The soft approach won't work, and other things we learned about ad blocking

With 200 million people globally blocking ads, costing $22 billion to the ad business in 2015, publishers are naturally concerned with falling ad revenues. At our WTF Ad Blocking event in the U.K., Digiday gathered publishers to discuss ad blocking. Here’s what we learned.

Better advertising won’t solve the problem
Ad blocking is the result of bad ads, but making better advertising won’t address the cause of the problem, according to Stefan Betzold, managing director of Bild. Publishers are still penalized by bad ads across the Internet that are prompting people to install ad blockers.

The soft approach doesn’t work
Axel Springer’s Der Spiegel politely asked people to turn off blockers three years ago, but to no avail. PageFair tested polite messaging on 220 websites and found just 0.3 percent of readers responded by turning off their blocker. Publishers are getting tougher. Trinity Mirror is keeping people with ad blockers from accessing content on regional title Birmingham Mail. And Bild’s hardline approach has led to 80 percent fewer ad blockers on its desktop site, according to Betzold.

Learn lessons from native before it’s too late
While native advertising has been touted as part of the antidote to ad blocking, it’s unlikely to scale to the extent needed to make up the revenues lost to ad blocking. Native ads often are just as likely to be blocked as display ads.

“We need to tell great stories with the same level of authority as the editorial content surrounding it,” said Oliver Lewis, head of digital at News U.K., who explained that video and native content will be at the heart of the Sun’s upcoming redesign. “Great storytelling can include brand endorsements so long as there’s synergy between content and audience.”

Different business models are needed
ESI Media’s decision to take the Independent out of print circulation and be completely focused on digital makes it all the more important to find a solution to ad blocking. Jon O’Donnell, group commercial director there, said ESI Media plans to combat ad blocking by making readers log in and giving them a more personalized reading experience.

“Our future is digital so we have more at stake compared to other news brands,” he said, “It’s really important we find a solution to this model.”