Ad tech always wins: Ad blocker users are the new hot ad-targeting segment

People flocking to use ad blockers might think they’re going off the grid, but they’re really just the newest ad-targeting segment.

The idea of pushing ads at people who have made a deliberate choice not to see them might seem bizarre. But as a demo that’s young, male-skewing and tech-focused, they’re an attractive audience for certain advertisers. Ironically, in their extreme measures to reject the interest of advertisers, ad blockers are just making advertisers more interested. Think of it as the negging of The Ad Game.

“We have long anticipated that ad blocking would eventually reach a level where some brands would be unable to reach their audience,” said Sean Blanchfield, CEO of PageFair, which sells tech that circumvents ad blockers. “This is now happening, and agencies that represent video games brands (e.g., Xbox, Playstation, EA, Activision and Ubisoft) are beginning to actively seek a way to market to ad block users.”

PageFair, of course, is positioned to benefit from this trend, but its view is backed up by some publishers whose sites have a significant ad blocking audience. That possibility has publishers exploring ad blocker workarounds.

“We want to find ways to reach these consumers in ways that suit how they want to be communicated to and with,” Laura Mete Frizzell, gm of search/analytics/media at 360i. “They are part of an audience for which the brand is relevant and can offer utility.”

The potential to target ad blockers is “on the radar,” said Jon Anselmo, senior vp, managing director of digital innovation at MediaVest. “People’s behaviors, including ad blocking, do provide us insights about who they are and what they care about. A tech-savvy nature could absolutely be one such insight.”

On the seller side, too, the idea of targeting blockers is starting to pop up in conversations with publishers like Complex, said its CEO and founder Rich Antoniello. “Those are the hardest to reach people,” he said. One response by Complex has been to use the space normally given over to ads to present ad blocker users with a message asking for their emails to target them regardless.

A 2015 report by PageFair and Adobe says that 16 percent of the U.S. online population blocks ads, an increase of 48 percent in the past year. It estimates that blocked ads will cost $10.7 billion in lost ad revenue this year.

In a separate PageFair and Adobe survey, while almost half of ad block users said they didn’t want to see any ads, with distractive or intrusive ads being the most objectionable, 67 percent said they were somewhat willing to see text and still image ads. That suggests to some that there’s an opening to target them with ads that don’t disrupt their reading experience.

There are obvious risks in doing so. Adblock software users have opted out of ads, so marketers have to be sensitive to that; one way is to serve them a branded content or otherwise less intrusive ad. And while publishers can pay to have their ads not blocked, the advertiser can’t cookie the consumer, which is a priority for some advertisers.

Chris Altchek, CEO and co-founder of Mic, said that as a millennial-aimed site, Mic has long been thinking about ways to reach its audience that has a propensity to ad block, and tries to steer advertisers to branded content ad formats while developing ad products that take advantage of distributed platforms, many of which are not affected by ad blockers.

As for targeting blockers specifically, he cautioned that there’s risk in doing so. “The traditional display ad experience doesn’t resonate,” he said. “It feels like you should probably make your ads better, and I would only do that only after I’d exhausted other avenues.”

Image courtesy of 30 Blind Dates.