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How You Fight Back in the Ad Blocking War

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What is Ad Blocking?

People, as a general rule of thumb, don’t love intrusive advertisements. DVR has been a staple in the modern household because it allows you to fast forward through commercials. Hulu is now charging a few dollars more to avoid 90 seconds of advertisements. And how many times do you click the “skip ad” button on YouTube as soon as possible? We hate being interrupted even if only for 10 seconds.

Ad blocking does for the internet what DVR did for television. It’s available across multiple browsers (including Chrome) and has been growing in popularity. A report from Adobe and analytics company Pagefair found that Eyeo’s AdBlock users have grown from 21 million a month in 2010 to 181 million per month this year.

But you couldn’t escape advertisements on mobile, which is important because mobile searches have surpassed desktop searches as of May, with Apple’s Mobile Safari dominating usage statistics. Fast forward to September….

Apple’s Announcement

At a media conference in San Francisco in early September, Apple announced the availability of ad blockers via the app store for mobile. Quickly, ad blocking extensions became the most popular apps in the App Store, including Peace (more on that later).

Google’s Announcement

Never one to be left out of the party, Google followed up with their own big announcement. Google Display Network is now 100% viewable. And by that, they mean you will only pay for an impression if someone actually sees it. Prior to this announcement an astonishing 56% of advertisements were never seen--but marketers were still paying for those impressions. So now, your CPM (cost per thousand impressions) will be vCPM (viewable cost per thousand impressions).

AdBlock’s Announcement

Well wait guys, we can’t just let Google and Apple duke it out. After all, this whole thing revolves around AdBlock. AdBlock announced a new program allowing users to pick what types of ads they want to see. They can view all ads, no ads, or only “acceptable” ads. Acceptable ads are those that are not annoying (their words, not mine). There’s a whole list of what qualifies an ad as “acceptable,” but essentially--it’s delivering non-obnoxious, useful content to the user.

Peace Announcement

A few days after ad blocking was in full swing on ios 9, ad blocker app Peace had risen to the most popular paid app. So, developer Marco Arment pulled it from the store.

Ok, so he actually pulled it because he has a crisis of conscience. He was receiving criticism from writers and publishers for his app because it threatens their livelihood, and he’s surely receiving criticisms now for removing his app. To be clear, he still firmly believes that intrusive mobile ads are annoying and that the broader fight against ads is totally necessary, but a simple App solution is too blunt.

Ok, but what does this mean?

This whole fiasco, and yes, it is a fiasco, feels a lot like a middle school power struggle. Why? Well, Google’s revenue model is based on advertisements and Apple’s revenue model is based on hardware. Wait, are you saying that Apple announced an update that messes with their “partner’s” revenue streams? Yep. But, it’s for user experience, and even Google says that user experience is super important. Hence their algorithm updates that drive digital marketers bananas.

So is user experience not a factor with Apple News and Facebook? Because iPhone users will still be served unblockable ads on those platforms. The new IOS 9 also has a fancy search function that can search inside apps--potentially driving users away from Google based results.

So, Should You Care?

When it comes to Apple vs Google vs Ad Blocker, hang tight. Things are changing at a super rapid pace, and it’s safe to say that something big will come of it, but we’re not exactly sure what that looks like just yet. Will more ad blocking applications flood the marketplace? Probably. Will Android follow in Apple’s footsteps? Probably. Will other display networks go to the GDN 100% viewable model? Maybe.

If you are a publishing powerhouse this won’t be a huge blow to you. Big brands have big audiences and, importantly, big budgets and will find new opportunities to capitalize on such as native advertising.

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But if you’re a smaller company, business, audience--you should be a little more concerned. After all, online advertising is often the most cost effective way to market to your audiences.

When it comes to GDN only charging you for ads that are viewed by users...sure, let’s be happy about that. But honestly, if you’re working with a smaller budget, you probably weren’t paying for impressions anyways. You were (hopefully) paying for clicks or advertising to a targeted group because that would be the smart thing to do. Marketing doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be a random shot in the dark. You have tools, data, and intelligence to market products and services and be effective at it. And - if you were paying for impressions only, you probably have a big enough budget that this is just news, not a huge relief.

What Can You Do Right NOW - while the madness continues to unfold?

Stop paying for impressions.

Seriously, maximize your budget and pay for clicks. Pay for performance. There are ways to do a paid awareness campaign and not pay for impressions. Consider retargeting for your website visitors or do broad keywords instead of exact phrase.

Serve your targeted audience useful advertisements.

First, because it’s the right thing to do. Also, because they probably won’t be labeled as “annoying” by AdBlocker. Make sure your message is clear and your ads appear in relevant channels, so they don’t appear to be random spam. If you can’t swing that on your own - seek help.

Explore additional methods to content promotion.

Yes, paid is a huge component of promotion, but are you promoting via your owned channels? Are you doing it well? Utilizing multiple tools to promote your content is the key for truly game-changing awareness campaigns.

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Lynsey Johnson Team Photo at Element Three

Lynsey Johnson is "mostly a Hoosier," but she's a digital marketer through and through. Marketing leverages her love of reading and writing, but her skills in math – honed in school and her past work as a financial analyst – help her find the best ways to maximize our clients' digital spend. And she's also an expert gardener, as it turns out!