The threat of ad blocking has been a rising topic of interest over the last few years. The technology has caused publishers serious concern with how it might affect their revenue streams; brands also have shown hesitance in investing in digital marketing due to this impending challenge. What can you do as a marketer to counteract this threat?
How common is ad blocking technology?
Out of 1.9 billion global smartphone users, around 419 million — or 22 percent — of them use mobile ad blocking tools, a new study from PageFair found.
In the U.S.
According to eMarketer, U.S. internet users running ad blockers will grow this year to 69.8 million, or 26.3% of web users in the U.S., from 51.9 million, or 20%, last year.
According to a recent study by IAB Canada, approximately 1 in 6 (17%) of online Canadians use ad blocking software on their desktop devices, while only 6% have this type of software on their mobile devices. A similar study by GroupM showed that 16% of Canadians use ad blocking technology, which is lower than the 22% global average. Therefore, ad blocking does not seem to be as prevalent as one might think.
In terms of demographics, the same IAB study showed that ad blocking was most common amongst male millennials. Differences were also found between ad blocking usage across Canada, from 11% usage in Atlantic Canada to 19% in BC. Brands and advertisers, therefore, need to strategically plan their digital media, based on geographic and demographic variations in ad blocking behavior.
Recent ad blocking options for consumers and the future of ad blocking
In North America, ad blocking is far more common on desktops and laptops than on smartphones. Although the scale of ad blocking usage is currently minimal in North America, over one-third of all smartphone users in the Asia-Pacific region use a mobile ad blocking app or browser.
This phenomenon will continue to affect the U.S. and Canada, with emerging companies such as Shine providing consumers with convenient options. Shine partners with mobile networks to completely eliminate all ads from being served to mobile devices. Smartphone users no longer need to download an app or software; the ad blocking happens automatically by the carrier. As of this year, Shine has signed with carriers in the UK and Italy.
What should marketers do to reduce the threat of ad blocking?
Knowing the possible rise in ad blocking, marketers need to increase the relevance of their ads to reduce frustration and promote engagement. This can be achieved through targeting, content, and ad formats that are selected.
Data-driven targeting strategies such as remarketing and lookalike segments help match content to a user’s interests and needs. Based on a user’s behavior on the website or landing page, variations of creative should be served to promote a desired action within the purchase funnel. For example, a user who has added a specific product to their shopping cart can be served an ad that includes a coupon for that same product. On the other hand, a user who has viewed a selection of products is encouraged to return and re-evaluate options, by being provided with a site-wide offer (e.g. free shipping). Furthermore, users who have already converted should be excluded from the ad serving audience pool (unless they’re being served an ad to perform a different action).
If larger scale prospecting and awareness tactics are included in the marketing strategy, then some type of value should still be provided, whether it is through the ad format or messaging. For example, rising star units or mobile interstitial ads can capture interest and encourage engagement. These interactive units feature videos, social sharing, maps, slideshows, and more.
The intrusive nature of the ad format should also be taken into consideration. Formats such as skippable YouTube TruView ads provide users with the choice to consume content. Native ads on online publications also reduce frustration and increase usability by seamlessly matching their environment. See example below of Orange is the New Black and The New York Times.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) introduced LEAN, a new set of creative standards meant to produce ads that are lighter, less resource intensive and, hopefully, less likely to encourage people to install ad blockers.
The situation isn’t quite as bad as it looks, since the two online advertising leaders aren’t quite as affected by ad blocking. Google’s search ads are not blocked by the majority of ad blockers, and Facebook’s ads run inside its own app, where they also cannot be blocked.
Marketers need to invest in user experience to reduce the negative connotations associated with online advertising, and the growing demand for ad blocking. When creating marketing strategies, take into consideration ad formats, messaging, and targeting that is highly relevant and provides value. Broad, generic banner ads are a thing of the past. Highly specific, valuable content is required and expected. The most effective way to fix ad blockers is to produce better ads.