Ad blocking has gone mainstream. With 85 percent of digital publishers’ revenue coming from advertising, the trend has led to fear and finger-pointing but no consensus on how to combat the problem, which is complicated by the fact that all parts of the ad infrastructure — advertisers, agencies, ad tech, publishers — play a part.
If no panacea to combat ad blocking has emerged, that hasn’t stopped publishers from trying a variety of approaches, from ridding their sites of intrusive ads to demanding people disable their ad blockers. At Digiday’s WTF Ad Blocking event on Thursday, several of them from Slate to Forbes to The Huffington Post shared how they’re attacking the problem. Here’s a recap:
Forbes has been on the aggressive. With about 13 percent of its visitors using ad blockers, it began a test in December to block access to content for some visitors using ad blockers. Forbes revealed that of those it blocked, 44 percent of them complied and turned off their ad blockers. The dwell time for those visitors and number of viewable ads for those people was higher than for non-ad block users, Forbes revealed. The publisher is also testing ad-light experiences.
“We think it’s great that we can target people cross-device, but the users, not so much. They have privacy concerns,” said Achir Kalra, svp, revenue operations and strategic partnerships at Forbes Media.
The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post has set up a task force so it can learn how its global partners combat ad blocking. The HuffPost’s main approach is to eliminate reasons for people to ad block by focusing on the ad experience. That means making sure its native ads are clearly disclosed throughout and written in the voice of the publication. It also uses parent AOL’s user experience team to keep tabs on the site and catch ads that are dissatisfactory.
“Consumers aren’t willing to exchange their data or privacy for a better experience. That’s a little bit of a myth in the ad world,” said Kirsten Cieslar, global senior strategy and development manager at Huffington Post.
Slate says the percent of its audience using ad blockers is around the industry average, which PageFair puts at 15 percent. With ad blocking costing it an estimated 8 percent of its revenue in lost ad impressions, Slate has been serving a message to ad blockers asking them to sign up for its premium membership, an approach that’s made a small dent in the lost revenue. The publisher is also eliminating intrusive ads on its site. In six months, it plans to “ask” readers to disable their ad blockers, based on having improved its ad experience.
“The overall impact of this phenomenon is exaggerated in terms of financial impact. Focus on all these costs of going after these ad blockers and the opportunity cost of focusing on new platforms,” said David Stern, director of product development at Slate.
SpanishDict relies on programmatically placed ads, which opens it up to a lot of undesirable ads. It estimates 12 percent block ads. In September, it launched a homegrown tool to gather ad feedback that can be used to remove an ad or block the advertiser. It’s had days where it gets 400 complaints on an ad, usually autoplay video, and it’s taken action on about one third of the ads people complain about.
“We can’t affect the format when we serve ads programmatically. I’m not by any means pro ad blocking. But we ought to be asking, what as publishers can we do to change the experience on our site? We don’t really know what [the user] experience is like,” said Jordan Woods, ad operations manager at SpanishDict
The financial information company has been working on improving the ad experience for some time, and now it’s doing it with an eye towards ad blocking, too. That’s meant a cleaner suite of brand marketing messages have been cleaned up with more white space, less animation and lower-case fonts that talk rather than scream. The company monitors metrics like dwell time, white paper download rates and how much people tweet its ads to gauge its success.
“Everyone’s screaming and yelling, so let’s not scream and yell — let’s do the opposite,” said Chris Briseno, digital creative director at Bloomberg LP.