Ad blocking rapidly escalating, says researcher

Online revenue is under threat as ad blocking balloons. A quarter of all U.S. internet users will block ads this year.

Ad blocking rapidly escalating, says researcher
Daniel Oines via Flickr (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Large parts of the internet may need to quickly adopt alternative revenue methods to thwart a massive surge in ad blocking.

Ad blocking is not going away, says eMarketer, a research firm that has just published startling projections. In fact, the digital marketing expert says more than a quarter of U.S. internet users will use ad blockers to perform ad-free web browsing in 2016. 

A double digit (34 percent) increase will lead to 69 million ad blocker users this year, eMarketer predicts.

And it’s going to get worse. The researcher says that number will be closer to 86 million ad blocking internet users in 2017. That’s growth of another 24 percent and will mean that almost a third (32 percent) of all internet users will use the barriers next year.

And it’s costing publishers. Digital publishers left $24 billion on the table worldwide in 2015 through ad blocking, according to analyst Ovum and reported by Mother Jones.

The problem is that consumers hate the annoying, intrusive ads that often harass them into watching videos, pop-up inexplicably, or slow the browser page-load due to third-party analytics logging.

+ Also on Network World: Sites that prevent ad blockers lose readers +

Adding insult to injury, the ads are often inappropriate, or when appropriate, don’t take into account whether the individual has now acquired the product he was searching for, possibly hours previously. That search query can prompt the, now irrelevant, ad subject.

What can marketers and publishers do?

Some of these issues will be dealt with as behavioral analysis, using machine learning gets better—an individual human’s psychological characteristics will likely be better understood through artificial intelligence monitoring network traffic, thus providing better targeting.

One marketing technique that could help would be less anonymization of collected physical location data from smartphones. That data connects consumer habits with locations and could help advertisers pitch more appropriately. Ironically, knee-jerk (and possibly warranted) consumer opposition to data collection means that’s unlikely to happen.

So, what’s a digital marketer to do—other than place ads in the ad blocker?

Preventing an ad-blocking software user from seeing the media content, as some are trying, “will have a negative long-term effect,” Mother Jones’s article suggests.

Another possible solution, though, is for media properties to try to charge subscribers for content in exchange for no ads. The New York Times plans that route.

But here’s another idea: Would asking nicely to be ad-blocker white-listed work? The New York Times had some success with that idea, it says in an article about its upcoming quasi pay-wall subscription plan.

The issue reminds me a bit of what happened when the music business became digitized. Consumers initially chose to steal music via peer-to-peer downloading instead of paying for content.

Amazingly, it turned out that this was not really a greedy, malicious act when all was said and done.

The reason consumers just took the stuff was because they had no concept of the idea of intellectual property. It hadn’t been taught to them. It hadn’t occurred to the music listener that someone had to pay. Consumers eventually understood that the kids needed to eat.

Years of consumer education by the music industry has changed the music grab to one of buy again, and consumers are now (kind of) paying via streaming subscription services.

So, it may not be a technical solution that’s required for this issue. Possibly a human one would work: Content creators need to eat.

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