Can AdBlock make Ad Tech Industry better?

May 2018

Advertisements are something any user of the internet is accustomed to and unfortunately often disgusted by. It is easy to see why — ads are seemingly everywhere. They are virtually inescapable, often blatant and obnoxious, and presented in extreme quantities beyond any reason. That is the current state of things. Because of that AdBlock is a thing.

It didn’t happen overnight. The rise of Ad Blocking was a long and winding process that spurred from simple irritation. It blossomed because of the growing disturbing notion that ads are not what they seem, which includes monitoring user activity and adjusting content to user preferences.

But let’s take a step back and sort things out.

What is AdBlock?

The basic principle that lies in the foundation of an AdBlock is content filtering. Every element of the web page has its designation — there are footers, headers, sidebars, central parts, etc. Ad spaces are also designated.

Technically speaking, Ad Blocking is what it says on the tin — it is a browser plugin that blocks unwanted ad content based on the source address and set of filters. Such plugins can provide either full blockage of any ad content, r customized through filters to block only certain kinds of ad content from specific advertisers.

The method behind it is simple. It consists of two elements:

  1. Request block — which prevents a connection with an ad server. Here’s how it works: HTTP
  2. Element hiding — which hides specific HTML elements of the page. It is a CSS snippet inserted into a website that hides elements designated as the blocked.

Here’s how it goes: uploading the page of the website, adblocking plugin checks the requests, detects ones that are coming from ad providers, intercepts it, and then disables it. This turns the page elements that match filter specifications, i.e., ads or any other content, into a void of nil.

Another critical element is privacy control. AdBlock can block out third-party cookie syncing and thus can derail marketing operations.

While it is unclear who was responsible for the original ad-blocking tools, most of the early developments are well-known. For example, in the early 2000s, the Mozilla browser had a feature to block images from specific websites. By 2003 this feature had evolved into a separate plugin called AdBlock. The significant difference of this AdBlock from the modern ad-blocking tools was that it wasn’t blocking anything — it was merely hiding it from the user.

This issue was fixed in 2006 by the developers of AdBlock Plus. That was the start of an offensive against ad content on the Internet.

How AdBlock affects the Ad Tech industry?

For quite a while, Ad Blocking was not taken seriously by an Advertising Industry in general. And why should they? It was stuck between being a milquetoast joke and a preemptive shot in the air. I.e., not something that will make you rethink your ways.

Until it wasn’t, things haven’t changed overnight, but there is a point when the tide started to turn. In the late 2000s, advertisers began to implement tracking technologies to their stacks. It was a large step forward in refining the quality and quantity of ad delivery to a new height. But it was also breaching a sensible subject of user privacy.

In essence, tracking is another word for straight up surveillance on the users, which is not exactly legal. And that led to some K2-sized concerns.

It didn’t help that marketing operations weren’t precisely transparent in the first place, and there was no guarantee that user data was not later sold to third-party or used with malicious intent. Add whirlwind of paranoia caused by privacy-breaching scandals and exposed government surveillance programs, and you have the perfect storm.

Which was gleefully ignored by an ad industry as if it didn’t happen.

Lack of reaction to the privacy situation from the marketers caused a spike in applying for ad blockers. And it was the advertisers’ fault. Their actions were their ultimate undoing — the level of intrusion, user tracking and questionable practices of personalizing ad content was enough to convince users to apply AdBlock as a means of protection from unwanted tracking and subsequent shoving of ad content. Ad Blocking was an “enough is enough” moment for an ad industry.

Basically, AdBlock plugins became a primary tool for bullying Marketers for being overbearing and annoying and downright surveying their consumers.

According to PageFair’s report, consumer interest in ad blocking was on a steady rise since 2013. The breaking point was reached in 2015 when the number of monthly users of various Ad Blocking applications came intimidating 200 million. In that year alone, Ad Blockers cost Ad Industry a staggering $22 billion. Note that this number is still growing with each passing year and will likely pass $50 billion marks in 2018. At the current moment, over 615 million devices use Ad Blocking plugins.

This was bad news for an Advertising Industry that faced an opportunity of a lifetime to taste its own medicine. The situation was “do-or-die,” either adapt to New World Order or extend its suffering by pretending it is alright and gravely wanes until Old Scratch rings the bell.

Why users apply Ad Blocking?

Let’s put this straight — Ad Tech is built upon information. Information is gathered from users. Ad Block means no user data available, which means there will be no ad tech operation — Mellon Collie and infinite sadness Y’all.

Since users are the most critical players in marketing operations — it is reasonable to understand their motivation for applying AdBlock. From a practical standpoint — this gives you a clear and distinct vision of what things you should address and what kinds of ads you should avoid wholly to keep the campaigns’ effectiveness at a reasonably high level.

Those who deliver the ads to the user are trying so hard to deliver the goods that it results in the opposite — complete and utter disdain for any form of advertisement. That is why ad blocking became a widespread practice in the first place. But sadly, that is not the only reason.

Let’s make a little list of reasons for Ad Blocking:

  • Privacy

We live in a period of rethinking the boundaries of privacy on The Internet. European Union’s GDPR is one of the most robust cases for reconceptualizing personal data and privacy online. But it is unclear how it will affect Ad Industry in the long run.

The fact of the matter is — due to all the personal data/privacy controversies of recent years (Cambridge Analytica, Equifax, anyone?), users are getting paranoid about their whereabouts on the Internet. They don’t want to share their data more than it is required to get the information they need, and they don’t want anyone to monitor their activity to shove them something.

And since it is common knowledge that advertisers are gathering information on users to provide more relevant and engaging ad content to generate conversions, that creates a challenging problem. Such methods as Retargeting lists breathe on user data. If it is shut off even partially, that will force an ad industry to rethink their ways.

  • Fear of malware and fraud

Another big concern about digital ads is based on the fact that some digital ads are legitimately dangerous and can lead to installing malicious software on user’s computer or extracting user data with criminal intent.

While fraud detection tools are rapidly evolving and advertisers are cautious about this issue, it doesn’t mean that it can ease the common user’s worries. It is better to shut themselves off entirely than have even the slightest chance of being in the risk zone from their perspective.

  • Ad Fatigue / Irritation

Despite listed reasoning, there is one reason above all of them. Its name is Ad Fatigue, and it is even grosser than casual Ennui.

Ad Fatigue is simply an extreme form of distaste for digital ads in general that manifests itself in taking an executive action to make them go away over the hills and far away.

The most common reason for applying ad blocking is simply an overabundance of various ads, their overbearing nature, and subsequent fatigue. Or, to put it bluntly, users get fed up with an endless barrage of bullshit and cowbell.

At the early stages of ad fatigue, this might trigger a simple banner blindness reaction, i.e., ignoring ads as background noise. But since ads are becoming more and more intrusive, banner blindness evolves to applying adblocking, which is a more reliable guarantee of not having to deal with all these pesky ads.

  • For the sake of better user experience

Another big reason users apply AdBlock is that of ads disturbing tendency to disrupt and even blatantly break the user experience.

The modern style of digital advertising is getting more and more distracting and intrusive to the user experience.

  • Ads jump out of nowhere and bang the drum as if it was a Mardi Gras.
  • Pop-up messages are utterly annoying and often intentionally block anything in the way.
  • Video autoplay usually requires a desperate search for “mute” or “close,” and some content seen on the banners is just off the charts baffling.

This style of placing ads is extremely detrimental to the websites themselves. Not only it takes away the attention from the content itself, but it also turns off the target audience. Users get annoyed by ads and bounce off elsewhere. The pages are cluttered with ad content and often are impenetrable and ultimately useless. Another big problem is that ads often slow down the page to crawl.

These factors add to the use of AdBlocking, not because of distaste for ads but only for practical reasons.

  • Low quality of ad content

There is also one other and rather strange reason to apply AdBlock. Not because ads are bad per se, but because most of them suck. There is a section of users that claim to have nothing against the ads on the internet in general, but they do have a grudge against the low quality of a significant number of ads that get in their way.

That makes sense. It is no secret that Digital Ads are not exactly the most consistent thing on The Internet in terms of quality. There are great ads that do great business. No one complains about them. But there are also loads and loads of other advertisements that innocuously miss the mark. Or if being blunt and honest, for the most part, it boils down to throwing things against the wall to see what will stick.

Those ads give ad business a bad rap, and since they are in the majority, users try to avoid them at all cost, which leads to the entire industry taking a hit. This is one of the reasons that are hard to argue with.

***

But all this should not give a marketer cramps of despair. Quite the opposite. Believe it or not, but Ad Block is a blessing in disguise for modern marketers.

Why should Marketers embrace Ad Blocking?

On the surface level, it seems like Ad Block is the judgment day for digital ads. But it isn’t. It actually does a favor to an Advertising Industry. Ad Block ends digital ads as we know them.

Here’s how. Since AdBlock is the force to be reckoned with, there is no way marketers can rely on tried and tested methods of old. There is a need for significant transformation in the very logic behind marketing campaigns and ad content delivery.

Here’s a short rundown of new ways of advertising under the influence of AdBlock:

  • Whitelist Request

The easiest way to pass through the wall of AdBlock is to politely ask the user to whitelist the website either for the time of the session or until the end of time. How to make this request sound convincing? Block any attempt of viewing a page until whitelisting is applied.

Sure, it is a recipe for increasing bounce rate. Still, if your content is good enough and can reason why ads on your website make all that beautiful content possible — you will meet enough generousness to disable Ad-Block for your website.

  • SEO optimization

This one is not exactly a cutting-edge solution, but it works. Search Engine Algorithms are blunt and unrelenting. There are rules for getting to the top of search request lists. If you follow them correctly — you reach the home base. And that is something that can be used for the benefits of the marketing campaign. Instead of siphoning budgets into paid ad-spaces and shoving content down the user’s throats hoping for conversion, one can use completely different tactics to give people what they want and make them come right to you.

It is all simple — user needs and demands are easy to calculate. There are plenty of ways you can sneak an elaborate piece of ad content past the ad-block radar that will be convincing enough for the user to move from mere awareness towards consideration and action.

With a couple of technical tweaks in meta-title, meta-description, and strategic use of keywords — one can boost a piece of content right to the top where it will be seen and clicked without much resentment.

  • Inbound Marketing

Ad Blocking was born out of irritation and privacy concerns. Ads were getting in the way of surfing on The Internet and were getting too much sensitive information in the process. And so, the problem was eliminated with extreme prejudice with a little help of AdBlock.

One of the most effective Ad Block countermeasures is Inbound Marketing. How? Plain and simple — through delivering valuable content that users can enjoy and come back for more. That creates leeway for developing a meaningful relationship with the user, which can eventually evolve into a more productive conversation.

How does it work? You create content that attracts users. It is based on the needs, interests, and demands of the target audience. It delivers a certain kind of value to them. This content is made visible through distribution through multiple channels, which leads to the primary source — your website. If everything goes fine — users convert, and you can further your relationship with them by meaningful and attractive offerings.

  • Content-driven approach
  • High Concept Ad Content

Another effective method of getting through the boo-hoo-hoo of AdBlock is by making Ad Content stand on its own merits and be engaging enough to generate interest as a piece of art, albeit being an advert. In a way, high concept ads are an amalgamation of more old-school ads with a content-driven approach.

This approach is known as the High Concept. While it is not exactly the most feasible way, it is the most exciting way of doing ad business in the age of Ad Blocking. You do something cool. It gains momentum and burns the house down with its sheer creativity.

The problem with High Concept Ads is that they are hit or miss, and there is no chance to predict how things will roll this time. You can hit the lights once and bang a gong then. There is no tried and tested formula, which makes the High Concept approach very risky in the long run.

  • Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a more ground-level affair than the rest of the covered approaches. But it works through the established trust in personality that presents the brand. The target audience trusts an influencer, and thus they influence the audience to try this or that product.

The connection with an established and trustworthy personality creates an audience overlap and strengthens the perception via authority as such branded content is presented as a part of influencer’s content.

The rise of social media brought a new breed of influencers who have built their reputation through sheer force of personality and dedication. They have a completely different, more personal relationship with their audience, which can be used to benefit.

The act works both ways.

  • On the one hand, influencer creates content with the help of the brand.
  • On the other, the brand receives exposure.

It is a win-win situation. In terms of content, it can be basically anything — a try-out of a product, simple shout-out, or continuous narrative involving the brand in some capacity.

  • Native Ads

You know how traditional digital ads work — they are relegated to specific parts of the pages and usually promptly ignored and downright blocked. It is fair to say that traditional digital ads are tacked on pages. But what if an ad was a natural continuation of the page and the content presented on it? That is what Native Advertising all about.

In essence, native ads are just like regular ads, but they fit the page’s style and presentation. They intentionally avoid messing with the user. Instead, they go for the “hey! Discover this!” route.

From a technical point of view, native ads add something valuable to the content — another perspective, conceptual follow-up, or only additional information. The catch is to make the user aware that this is sponsored content without making it preposterous.

As such native ads draw drastically different kinds of attention from the user based on legitimate interest. And that eases the process of subsequent conversion as you already present value and show what you got instead of just manifesting the fact that you have got it.

In Conclusion

Digital advertisement had evolved a lot since the beginning of the internet. It was never intended to be irritating or otherwise overbearing junk — just a means to promote a business or specific products to a particular target audience. And also collect some data to refine services performance, i.e., making ads more effective.

Alas, that didn’t end well. It became an industry’s undoing. At the moment, Ad Industry is forced to adapt to the New World Order that they helped to enforce their careless and reckless attitude. Old habits die hard, that’s for sure. But Ad Block elevates the question on an entirely new plain — it is either adapts or dies.

Hopefully, this is also a perfect situation for a much-needed change in the Ad Industry. Ad Block paves the way to a more progressive approach in the Ad Tech.

This selection shows what possibilities open up embracing Ad Block in the Marketing Operation.

Writer, translator.

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