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Ad blockers – eye of the storm

Ad blockers – eye of the storm

The advertising industry these days in caught in the middle of the ad-blockers dispute. Although ad blocking was available in many ways and variations for a long time, the subject took a widespread and controversial turn with Apple’s move of approving ad blockers for Safari in iOS 9.

By September 21 the Peace app had been downloaded almost 38,000 times. Meanwhile, the app was pulled from the App Store and more than 13,000 clients have received their money back. This is an example of how the matter of ad-blockers ethics is not yet settled. The debate is ongoing, and companies, as well as people are very passionate about it.

A calm approach could be useful in shedding some light on this subject. But first – how is advertising perceived from the companies’ point of view and from the customers’/people’s point of view?

Companies and advertising – ad-blockers effects

The practice of online advertising has already acquired enough volume and time span to be considered a traditional one. It is customary to assign funding for brand representation or service and product advertising and presentation – and the technologies employed for this purpose have evolved and multiplied.

Rarely one can find a company that is present online, yet has not engaged advertising services at all. Of course, advertising of the kind that is thwarted by ad-blockers is just a part of what online advertising comprises. Nevertheless, it represents a very common way for enterprises to reach out to their target customers, and it has developed its own micro-universe.

This way of reaching the potential customers or clients via the online medium offers visibility and is easily quantifiable. The brand manifests its presence and it can determine the efficiency of the advertising by checking the precise data concerning the way the public reacted to the ads – the return of investment is easily determined.

Moreover, this is just half of the enterprise environment that is directly concerned by the status of online advertising. For advertising-as-a-service itself there are branches of the digital marketing agencies, or even entire companies that have been created solely for this. Having gained experience and fame, these economical entities breathe and live advertising – from less efficient or more conventional one to highly efficient and innovative publicity.

Confronted with the blunt reality of ad-blockers that now allow the most radical reaction from the connected people – making impossible for the ads to reach them – this industry is in shock. And might take the ad-blockers and their support from the part of the big tech companies as a threat to their activity and existence as a whole.

People and advertising – ad-blockers reasons

On the other side of advertising, things get more complicated. There are many types of people, and the advertising companies know this best – from data collecting and analyzing. The same ad might pass unnoticed by some, yet appeal to others. Even when taking into consideration the different personalization means – when confronted with an ad on a certain page – there is no certainty that the right possible customer would be met by the right ad. There is also the question of ad-placement and timing, and wearables have sharpened this issue. Tiny screens make any available space precious, and the ability to connect wherever and whenever brings all to a more private space in terms of consumer psychology.

The new generation of devices brings specific requests – accessed anywhere and anytime, their small displays condition (yet again) information to be concise and precise. Less space for ad placement and less tolerance for bad personalization.

The usual web surfer had also changed its overall profile – their demands are higher, their patience less. When confronted with things they do not like, people react quickly and switch to another provider of the same service – and there are plenty available. In the quest to please and gain the public, it seems like the tech companies have found a way to get ahead – by taking on the advertising.

Too much ads seem to alienate people. Ads lacking creativity, ads overlapping, ads that fall completely outside the professional or personal people’s interests – all are a reason to find shelter from this wave of information the Internet is constantly pushing – whether we want it or not. Simply put, even when there are no ad-blocking apps or plugins to use, people are mentally blocking ads and have trained to steer their attention away from the information that shows up unsolicited while browsing.

This would be the harsh truth. Acknowledging it would be the first step out of denial for the advertising companies. And the first step into what might just be the future of advertising.

Ad-blockers – another data-analyzing tool?

There are some voices that already consider what lies beyond the ad-blockers controversy. By constantly rejecting ad pushing, an entire market segment is just raising advertisers’ curiosity. Regarding this phenomenon as a challenge and acting accordingly completely takes this dynamics to another level. It’s a matter of survival – and those who will raise to this challenge will go on. Millenials and their behavioral patterns force this re-shaping of the advertising business. Anticipated by some, postponed by others and denied by those who are more conventional in their approach, the advertising revolution puts into perspective the ad-blockers importance. Ad-blocking turns from an issue by itself into a symptom.

Ad-blockers themselves gather data – data provided by the users when choosing what to block and what not, or when allowing ads, because the other information they are looking for is just too important not to have access to it (some videos, for example, cannot be displayed unless the ad-blocker is deactivated, therefore the video content can determine a choice, showing just how much the viewer is disposed to settle in what regards his ad acceptance).

By providing this data of what people choose to accept and also various other insights into how the dynamics of people vs ads changes, ad-blockers are ultimately another analytics tool, depending on how and by whom the final numbers are being processed.

A different accusation brought to ad-blockers is considered by Forbes, in an article that traces a parallel between ad-blocking and piracy. The opposite sides would be the online community and the publishers that monetize intellectual property. By stepping right in the middle of this paradigm, the ad-blocker creators and supporters might make their presence profitable; re-selling something that was not theirs to re-sell in the first place: the possibility for an ad to reach a certain audience. Ad-blockers have whitelists – and, for example, Eyeo, the German vendor of Adblock Plus, provides enlisting for a percentage of the ad revenue to the interested entities. Once you put things this way, those who support ad-blockers are not so much as ethicists, as are trying to reclaim the revenue generated by the web-user interaction on behalf of the browser developers, based on previous mutual agreements with these developers. Put this together with the fact that ad-blockers generally sell the right to ad-free browsing, and the creators of this strategic segment have a double source of revenue.

How do ad-blockers change advertising?

Now that we’ve seen how the same issue looks from different angles, what is actually going on in the core of the controversy? or, to put it differently, in the eye of the storm. As said before, no matter what strategy is behind this new challenge, the only way advertises can win is by improving their take on online publishing. Ethical move, smart move, or plain piracy – ad blocking can be surpassed by improving content, timing and personalization, and by empowering and respecting the public’s choices.

It is no news that social engagement and quality content have been increasing their percentage in marketing – even more so in the segment of high-end brand marketing. Re-inventing the advertising business might prove just what everybody needs. In the meantime, an independent board to decide ad acceptability might ease some of the agencies concerns.

For those who are not yet willing to invest in a radical change of the advertising approach, some not-so-radical solutions have appeared. Here’s some advice featured in an article that addresses publishers and their fight with the ad-blockers:

  • Block ad-blockers users (from accessing the entire page content, or just some features e.g. watching featured videos);
  • Re-design ads, so that ad-blockers would not identify them as such;
  • Choose “native” advertising, where the page content appears common, yet it is produced or supported by a brand or a company;
  • Change the revenue model, offering just a preview of content for free, and charging the access to its full version.

Of course, these are more like short-term solutions – the ad-blockers seem to be here to stay, and whoever holds the power in this strategic confrontation, will set the direction for the future of advertising.

If we enlarge the focus, and – as previously stated, try to take a calm look at this phenomenon, we might just say that the timing is right. With the growth rate in new technologies, mostly wearables and mobile devices, a world in which everywhere we look ads would be battling to catch out attention seems unbearable. On tiny screens or huge screens, with or without sound, advertising as we know it today might just merge into a white noise – having the same effect as no advertising at all. So perhaps reconsidering it now, innovating, scaling and re-thinking the way to reach the audiences will in time prove a good thing.

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