertising – and in the UK that’s quite a few people – this represents another fine mess. As someone who worked in commercial online publishing for 15 years, I can’t look beyond those who blame publishers and advertisers. But especially publishers.
Frederic Filloux – no big fan of native or other types of content from brands – is among those who lays the blame squarely at the door of the quality of past advertising online. In a recent Monday Note, the influential commentator wrote:
For publishers, ad blockers are the elephant in the room: Everybody sees them, no one talks about it. The common understanding is that the first to speak up will be dead, as it will acknowledge that the volume of ads actually delivered can in fact be 30% to 50% smaller than claimed — and invoiced. Publishers fear retaliation from media buying agencies — even though the ad community is quick to forget that it dug its own grave by flooding the web with intolerable amounts of promotional formats. (my emphasis)
His point about a code of wilful silence is a good one. Advertisers will react to those who they think are charging them for ad placements that no one sees. Also, last week, Ad Age brought us the story of Kellogg no longer buying from YouTube because the video platform wouldn’t allow viewability verification.
That’s just one advertiser. Imagine if all a publication’s major advertisers did the same thing.
In the introduction to this post I called the ad blocking numbers “scary”. Well, they are if you’re an online publisher or someone who makes a living exclusively from online advertising, so that includes some people at brands, all kinds of agencies and, of course, the ad-tech-gone-wild ecosystem. But for everyone else, for consumers of content and those who peddle alternative ways to reach audiences, this might just be a good thing – until we find some of our favourite ‘free’ sources of information can no longer survive.