Ad blocking isn’t going anywhere in the U.K. By 2017, over a quarter (27 percent) of Brits will be blocking ads — 14.7 million people — across desktop and mobile, according to eMarketer’s first U.K. forecasts on the trend, released today.
Although those figures include mobile, that’s not where the crisis is. EMarketer estimates that of the group of people who currently block ads, 90 percent do so on desktop or laptop, while only 28 percent of users block ads on smartphones.
EMarketer’s senior analyst Bill Fisher said mobile will only start becoming a real headache for publishers once ad blocking starts to make headway into in-app mobile. He added that although the company has analyzed the methodologies and reports of the various reports available — including the IAB, comScore and Sourcepoint, PageFair and Adobe — to create its own predictions, it won’t be releasing figures beyond 2017 for now. That’s because so much work is going on to tackle ad blocking, such numbers would become quickly out of date.
Naturally, ad blocking was a heated topic at Advertising Week Europe this week, where publishers, advertisers and ad blocking companies continued to hurl rocks at each other on the issue.
Here are some of the takeaways.
Guardian’s tougher approach to ad blocking is working
The Guardian initially took a very soft approach to ad blocking. The publisher served a polite pop-up message to users informing them it hurts its revenues but allowed them to continue to the site anyway. The paper has since hardened its tack, albeit more in a toe-dipping way than a full-throttled effort.
Speaking at Advertising Week Europe this week, The Guardian’s chief revenue officer, Tim Gentry, was candid about the fact the polite approach is no longer enough but that it’s been having some recent success with getting people to whitelist the site after its latest trials. “Ad blocking is one of the most material disruptions I’ve ever seen in the entire time I’ve worked in the digital industry. We all have to respect the wake-up call it’s brought and must reinvent the way we treat our audiences.”
Part of the problem, he said, is that publishers haven’t done nearly enough to make the necessary value exchange apparent to users over the years. “It’s been so implicit users haven’t even been aware,” he said. “We started off with very polite messages at the Guardian. Nothing happened.”
Now, the publisher is experimenting with a variety of “more persistent” messages with a small selection of users. The Guardian gives readers a mix of options: either register, subscribe, whitelist or go elsewhere. “What we’ve seen with those tests is that the more loyal the user, the more willing they are to whitelist. Up to two-thirds of them have whitelisted, because they value the content.”
The Guardian will continue with this test approach until it has hit upon what level or type of advertising experience a reader is willing to have, added Gentry.
Elephant in the room
Ad blocking has made for some strange bedfellows, too. Publishers in Sweden and France have lately been tackling the issue of ad blocking en masse, with good results. In the U.K., the approach from publishers has been more scattered, with some like City AM adopting hard ad-blocker bans, while others have taken much softer approaches.
Speaking on a separate panel on the economics of ad blocking, Bob Wootton, who was until very recently the director of media at advertising trade body ISBA, said that a collective outright ad-blocker ban is unlikely to have the same effect in the U.K. because of that permanent elephant in the room: the publicly funded BBC. “The BBC is very much a clear and present danger in that sense,” he said.
Independent body for ‘acceptable ads’
AdBlockPlus owner Eyeo has attracted a lot of flak for its “Acceptable Ads” program but has been working for some months on establishing an independent committee to judge what kinds of ads are acceptable through a series of discussions both in the U.S and Europe. Although the committee will apparently be composed of industry stakeholders, according to the company, some question whether such an initiative should be by a commercial body.
“It’s like having my wallet stolen and then being asked for money to get it back,” said Dominic Good, global ad sales director at the Financial Times, likening the headlock publishers find themselves in with ad-blocking companies. “I don’t think we need a commercial body telling us what’s acceptable.”
Rotem Dar, international account manager for Eyeo, fielded a lot of the hostility around its commercial business model by saying that ad-blocking companies have only done what trade bodies should have long ago: curb the tsunami of bad ads that have been messing up consumer experiences.
Responding to that, Wootton conceded that ad industry trade bodies don’t tend to respond to issues like this until they’re “pricked very hard.”
Consider them pricked.