Should Brand Publishers Fear Ad-Blockers?

Should brand publishers fear ad-blockers? A recent PageFair report found that 22.7% of visitors to 220 sites studied were using ad-blocking software, which could conceivably make it much harder for brands to acquire new readers through advertising.

On one hand, the ineffectiveness of display advertising could lead CMOs to double down on their brand publishing budget. But on the other hand, many feel that brand publishing will only scale is if brands can target relevant audiences with ‘native content ads’ in the places they’ll see them–their Facebook feed, their Twitter stream, the homepage of their favorite website, and so forth. If users start blocking these ads en masse, it could become harder for brand publishers to build the audience of their dreams.

We don’t want to destroy advertising.”

The biggest possible threat is AdBlock Plus, a popular ad-blocking software that CEO Till Faida says has 50 million users. When we spoke with Faida back in June, he revealed AdBlock’s plan to serve as a gatekeeper for online advertising, blocking aggressive ads like pop-ups and auto-play videos while allowing “more acceptable ads” through. A recent Salon story revealed that to monetize this program, AdBlock would charge large brands and publishers for the privilege of letting those ads in. “We don’t want to destroy advertising,” he told us. “We want to create a force that helps to move the industry in a better, more user friendly direction.”

Faida said that under AdBlock’s default settings, “[s]ponsored articles aren’t usually blocked,” but programmatically distributed native ads could run afoul of some of AdBlock’s Acceptable ad policy if they’re not careful. Most notably:

  • Advertising should be clearly marked as such with the word “advertising” or its equivalent, and it should be distinguishable from page content, for instance via a border and/or a different background color.

But is AdBlock a significant threat? Some publishers with a tech-savvy readership, like the video game site Destructoid, have said that AdBlock is destroying their primary revenue stream, supporting PageFair’s semi-terrifying report. There’s a good chance, however, that concerns about ad-blocking is overblown. Skeptical of the report, Digiday surveyed a number of major publishers and found that their data doesn’t back up PageFair’s scary stats. The publishers called ad-blocking “far from a priority” and something that “poses little threat to their businesses.”

We want to create a force that helps to move the industry in a better, more user friendly direction.”

A bigger threat, says everyone from Digiday to the IAB, is the Do-Not-Track movement. The quest to block or restrict the practice of tagging site visitors with third-party cookies terrifies the ad industry. To fight Mozilla’s plan to automatically block many types of third-party cookies in the next version of Firefox, the IAB has done everything short of renting a Times Square billboard and hiring a gang of Elmos to warn tourists that Firefox will eat their children’s souls. But despite delays, Mozilla is moving forward with their cookie-blocking plans. This could seriously affect programmatic marketers ability to serve display ads, including native ads, to relevant audiences.

Then again, maybe it will have little effect. Microsoft made Do-Not-Track the default setting in the latest version of Internet Explorer, and advertisers have simply ignored that request for privacy.

Ultimately, the question of whether ad-blocking will affect the future of content distribution will be answered by consumers. If public outrage forces advertisers to honor DNT requests, and the number of ad-blocking software users reaches critical mass, then content distribution will suffer. It may make sense, then, for brand publishers to encourage their programmatic marketing peers to target users a little less aggressively.

After all, being stalked by a pair of loafers can make people very angry.

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