Remember when you were really engrossed in watching something (ahem, ahem) online and kept getting interrupted by pop-up ads? Or when you’d hidden a certain tab somewhere when a parent or boss hovered over you, only to have pop-ups give you away? Enter ad blockers. Today, they are living a second life, moving on from desktops to mobiles. Not only does this mean no annoying pop-ups, it also means that advertisers can’t track their consumers. If they don’t know what their consumers are doing and when, how can they target them? Worse still, how do publishers distinguish between served, viewed and simply blocked impressions and ads? We talk to four experts:
Dara Maher, senior director of digital, OMD
Imad Sarrouf, commercial & technology director, DMS
Nisha Patel, business director, MEC Dubai
Serge Sarrouf, digital media manager, Equation Media
How will big companies supporting ad blockers affect advertisers and publishers?
For publishers, it requires a rethinking of their model. Most consumers understand that the content they are viewing is available for free because of advertising, but for some, that doesn’t matter. German tabloid site Bild.de re-routes users who are using ad blockers to a paid subscription page, while YouTube recently launched its own ad-free paid subscription service, following in the footsteps of Spotify. The message is clear and users will need to make decisions on the advertising trade off. For advertisers, it means a decrease in potential reach – whether consumers use ad blockers or paid subscription services – and increases the need to find more innovative ways to reach target audiences – Maher
Advertising is fundamental to the Internet’s business model and keeping content free of charge. The latest estimates show that, globally, 200 million people use ad blockers actively on a monthly basis, so, it’s on the rise. But, these users don’t necessarily account for a large proportion of the Internet population, especially in the Middle East, where the average ads blocked are approximately three percent according to www.pagefair.com. The usage of ad blockers tends to be skewed toward a tech-savvy user, such as gamers.
For publishers, there is a challenge. Good content costs money and the best way to increase visits and engagement is by keeping content free. Having content behind Pay to Access models has yet to be proven viable. Publishers could place ad-free content behind a pay wall, but this could create problems for advertisers reaching specific target groups. On the other hand, you would still find some media with free content, which is not financed by ads but by lobbies or personal entities to push a certain ideology or agenda – I. Sarrouf
With a reported 198 million consumers globally using ad blockers and Apple and Chrome supporting the concept, it’s clearly an industry concern. We should focus on publishers because they rely on ad spend in order to fund content. So, if impression volumes drop, so will their revenue. The real question is how are publishers responding to this? There has been talk of publishers taking legal action against ad blockers; however, with the IAB undecided on what route to take, we have to wait and see. For now, top publishers are considering blocking consumers accessing sites if they have ad blockers installed. No ads? Ok. No content – Patel
How does ad blocking affect targeting and measurement?
If ad blockers can wipe away much of the script that is required for relevant targeting, then the ultimate impact is less targeted and, consequently, more irrelevant advertising, with less-than-perfect measurement and a lack of clarity on conversions. It will lead back into the viewability conversation, where we need to have open and honest conversations with publishers about how many of our ads are actually reaching consumers on their properties. Ad blockers can also potentially wipe away the ability to share content on social platforms, directly impacting measurement KPIs for agencies and advertisers – Maher
Advertisers will only pay for digital ads that have been served to a user (impressions). The issue is that ad blockers prevent them from firstly reaching their target audiences and, secondly, tracking user behavior and gathering data. Advertisers clearly need to be part of the solution and should engage with industry efforts to improve ad formats and targeting methodologies – I. Sarrouf
Publishers will need to readdress not only the way in which their data sets are interpreted and utilized, but also how ads are served on their platforms. Measurement technology and analysis tools will also need to adapt as ad blocking grows and onsite analytics become the primary focus. Fortunately, onsite analytics are already becoming a mainstream measurement as the industry looks beyond “the click”. Ad blocking, coupled with viewability, will make effective and reliable measurement all the more important to advertisers, as the impact of the impression is becoming a currency in itself – Patel
What should advertisers learn from the fact that audiences are blocking their ads?
This [ad blocking] can only be tackled with better targeting and more relevant messaging, which will require some anonymous user data. Consumers will become part of the conversation, while more publishers will offer them a simple choice between paid subscriptions or ad-based models – Maher
Ad blocking not only affects online users but has also generated concern among marketers, who find that it hinders their ability to measure the performance of display ads correctly. Is a particular online purchase not working because the creative isn’t gaining consumer attention and interest? Or is it simply a case where the site or platform being utilized has a high percentage of users with ad blockers? – I. Sarrouf
People tend to hate Internet ads because they find them irrelevant; advertisements are likely to waste your money and annoy your customers. Instead, as much as possible, we should focus on targeting ads and using native advertising. This is the preferable option. With highly targeted ads, you’ll be able to maintain your ad impressions while still appealing to your customers – S. Sarrouf
What can advertisers do to overcome the challenge posed by ad blockers?
Continue to create more content-based advertising, and rely less on ad-like units. Not just because this is a potential way to bypass ad blockers, but also because great content is the best way to get attention and remain memorable in the minds of consumers – Maher
With growing awareness for and greater availability of ad blocking tools, advertisers should join the IAB’s new ads program LEAN (light, encrypted, ad-choice supported, non-invasive ads), which proposes an alternative set of standards to address the reasons why consumers use ad blockers. Frequency capping on retargeting should be addressed to ensure that users are targeted before – and never after – a purchase is made.
Moreover, the number of ads per page should be addressed. Advertisers, as much as publishers, should address this issue in an urgent manner and make it a top priority. When advertisers chase a cheap CPX, the chances are they’re placing their ads all over the place and, therefore, creating clutter. This is the core issue that must be resolved.
Advertisers and agencies alike must recognize that high-quality content is needed to host high-quality ads – I. Sarrouf
Enabling new formats on websites will rescue advertisers and publishers from the threat that is spreading among the market. Native ads and branded content would be a smart escape to guarantee that users are actively reading the content, hence, also reading the ad. In other words, users won’t be able to learn to ignore ads.
Having said that, content has become increasingly popular in recent years and will soon become even more desirable if ad blocker adoption continues to rise. In the meantime, most of the portals are able to integrate native advertising campaigns, but it’s another direction that online media will take in the future for the simple reason that the brand is becoming a background.
In addition, advertisers should start considering this new trend, a form in which ads match the topic and function of the platform they’re on. These ads also focus more on offering content to users and 70 percent of people say that they’d rather learn about products through content than traditional advertising – S. Sarrouf
Advertisers need to rise to the challenge that the consumer is throwing down: “Give me something better”. It’s not a coincidence that native advertising, content and engagement strategies are becoming widespread on digital platforms. It’s the evolution of the consumers’ mindsets and the fight for their attention that is pushing advertisers to establish more effective ways to get themselves noticed.
This could be the push the industry needs to stand up and start creating more accountable content and not rely on standard banners to reach target audiences. Alongside this, we need to start working with publishers to tackle the real issues of slow loading times, auto-initiated full-page ads and creepy ads based on data, and we may start to see not only the slowing down of ad block installations, but also a more engaged consumer – Patel
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