Ad Blockers: An Uncertain Threat

Annie Herges
October 16, 2015
Should you be worried about ad blockers? Our media expert, Kathleen Petersen, weighs in on the pros and cons.

You can’t open a digital trade these days without seeing an article about ad blockers – increasing numbers of people, with millennials leading the charge, are opting for programs that eliminate ad units on the web page. This isn’t brand new, but no one seemed to care about it much until it became available on iOS devices, and now it’s an unavoidable conversation.

So, how big of a deal ARE AD BLOCKERS?

Well, it depends on who you are.

Are you a user of ad blockers? You want a good online experience. I get it. But think of what you’re asking for – quality content at no cost. The bills have to be paid somehow, and if not by advertisers, by who? You? Don’t be upset when you’re asked to subscribe, or else all you can see is scrambled content.

Are you an advertiser with multiple of points of contact all along the consumer journey? You should be thinking about the future – but probably don’t need to freak out.

Do you put 100% of your awareness dollars into digital display? Start thinking of other ideas (but regardless of ad blockers, you should be doing this anyway).

Are you a publisher with a large millennial or tech-savvy audience? You will be affected most.

As an agency-side digital marketer, I’ve got to say that I’m not freaking out. Yes, display is a large part of what we do; I believe it is an important player in building digital awareness. Yes, we have programmatic campaigns utilizing pre-roll and banners that have generated fantastic results for our clients. And yes, I would be disappointed if ad blockers were employed to the extent where cookies were unreliable, and we have to rethink these campaigns. But I still don’t think it would be the end of the world.

Because this isn’t the first time this has happened. We would do what we’ve always done – we would adapt.

Relax, advertisers adapt

When I say this isn’t the first time this has happened, I mean this isn’t the first time a major advertising tactic has taken a hit. The one that probably matches the most in severity is the heavy adoption of DVR, and the loss in television commercial views — we adapt. Google regularly updates its algorithm — we adapt. The amount of views organic Facebook brand posts get have plummeted time and time again in the last few years. We adapt. Loss of readership in print goes down, digital billboards require sharing space…the list goes on and on.

It’s advertising Darwinism — we adapt.

So, how exactly will advertising have to adapt to the threat of ad blockers? We will give stronger consideration to the areas unaffected by ad blockers. They don’t block search ads. They don’t block amplified social content. They don’t blocked influencer blog posts, or emails, or sponsored white-papers. And they don’t block content.

Create content to nurture a more streamlined interaction with consumers; reaching them where and when it matters most (if you’re not sure how to go about this, the micro-moments are a fantastic place to start).

What it really boils down to

I love display. The creative is customizable, the targeting can be broad or very specific, the impact can be seemingly subtle and then all of a sudden super-charge your other channels. That said, regardless of all these positive traits we’d never put all our eggs in the display advertising basket. When planning a digital approach, we start with business goals, market factors, and audience research, and then determine which strategies and tactics will achieve those goals. If the day comes that display advertising isn’t one of those tactics that can support your business, it won’t make the cut. But that day is not today.

So what should you do? Keep watching. It’s only a matter of time before there are legal rulings made about ad blocking. Stay on top of the trends (or utilize an agency that does this for you!). Make sure your digital strategy is well-rounded, and embrace what we all love most about digital advertising — the opportunity to be innovative. Regardless of what course ad blockers take us on, now is as good a time as any!

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