How Dennis is fighting ad blocking with a data-focused approach

Ad blocking remains a serious threat for British consumer magazine group Dennis. The publisher has spent the last six months rigorously testing a variety of ad blocking messages across four of its brands and will soon roll out more to its remaining magazines.

Dennis tested several different methods across technology brands Alphr, IT Pro, auto title CarBuyer and The Week, courtesy of Sourcepoint’s Dialogue service. Dennis found that ad blocking rates vary depending on the vertical, with 24 percent blocking ads on desktop tech sites in its portfolio, 28 percent on its lifestyle verticals, 17 percent on auto brands like CarBuyer and Auto Express, and 16 percent on current affairs titles like The Week. Around 15 different creative messages were tried, and a variety of options presented to ad blocker users, each aimed at giving users a choice.

The results: As long as the messages were in prominent positions within the middle of the article, they had high engagement rates (70 percent), whereas running them at the foot of the pages had around 3 percent engagement rates, according to Nick Flood, product and commercial ops director at Dennis. Users were served with choices such as opting to view advertising, whitelisting the site, or watching video content in exchange for an ad-free experience. Dennis also experimented with different message design and wording, color of buttons to click and different placements on the page. GIFs were also embedded in some of the messages.



“It’s a lot of cash at stake,” said Flood. “A lot of publishers either aren’t tracking or aren’t running the calculation [on what they’re losing from ad blocking]. They have a head-in-the-sand strategy.”

Flood and his team created 15 different messages across the different titles, each with different audience demographics, therefore require a different approach. For example, a hard ban was tested to all visitors to Carbuyer with an ad blocker enabled. The result: 57 percent of ad block users on CarBuyer chose to continue on the site by enabling ads with a one-click solution. And 38 percent of users whitelisted the site.

A smaller test was run with video on Alphr, which involved giving an average 15,000 ad block users the option to watch a 15-second pre-roll ad in exchange for an ad-free viewing experience. Of those 15,000, 75 percent viewed the entire ad. Insights like these will help shape future product and monetization strategy, according to Flood. It could be that there is scope to charge high CPMs for one particular video ad to run, in exchange for the rest of the viewing experience being ad-free, for example.

One result that stood out was the fact that ad blocker users seemed to respond even more when they were served messages with a range of options. A mix of options increased engagement by an average of 61 percent, according to the publisher. Whereas the engagement rates of people being served messages that could be easily dismissed were 80 percent lower.

Users with ad blockers enabled make up, on average, just over 20 percent across all Dennis titles worldwide, though that average drops when mobile is factored in, taking the average across mobile and desktop to 13 percent across its titles globally.

Some publishers have reported that ad blocking rates have flattened in the last six months. Flood, however, cautioned against complacency. “The reason it has plateaued for us is simply because our readers are just switching to mobile, where ad blocking isn’t such a big issue currently,” he said. “But that will change.”

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