Every movement begins with a moment.

Please Turn It Off: Publishers Respond to Ad Blocking

Posted 15 January 2016 9:00 AM by Allison Kolber @MoxieUSA, @allikolber

If you work in digital advertising and haven’t yet heard about ad blocking — oh, who am I kidding? That’s not possible. Sure, you might have forgotten temporarily thanks to a few too many holiday eggnogs, but ad blocking news is everywhere.

How big is it? Do I need to care? What do I do? Questions like these are probably ringing in your ears, so let me give you a basic rundown of the situation.

What is ad blocking?

Ad blocking is the use of downloadable software to block ads from appearing on the websites a person visits. These software applications can be easily accessed and installed from a user’s desktop or mobile phone.

Why is it a big deal?

  1. Publishers are losing revenue — and lots of it — over time to ad blocking.
  2. Ad blocking is growing, which means that the revenue loss I mentioned in #1 is growing, too. And while ad blocking was previously limited to the desktop environment, the release of iOS 9 last fall expanded its reach to the iPhone.
  3. You may find it harder to reach your target audience — especially if it’s of the millennial persuasion — via digital channels. Younger, and particularly male, users have the greatest adoption of ad blocking and are using it at an escalating rate.
  4. Advertisers are concerned that they may no longer be able to connect with digital consumers.

Considering all these far-from-positive side effects, there has been a lot of talk about what the industry should do. We’ve seen releases from the IAB on creating a LEAN user experience and news from Google on accelerated mobile pages. And certainly advertisers need to respond to ad blocking creatively, rethinking what and how we message, as well as the type of ads we serve up. But what about publishers? How will they address ad blocking? After all, they are the biggest losers in this game. If they cannot serve the ad impression, then they can’t charge an advertiser. Yet more lost revenue.

We’re now starting to get some clues as to how publishers plan on tackling the issue — most recently from Forbes and GQ. As of December 17, some Forbes subscribers who are using an ad blocker are seeing this message:


Condé Nast’s GQ is taking a slightly different yet similar approach, offering up this alternative:

In a surprising move, Forbes recently released the results of some of its testing. Some 13% of the visitors to its sites are using ad blockers. Although these numbers don’t appear to be huge at first glance, consider this: 13% of 43 million monthly visitors adds up to about 5.6 million visitors each month for whom no impressions are monetized. Forbes’ testing uncovered the following:

  1. From 12/17/2015 to 1/3/2016, 2.1 million visitors used ad blockers and were asked to turn them off for an ad-light experience.
  2. 42.4% (903K) of the visitors were willing to turn off the ad blocker and received a thank you message.
  3. 15 million ad impressions were monetized that otherwise would have been blocked.

Excluded from Forbes’ ad-light experience was the Welcome Ad that it has long relied on, as well as various video ads formats that live outside of the content. These stats are interesting. On a significant sample, almost half of the users were willing to forgo ad blocking to read their desired content. On top of this, Forbes made money off of those users despite their seeing less ads than the general public.

For me, this is a small step in the right direction. If we want quality content online, we must (1) either be willing to pay for it via subscription or one-off models or (2) we must accept the advertising that comes with it. Put directly: Content creators must get paid for their work or the work itself will go away. Ad blocking could put smaller, and perhaps some of our favorite, publishers out of business altogether if we don’t address it now.

Does this mean that the advertising has to be mediocre or annoying? No. It is our responsibility as advertisers, in conjunction with publishers’ efforts, to re-assess not only whom we advertise to, via data, but how we approach them via channel, format and content. Together we can overcome the latest of the many hurdles in the webvertising world.

So what are your thoughts on the Forbes test and ad blocking? Let me know below.


Add your comment




  • Tyler Conner said:
    1/15/2016 2:27 PM

    Great stuff, Allison. We're seeing a lot of clients go native to avoid ad blocking. It's a much better user experience and it's effective!




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