#OPSPOV: Appealing to the Ad Blocker’s Conscience

Appealing to the Ad Blocker's Conscience

“Who are these ad blocking folks anyway?” asks the latest survey from the IAB.

Come on, we all know the answer to that: they’re a bunch of millennial brats that think they’re entitled to all the content in the world without being a little bit annoyed by brand messaging. They don’t understand or care that most digital publishers make the majority of their revenue off of advertising. They probably are frequenters of torrent sites and streams too, the pirating little shits.

Actually, we’ll come back to that latter bit, but the above attitude does little in answering the IAB’s second question: “How can we get them to turn off the blockers?”

There’s a bit of truth to the ad blocking stereotype: Just like a Reuters report from a few weeks backs, IAB suggests that the majority of ad blockers tend to be men 18-34 years old. But the study suggests that their minds can be changed: two-thirds of consumers using ad blockers are willing to turn them off… For the right reason.

Which brings us to an interesting cross-referencing with the Reuters’ report. Digiday did us all a favor by comparing ad blocking in Poland versus the U.S., Poland records a 38% ad-blocking rate, which is mainly ascribed to the use of torrent sites and illegal streams. 

Anyone who has ever visited these and other “unsavory” sites (I have no idea why you would ever, especially as a man…) has probably noticed that the advertising is not only oppressive in amount, but also tends to be “unsavory” itself and from advertisers unconcerned about ethics (or potentially legal recourse). They’re likely dealing out cookies and malware like free samples. 

The owners of these sites have only a baseline interest in protecting users from malware and bad tracking practices – sure, they want to maintain a base, but how will their users know the cookies came from ads on their sites? How much malware simply never goes detected by the consumer?

“Bad actors ruin it for the rest of us” is a phrase too often used in this industry, but it speaks a lot of truth here. Reuters reports that the two top concerns of ad blocking users are volume of ads and tracking. So if you’re a frequent user of “unsavory” sites, I bet the urge to install an ad blocker is high to maintain sanity against a barrage of ads and protect their computers. (Security concerns are still an under-reported reason users install ad blockers.)

Starving intellectual piracy and illegal streaming sites of revenue is actually a good thing for the industry. First, they’re practicing illegal behavior; second, they’re providing a space for scammers and unethical advertisers to flood their wares and malware. But these sites really have no reason to concede to ad blocking signals in the first place and could just work around them, making the ad block installation pretty pointless.

So it’s the premium publishers that get screwed – though they’re definitely guilty of encouraging ad blocking via too many annoying ads. But there’s also hope in getting these users to turn the blocker off, or at least to whitelist your site. 

Your average ad block user is not the content consumer without conscience who hates ads so much that he wants to see your site burn. An amazing finding from the IAB report is that many people already turned ad blockers off because content was being blocked – both accidentally (ad blocker’s fault) and by the pub 

A plea or even an ultimatum for whitelisting or turning off the ad blocker stands a good chance of being effective. Including detailed instructions on whitelisting similar to Wired.com can only encourage (or guilt-trip) them further. If the latest flurry of ad blocking surveys is to be believed, your audience likely respects your premium content and monetization strategies, even if they get annoyed by the latter.

While it seemed futile before, the data suggests appeals to consumers consciences can work – the “Explain the Value Exchange” bit of the IAB’s DEAL initiative. This is not a call to rely on Ad Block Plus’ Acceptable Ads Initiatives – I have trouble believing that ABP users will flip that on or trust the results.

Don’t mistake this as the end of the ad-blocking menace. The IAB finds 17% of consumers that currently forgo ad blocking are still at risk to join the blocking masses. As we’ve pointed out before, the best medicine for ad blocking is preventive – and that falls under the larger umbrella of user experience. (Look for a playbook on that very topic soon!) There’s also a lot more to get out of the IAB report, including what users really want from content providers: speed.