To ad-block or not, that is the question


By Erica Batten. The Reuters Institute’s 2015 Digital News Report says nearly half of U.S. consumers are using ad-blocking software, much to the consternation of advertisers and online publishers alike.

“Websites have started blocking content to viewership who have ad-blockers installed. If it means the viewers can’t access content, or that to do so requires paying for it, then they might stop using ad blockers,” says Ginger Griffin, founder and principal of Ginger Griffin Marketing & Design in Cornelius.

Indeed, there’s a strained but symbiotic relationship among consumers, online publishers, and marketers as online and print publications continue to evolve.

Users of ad-blocking software, such as Adblock Plus, a free extension that blocks web ads and disables tracking, want fewer roadblocks and pit stops on their way to content.

Whether they’re navigating via desktop, mobile browser, or mobile apps, savvy users understand that pop-ups and other ads not only interrupt content; they also slow page loading and use up data.

But publishers need ad revenue to pay for content.  Consumers are attracted by content, not advertising.  Marketing professionals want to help clients reach customers without annoying and alienating them. To put it in social-media relationship terms: It’s complicated.

“More news sites are requiring paid subscriptions to avoid pop-up ads altogether. The free sites vary as to the degree of ads you’ll encounter. Some are quite tolerable while others are extremely irritating to the point that I, like many, just find another news source,” Griffin said.

Speaking of social media, in February Facebook introduced a new menu of “reactions” to complement its seven-year-old “like” button.  Not only do these emoticons provide Facebook users with a wider variety of options to respond to friends’ posts without actually commenting, they also provide advertisers with a treasure trove of marketing data when users respond to product- or service-related content.

Powerful data-collection practices can lead to ads that are so hyper-targeted as to appear creepy, especially when the same pop-ups follow users as they navigate the web.

Last fall, Apple responded to consumers’ concerns about overt advertising by allowing content blocking for Safari in iOS9. The Washington Post is trying a different tack. It offers readers a choice of either accepting ads or paying for a subscription.

Many sites are finding ways to combat this issue. Websites have started blocking content to viewers who have ad-blockers installed, Griffin said. “If it means the viewers can’t access content, or that to do so requires paying for it, then they might stop using ad blockers. People are most likely to switch off their ad blocker only for their favorite or most frequently-used sites, or forgo free versions of app for paid ones.

“It’s a delicate dance for both advertisers and consumers and something I think we’ll be hearing more about in the years to come,” Griffin said.

Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have brokered deals with Adblock Plus to have their ads whitelisted by default. Perhaps more than any other approach, their use of muscle highlights the arms-race mentality that typically ends in defeat for one or more sides. Then again, Google and Microsoft may be picking up on consumers’ willingness to accept a controlled amount of advertising content.  A recent JP Morgan survey found that two-fifths of people are willing to whitelist ads for sites they trust.


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