It’s estimated that roughly two-hundred million people use online ad blocking software of one sort or another. Factor in those using their phones to access the internet, and the figure is even higher.
In the interests of transparency for this article, I must first admit that I use AdBlock Plus and have been for over seven years. Considering that I work in the advertising field and am a long-time admirer of advertising vehicles in all their forms (print, video, audio, etc.), I may come across as somewhat hypocritical and yet ad blocking plugins remain rigidly installed as part of my browser plug-in portfolio to this day.
Do I have mixed feelings about this? Yes and no.
Those of us with any appreciation of advertising history will know that advertising is hard work. Anybody can say pretty-much anything they want about anything, but to do it in such a way that really resonates with an audience and convinces them to buy whatever it is you or your client is trying to sell is really challenging and always has been.
For those who know what they’re doing, creativity is the key. Words, pictures, sounds… all are part of the essential toolset that established advertising professionals use to communicate.
In today’s world however, creativity (while still somewhat important), has increasingly taken a back-seat to ads that are boorish, easy-to-produce, non-relevant and forgettable at best - annoying at their worst.
Hence the development, onset and popularity of ad blocking software.
Amongst those who sponsor or publish web content, this has led to much consternation, anger and hand-wringing. Without the revenues associated with advertising, there’s a very real prospect of their business models evaporating. The anguish is palpable. What’s to be done?
Well, as I read more and more of their responses, I confess to utter disbelief.
Many web entities have recently taken to disabling user’s access to their site content upon detection of ad blocking software. I just read for example that Yahoo Mail has chosen to lock-out users unless they disable the ad blocking software from inhibiting their website. Wow. All this does is create anger, and worse compel users to seek out alternatives - of which there are plenty.
There are many more examples such as this. Newspaper sites are particularly bad. “Turn off your ad blocker or you can’t have access” is a recurring theme. The conceit here is that what they’re offering is only available via their source and is so exclusive and desirable that you will concede. Fail!
Like I said, I’m in the advertising business, and yet I feel little to no sympathy for most of my colleagues in this space. They’re lazy, uncreative and unmotivated. Maybe they are undervalued by those that hire them. I wouldn’t doubt it.
So that all said, am I a hypocritical anti-advertising zealot? Hell no! In fact, I want to see more advertising - good for my clients and certainly good for me. But in order to push this agenda, advertising producers and the clients that hire them must aspire to produce advertising that is topical, interesting and inviting. Ads must be creative for sure, but placement must be topical and technically unobtrusive. In every instance where online advertising fails, it’s usually not that difficult to see the why, where and how. In the worst of these examples, it’s also easy to understand the allure of ad blocking software.
Threatening or blocking users isn’t the way to engage them. Engaging them is. When that’s been achieved, people will gladly disable their ad blocking software. Until such time however, it’s just not going to happen.