The Misconceptions of the Adblock User: A Conversation with Blockthrough’s Marty Krátký-Katz

When you hear the term adblock user, you associate certain characteristics with that demographic. For example, some publishers assume adblock users perceive digital advertising as evasive. 

Others believe it is impossible to monetize adblock users at all, but Blockthrough is asking you to throw away all of those misconceptions. 

Consumers use adblockers because they desire to have an uninterrupted user experience. In addition, consumers believe ad quality has either declined or stayed stagnant. 

That is why the number of adblock users continues to rise. As of last year, there were 290 million people utilizing adblocking tools. Additionally, the monthly adblocking rate has increased from 236 million to 290 million. That is a huge audience segment many publishers and advertisers ignore because they believe their data is trapped behind the adblock wall. But, the truth is quite the opposite. 

We spoke with Marty Krátký-Katz, CEO and Founder of Blockthrough, about the common misconceptions about adblock users, how Acceptable Ads can help you reach the adblocking consumer base, and how to take the responsibility off the consumer. 

Andrew Byrd: You told me that there are a lot of misconceptions about adblock users. Can you elaborate on what those misconceptions are and where do you think they stem from?


Marty Krátký-Katz: The biggest misconception is assuming that all adblock users hate all forms of advertising. It’s easy to hold that belief because it makes intuitive sense. The reality is that users install adblockers for a wide range of reasons, such as to protect their privacy, avoid malware, save bandwidth or device battery, and of course — in some cases, to avoid poor ad experiences.

In recent years, adblocking has largely shifted to ad-filtering, wherein users consent to allow certain types of noninstrusive ad formats to be served to them. This is because for the vast majority of users, using an adblocker signals the desire to have better, safer browsing experience on the web, rather than some kind of ideological opposition to advertising itself.

In our research, this cohort of users has repeatedly demonstrated a nuanced understanding of, and even empathy for, the role that advertising plays in supporting publishers and keeping the web open and freely accessible. According to a 2019 US adblocking report published by eyeo, Blockthrough’s parent company, 71% of surveyed users understand that publishers rely on advertising to keep their content free. We also observe a high degree of willingness from these users to receive a lighter ad experience in order to support their favorite sites and creators.

AB: Your website says that a lot of publishers don’t understand the revenue opportunity associated with addressing adblocking. What advice would you give them?

MK: The first step is always measurement. Publishers need to know what percentage of their visitors use an adblocker, and what percentage of that subset are opted-into receiving a lighter ad experience via Acceptable Ads. This will help in sizing and prioritizing the opportunity.

The most evolved measurement model means having a confident estimate of how much revenue you may be losing to adblocking during a given time period (monthly or annually), taking into account factors such as traffic, ad density, CPMs, and adblock rate.

We do provide adblock detection, reporting, and analytics to publishers free of charge, but they can certainly conduct their own measurement as well. The crucial thing is to know what you’re leaving on the table by not having an adblock mitigation solution in place, especially in times like these when the broader economic outlook is uncertain and global ad spend is muted.

AB: A lot of publishers continue to believe that it is nearly impossible to monetize adblock users, but your company does it every day. How do you do it?

MK: The industry has come a long way since the period between 2015-2016 that some may remember as the ‘adblockcalypse’, when adblocking grew rapidly and there were no sustainable solutions to address the revenue challenge it posed to publishers and media organizations.

Eventually, in response, publishers started putting up barriers between their content and adblock visitors, via a softwall or a hardwall. The problem with this approach is that, if the user disables their adblocker (only a minority do), you end up bombarding them with the same full-throttle ad experience (interstitials, outstream video, animations, etc) that they wanted to avoid in the first place by using an adblocker. Second, it signals to users that the website prioritizes its own financial gain over the user’s satisfaction, which erodes user trust in the publisher’s brand. 

In comparison, Blockthrough’s solution as well as the various solutions from our parent company eyeo rely on Acceptable Ads, a Standard that is adopted by over 250M ad-filtering users globally. Since users provide consent via a participating adblocker, it also eliminates the need for site-level whitelist requests, which they tend to find interruptive and annoying.

AB: Acceptable Ads seem to be a widely adopted solution to reach adblock users. Can you give me a rundown of Acceptable Ads and how adblock users perceive them?

MK: The Acceptable Ads Standard is a set of guidelines that defines what types of online advertisements are deemed acceptable by actual adblock users. The guidelines ensure that ads are not disruptive and do not compromise the user’s privacy or security.

The Standard is maintained by the independent Acceptable Ads Committee, a group of industry experts, publishers, and users who review and update the guidelines on a regular basis. Having a diverse group of stakeholders, which also includes adblock users themselves, both as representatives and the research sample, means that the Committee is designed to always find the optimal balance between user experience and revenue opportunities for publishers.

To the question of how adblock users perceive Acceptable Ads, the answer is that if users perceive certain experiences poorly, they simply don’t pass the inclusion criteria of the Standard. In our research for the 2022 Adblock Report, we found that 82% of adblock users preferred to receive a lighter ad experience by default, instead of being asked to turn off their adblocker.

AB: Your company disproved that desktop adblocking is past its peak as 290M desktop devices were blocking ads by the end of 2021. What does this trend mean for adblock users? Does it reflect their feelings about the typical ad tech user experience?

MK: The idea that desktop adblocking had peaked was first floated in an article by a prominent trade publication, based on industry research and anecdotal commentary provided by stakeholders in the ad tech industry. At the time, our data supported the concept. Adblocking on desktop did seem to enter a period of consolidation between 2016-2020, after four years of rapid growth.

However, in the last two years, that trend seems to have reversed, with the number of monthly active users of adblocking on desktop increasing from 236M to 290M — an increase of approximately 22%. Following the ‘adblockalypse’ years, there was a big push from industry groups, such as IAB with its LEAN framework and Google putting its weight behind the Better Ads Standard, to clean up ad experiences in the hope of slowing the growth of adblocking.

We believe that the revenue threats originating from other sources in recent times, such as the tightening privacy regulations and loss of third-party cookies, have nudged publishers back into their old ways and they are adopting more aggressive ad layouts in order to hedge potential losses. To this point, when we surveyed more than 5,000 US Internet users in 2021, 67% said that they believed that the quality of advertising on the web has either stayed the same or declined.

AB: In our previous chat, you said that when brands try to reach adblock users, the tactics they use tend to put the due diligence on the consumer. What advice would you give to advertisers to put more of the due diligence to reach the adblock audience on themselves? Is that the right way to go?

MK: We think that’s absolutely the right way to go about it. Brands have been slowly losing their audience and reach over the last few years. Adblocking is surprisingly “sticky”, meaning that once a user makes the decision to install an adblocker — they hardly ever go back. Certain brands are disproportionately affected, such as those selling to tech-savvy consumers.

Ad-filtering users comprise a distinctive audience segment that is worth addressing from the perspective of brands and advertisers. Since these users are not inundated by aggressive ad experiences on the web, it actually makes them more likely to notice non-intrusive advertising.

There are a few ways brands can start thinking about this audience. First, to improve their understanding of these users, their motivations and preferences, and how they like to be advertised to, since the default doesn’t work for them. Second, brands should get involved in initiatives such as LEAN, Better Ads Standard, and Acceptable Ads Standard, and consider committing a percentage of their advertising spends towards known non-intrusive formats.

Throughout 2022, we’ve seen brands commit to better understanding the carbon footprint of their buying decisions. We also know that the ad experiences that consumers find most annoying are also bad for the environment, as they consume more computing resources to be delivered. So for brands, this could be an opportunity to achieve multiple objectives: Increase their audience and reach, grow campaign ROI while also meeting their sustainability goals.