The Canadian approach to fighting ad blockers: trade ads for user data

Leave it to a Canadian publisher to go the polite route in its fight against ad blocking.

Narcity Media, which runs a pair of city-focused sites aimed at Canadian millennials, last week started asking ad blockers to log in with their Facebook accounts if they wanted to read its sites ad-free. The 3-year-old Narcity Media, which has seen around 10 percent of its readers block its ads, hopes that the process is simple enough that its readers won’t balk at logging in.

For Narcity, the value in its anti-ad blocking scheme comes from the data it collects from the readers who sign in. Publishers that use Facebook’s sign-in feature get access to the names and basic demographic information of the readers who use it. Narcity aims to use that data to better personalize content for logged-in readers, giving them more relevant articles and, more importantly, sponsored content.

“We wanted to address this in a way that benefited us but without asking too much from the readers,” said Narcity Media CEO Chuck Lapointe. “We know that most people are lazy and for them to go into their ad blocker settings and whitelist us would be too much work.”

The effort looks to be a success, judging by the early performance. Narcity, which attracts around 3 million unique visitors a month according to its internal metrics, has gotten around 1,500 new user registrations a day since the feature launched, and 11,500 users overall. At any given time, around 1.3 percent of its users are logged in.

Lapointe conceded that there is something particularly Canadian about the approach, which he said respects readers’ desire to read its sites free of ads. Narcity didn’t consider blocking ad blockers or forcing readers to pay directly, neither of which would have worked for its entertainment content. “It might be our soft souls,” he said, explaining the approach.

narcity

The effort is a departure from the strategies taken by the likes of The Atlantic and Slate, which have targeted ad blockers with messages asking users to whitelist them. The publishers have also used the messages to push their paid-subscription products, which offer readers alternate means to support the publishers beyond advertising. Other sites such as Forbes and GQ have been married to the idea that advertising is the most viable way for readers to support their content, and have forced readers to turn their ad blockers off before they’re able to read their content.

“If they’re not giving us revenue from ads, they can help us by exchanging personal info,” he said. “It’s a different kind of value, but it’s still very valuable.”