The Financial Times has joined the ranks of publishers taking a more hard-nosed approach to ad blocking, albeit with a touch of humor in its method.
Yesterday the publisher started blanking out words on its stories to readers who aren’t subscribers. Words aren’t blanked out in blocks, but more in a random sequence, with the ultimate message to readers that ad blocking is taking something away. The four-week test will see a selection of non-subscriber readers, who account for 0.75 percent of the FT’s traffic, given a range of different experiences, according to the FT.
FT global sales director Dominic Good wouldn’t reveal exactly how much revenue is being lost due to ad blocking, but described the approach taken as more a “metaphor” that shows how important advertising is to its funding, despite also having a subscriptions business.
“We chose this approach because it gets across the message in a relatively humorous way,” he said. “It’s honest. We’re not saying ‘oops we’ve seen you have an ad blocker on therefore we’re having trouble giving you content,’ like we’re saying to readers it’s due to some tech problem. We need to remind them of the problem that it’s causing in funding media.”
For a publication like the FT, which leans heavily on subscription revenue, ad blocking is a nuisance but hardly the existential threat it is to ad-dependent publications. Still, subscription publications like The Wall Street Journal have dabbled in messaging designed to get ad block software users to quit it.
Some ad blocker users won’t see any messaging, others will be asked to whitelist but can still read the content. Another group will see articles with a significant chunk of the words blanked out unless they whitelist; and others will be fully blocked if they don’t whitelist the site.
The team will be monitoring two main metrics: how many people whitelist, and what reader engagement levels are with content.
For now the tests are for desktop-only. Around 20 percent of the publisher’s traffic is affected by ad blockers, with mobile accounting for around 5 percent of that, according to the FT.
“We’re not ignoring mobile, we know it’s rising in terms of ad blocking usage. But this is the first step, we’ll then look at where we roll it out once we’ve analysed the data,” said the FT’s senior ad product manager Craig Bannister.
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Some publishers in the U.K., such as Incisive Media, have set thresholds for how much ad blocking can revenue or traffic levels, before triggering bans.
Good insisted there was no particular trigger for the timing of the test, but added that “steps must be taken” by all publishers in reminding people of the business model reality of reading free, premium content online without ads.
The publisher simultaneously released an Advertising Charter, which outlines its own commitment to readers, on issues like trust and transparency, and that the user experience will never be compromised by the ad experience.