Change provokes resistance, especially in its early stages. No matter whether they are positive or negative, transformation always means stepping out of a comfort zone. This is why the biggest, most critical changes take time and effort.
Some advancements and developments are so fundamental that they affect all of us to some degree. This is not more true than with the rapid changes in how we consume content online and what quality of content prevails there.
This is a story of how oversaturation of low-quality ads has created the demand for ad blocking tools, and how these tools have triggered a cascade of shocks in advertising and publishing industries.
It is an uncomfortable conversation for everyone involved—publishers, advertisers, and us—soldiers from the ad blocking trenches. Still, it is high time to set the record straight. Finally.
Ad Blocking Impact on Publishers and Advertisers: The Conflict Explained
How did we get to the point where people can make money blocking ad blockers? Well, it did not happen overnight.
If publishers hadn’t failed to keep the balance of advertiser earnings and reader experience, if advertisers hadn’t sacrificed quality for quantity, we would not be having this conversation today. Neither would we need ad blockers on our devices.
What created the demand for ad blockers in the first place is that the quality of user ad experience has been decreasing steadily over the last few years. Advertising has aimed for more, bigger, brighter, and more intrusive. Many ads now have auto-play features, intentionally make skipping harder than a Where’s Waldo, or pop up on your screen the moment you least expect it.
The advertising industry has failed to establish feasible regulations in order to control online advertising standards, as have publishers and government. This put at risk the future of the online ad industry as we know it today.
While most of the responsibility should fall on the advertisers themselves, over time, the publishing community has chosen not to set reasonable limits on the amount of ads to accept; neither has it asked for a control over what type of ads show up next to their publications. Instead, publishers shucked the responsibility and entrusted the process to ad tech itself—and of course, it is easy to look the other way when you’re making money, right?
Ultimately, it was naive to expect ad tech to care about anything but financial gain. New technologies automated the process beyond necessity. And then programmatic entered the scene; humans were almost completely removed from the process of media buying and ad placement. This made things much easier (cheaper) from the previous process, but the quality of user experience (and publisher safety) decreased even further. Programmatic is the biggest reason why some reputable media outlets ended up featuring inappropriate ads on their front pages.
Once a form of art, advertising has turned into a source of annoyance, distraction, and stress. This was a leading factor in creating ad blockers and is what forced publishers to search for alternative ways of monetization.
Ad Blockers vs. Advertisers: Who’s in the Right?
If you ask most advertisers their opinion on ad blockers, they will most certainly reply that ad blockers should be banned. Fair enough. After all, online ads are how they make their living. But the vital question is actually whether internet users should care about the financial stability and viability of a those who don’t care about users’ online experience at all? Here at StopAd, we don’t think so.
To keep it as clear and straightforward as possible, we’ve made a list of the most common claims advertisers make about ad blockers with our clarification on these arguments.
- “Ad blockers make no differentiation between high-quality and low-quality advertising.”
True, but there is an important point most ad blocking critics miss. Quality advertising never takes the form of banners, pop-ups, or auto-play video. Quality advertising is what you see during the Super Bowl; quality advertising is what makes it to Cannes Lions and takes the prize. Obviously, this advertising has nothing to do with the kind of online advertising ad blockers target.
AI-powered research suggests, nearly half of all ads displayed online can be categorized as either aggressive or sub-standard. If the internet was filled with quality ads, it is doubtful that ad blockers would have become so highly demanded.
- The more pop-ups blocked, the more anti-ad blocking pop-ups will appear.
It’s true that some websites have started to use pop-ups to prompt their users to either disable their ad blockers or pay for the content. However, this claim is ridiculous, primarily because there is a difference between a pop-up asking you to invest in a flavor of the month product and a pop-up from a website you know and trust.
Pop-ups asking you to pay for a subscription, make a donation, or disable ad blocking to access content are polite rather than aggressive; they tend to mimic the design of a website. Not to mention they disappear the moment you make a choice. You either decide to donate, subscribe, or whitelist a particular website in your ad blocker settings. What happens when you get rid of a regular marketing pop-up? You are immediately shown a new one. See the difference now?
- Ad blockers can interfere with websites’ design and load speed.
This was more of an issue when ad blockers first entered the scene. Speed issues continue to limit the majority of ad blockers that work as browser extensions and promise more than they can actually deliver. If we take a quality ad blocking software, for example, things such as design or load speed interference would not be a problem.
If you pick the right ad blocker, you may actually enjoy higher page load speed. One feature StopAd gets significant positive feedback for is tracking the amount of ads blocked as well as the amount of megabytes you actually saved by not loading superfluous ads.
- Ad blocking feeds censorship of content.
“Ad blockers contradict the idea of freedom of expression,” some say.
The point behind this statement is that each product or business has the right to be talked about. Fair enough, but the issue is that nobody talks about banning marketing altogether. We are talking about blocking annoying pop-ups, intrusive auto-play videos, and huge banners. If this is all modern marketing is capable of, then I am really sorry for modern marketing. #Sendingmycondolences.
When advertisers claim that ad blocking inhibits freedom of expression, many questions are brought to mind.
Does this mean that web users are violating a law if they decide to avert their eyes from a huge billboard they don’t like? Does this mean that we restrict a company’s freedom of expression each time we change channels when a commercial block starts? How does this “freedom of expression” argument hold when it is users themselves who are choosing to block ads and seeking out tools to do so?
The truth is that ad blockers do not inhibit advertisers from being heard. In actuality, what they do is put more control into hands of users by letting them limit the number of ads they see.
- Ad blocking is killing the advertising industry.
Not true. Ad blocking kills poor user experience and forces the advertising industry to reconsider the poor strategies it relies on these days. Advertising should engage, inform, and educate. Unfortunately, the vast majority of online ads fail on multiple fronts. Instead of engaging, they annoy. Instead of informing, they distract. Instead of educating, they mislead.
The worst thing about many modern online ads is that they do more harm than good. They ruin the pleasure of consuming content, which is a bad thing for content creators and publishers. They serve as a source of irritation, which is something users don’t like. It encourages brands to invest heavily in ineffective marketing strategies, which is obviously not something brands should aim for.
Chances are high that many brands have a skewed perception of how their ads are received. If they had an accurate understanding of how their target demographic views their content—as interrupting the flow of content, haunting users for a few days in a row, or appearing in 5 different parts of the same page simultaneously—brands might reconsider their approaches. Let’s face it. Spending money on this kind of advertising is more harmful than beneficial, not just for individual brands who go cheap, easy and aggressive, but entire industries by saturating user focus with junk ads and driving them away from advertising altogether. One (or many) bad apples spoil the bunch!
In this regard, advertisers should be thankful to ad blockers for pushing, especially inconsiderate advertisers, to reconsider standards and start creating ad campaigns with consumers in mind. It is 2018—the final call for switching to value-added marketing and consumer-first approach.
- Ad blocking contributes to the death of independent media.
Ok, this one deserves a section of its own.
Does Ad Blocking Hurt Publishers As Much As Advertisers Want Us to Believe?
The short answer is “No, it doesn’t.” If you crave the details, keep reading.
Advertisers have always been known for their talent to over-dramatize, so hearing them say something like this does not surprise us at all. What is surprising, however, is how easily some people fall for this statement without critical review.
Without a doubt, ad blocking impact on publishers is significant. Ad blocking does change the game for publishers. It would be ridiculous to argue on that matter. What so many people don’t understand is that the change is a positive one Here’s why.
Besides the assumption that seeing an ad means clicking and buying—it doesn’t always and especially not if the ad quality is abysmal—some argue that online ads are the price people pay for consuming high-quality content. We say that this price can be paid in ways other than intrusive pop-ups or banners. Content creation takes skills, effort, and time. The form of payment needs to change.
Instead of intrusive pop-ups and banners that interfere with user experience (and sometimes pose threats to our personal data), there should be subscriptions, donations, and social media support via likes/upvotes, comments, and shares. Unlike the revenue publishers receive from online ads, these forms of support goes more directly to the publishers or individual content creators without an advertising middle-man. And there is evidence that these initiatives can work for outstanding, independent content creators. Consider Kurzgesagt, Democracy at Work, and Crash Course who all support their content creation on Patreon. Some have even attracted substantive sponsorships and grants.
Some say ad blocking should be a compromise, not a mandate. We agree. That’s why here at StopAd, we let our users whitelist sites they would like to support with ads. Ad blocking is a choice people make, not some kind of an obligatory policy everyone must opt for.
The Final Word: Ad Blocking Impact on Advertising and Publishers
Despite steadily growing in popularity, ad blocking as a concept is still in its infancy. There is still a lot of misinformation to be sorted out, with many concerns left to be addressed.
Nonetheless, there are a few things we can be certain of today:
People don’t hate ads, they hate poor user experience. If one day online advertising improves in quality, maybe we’ll no longer need ad blockers. Until then, people should have the opportunity to remove annoying ads from their online experience.
Creating high-quality content requires resources, skills, energy, and time. If you consume content (we all do!), make it your second nature to give something in return—whether it be a micropayment, a subscription, or something as simple as social media exposure through comments and shares.
Instead of blaming ad blockers for ruining the “party” and trying to fight back, advertisers should change their perspective. It is time for them to see an opportunity for improvement where they now see a problem. Translating this into action would be raising their standards, opting for inbound marketing, and finding new (less annoying) ways of doing their job.
Here at StopAd, we believe the future of the internet is bright. People are adjusting to the idea of paying for the content they consume (consider Patreon, Hulu, Spotify, and even donations to Wikipedia!), so that publishers and content creators can do what they love without the need to worry about monetization. As for advertisers, they need to go back to the starting line to see advertising as a form of art once again.
Now we would like to hear from you. Vote to express your opinion on the topic.