4 Reactions to Ad Blocking (and one that actually works)

October 9, 2015 Alex Pinto

free_papers4The internet has been aflame with discussion over ad blocking ever since the release of iOS9 and its newly permissive attitude to ad blocking software. It’s far from a black and white issue — for every kind of stakeholder in the wide world of online media, you’ll find a slightly different take on ad blocking. One thing that’s not up for debate, though, is that ads damage the user experience and blocking them makes pages load much faster. It’s also indisputable that publishers who offer content without a paywall need advertising to fund the creation of content. Beyond those truths, we get into murky territory of who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s to blame, and who’s responsible for fixing the problem.

Rather than offer yet another take on the issue, let’s review how a few different groups have reacted.

1: Beg

Some publishers have gone the route of begging their readers (or if not begging, cajoling them using humor) to add them to a whitelist, or not use ad blockers at all. This isn’t a new tactic — ad blockers have been around for years, and so have such requests — but it’s suddenly gained a lot more urgency, given the dominance of the iPhone as a reading platform.

While these polite requests may work for some niche publications with loyal and sensitive readerships, it hasn’t gained traction to the point where it really tips the scales. Some publications see more than 25% of their readers using blockers, and it’s rising by 48% a year. The number of those who actually take the time to add a particular site to a whitelist amount to a rounding error in the face of such numbers.

2: Pitch a fit

The IAB and its president have roundly condemned ad blockers, especially the maker of AdBlock Plus, Eyeo, which maintains a whitelist of selected advertisers that can get around its blocking for a fee (that is, unless a user specifically selects to opt out of all ads). The IAB and others call this a form of extortion, and note that blocking ads amounts to robbery of content. Such strong language is not, perhaps, how users of the ad blocking software would describe what they are doing, but it’s based on a valid assessment of the situation. And after all, someone’s got to be the Lars Ulrich du jour.

3. Cash in

Major web companies smell an opportunity. If users are discontented with the WWW, maybe they’ll be amenable to the more consistent and familiar ad formats found on their platforms. (Some would prefer the term “walled garden” to platform in this context). Sure enough, Facebook has inked deals with some major publishers to use its Instant Articles publishing platform, and Twitter is seeking ways to gain and monetize users through its new “Moments” feature. Apple, the company that started the whole mess, launched its news reader, Apple News, to compete with the likes of Flipboard (and Pocket, and Facebook, and Twitter, and Google, and…), which of course has its own ads.

4. Sing Kumbaya

Some web developers and other stakeholders don’t want to upend the system — they want to preserve the open web AND make it better. Mozilla released a set of 3 tenets it hopes will help us all get along. Google, for its part — let’s call it the “do-no-evil-slash-preserve-the-open-web-slash-please-keep-using-search” take — released the open source Accelerated Mobile Pages Project. This intends to help publishers give mobile users coming from a Google SERP a fast experience while still showing a selection of ads that have been formatted to fit the specifications of AMP.

5. Beat the system

Another reaction (for publishers, at least) is to smile knowingly and get back to business as usual. Our platform, Yottaa, fixes both the root problem — the user experience issues caused by ads — as well as the blocking problem (by simply circumventing all blocking software). This gives publishers the ultimate control over their own web properties: the control over what the user sees, as well as over the ad networks that serve ads to said users. For our customers, ad blocking is a non-issue, and users won’t be the worse for it.

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