Badblock: What Ablockers Are and Why They Don’t Work

Ads are everywhere. They’re plastered on billboards, on train cars, and on taxi cabs. They’re featured on TV and at movies and in magazines and in newspapers. But there might be one conspicuous place they’re missing in your lives, and it’s one of the most unexpected places imaginable: the Internet.

In recent years, ad-blocking applications, targeting website advertisements, have become increasingly widespread. In 2016-2017 alone, mobile ad-block usage increased from 108 million users to 380 million users (a 350% increase), while computers saw an even greater increase from 34 million to 236 million devices (a 700% increase overall). Today, it is estimated that 11% of the global Internet population is currently blocking ads.

Reports suggest that these ad-blockers are in fact taking away significant amounts of ad revenue; one study claimed that, in 2014, Google lost $6.6 billion in global revenue to ad-blockers, which amounted to around 10% of their total revenue. The rise of ad-blockers has only magnified that loss.

Some websites have attempted to address this issue by implementing so-called “ad-block walls,” which prevent users from using the website until they have disabled their ad-block. When opening Business Insider with an ad-blocker in place, for example, you’re given the option between turning your ad-blocker off or subscribing to Business Insider. It seems like an easy way for Business Insider to make money, yet studies have shown that these ad-block walls are discouraging people from continuing to use the website. In fact, 74% of American ad-block users stated that they would leave sites featuring ad-block walls, obviously demonstrating that, far from helping these websites, ad-block walls are actually harming them.

Herein lies the key issue: while ad-blockers are clearly harmful for the advertising industry, it is not the users’ or consumers’ fault: after all, if advertisers want to reach their audience, then they need to put in legitimate effort to cater to a consumer’s interests and needs. Tailored ads and flashy signs aren’t enough to attract people anymore. The problem isn’t with people using ad-blockers: rather, it’s with the advertising industry in general.

Think about the advertisements that usually pop up on a webpage. If you’re on YouTube, for example, you might have to sit through an ad before you get to watch your desired video—how many times have you zoned out while watching the advertisement? When was the last time you actually clicked to get to the product being advertised? Or, for example, think about a time that you went on a news website without ad-blocker. There might have been pop-up ads that you have to click away, or ads that follow you all the way down a page, or video ads that start to play audio when you attempt to read the article. They also might slow down the actual webpage you’re trying to look at. All these advertisements ultimately act as nuisances and detract from your user experience.

These ads are especially useless in today’s fast-thinking, low-attention span culture. A study in 2015 by Microsoft Corp showed that today, people generally lose attention after nine seconds. Translated into advertising terms, this fact can have devastating consequences. One second delayed in loading a page (which often happens due to large-format ads) can cause page views to drop by 11%. Just by looking at this statistic alone, it’s clear that cutting off ad-blockers is clearly not the solution: allowing current advertisements to clog a page and slow it down won’t increase the number of people visiting the website.

In order to actually create advertisements that can reach and influence audiences, advertisers need to think about new ways to engage today’s audience. That doesn’t mean that the advertising world needs a complete overhaul: in fact, traditional advertisements on websites may still work, provided that they’re distributed in a more meaningful manner. Take, for example, the most recent Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. That ad was original distributed through traditional advertising formats (commercials, ad space on social media, and etc). Yet, because of Nike’s shrewdness in choosing Kaepernick—a man who was already trending across the internet—the ad was not only viewed hundreds of thousands of times, but also shared around like wildfire.

Indeed, one of the ways that advertisers can reach their target audience is by capitalizing on Internet trends. Another solution, akin to what Nike accomplished with Kaepernick, is for advertisers to market their product through sponsorships. That way, the advertisement is built into the actual content a viewer is looking at (f.e. product placement).

Ultimately, ad-blocking is here to stay. It just remains a question about how well advertisers can work around the issue and engage its new audience, whose responses to ads are much different than ever before.

Sources: Investopedia, PageFair, StatusCake, Time, Business Insider