Ad blockers – sometimes known as content blockers – are simple software programs that prevent ads from being shown on websites. Ad blockers are typically browser add-ons, and are available for the Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Internet Explorer web browsers.
AdBlock Plus is the most popular ad blocker on the web. This browser plugin has been downloaded and installed millions of times, and is available for a range of different browsers. Although AdBlock Plus is the most popular ad blocker, dozens of alternatives are available.
The damage is more than financial. It’s existential. The rise of ad blocking comes just as the media industry had settled on a revenue model to move forward after years of disruption and pain. The new model looked a lot like the old one: circulation revenue plus ad revenue equals sustainability. With so few people willing to pay for news, advertising was supposed to bring up the rear. But publishers seem to have totally overlooked the fact that, while print ads were relatively innocuous and unavoidable, digital ads are different. They aren’t static. They blink. They follow. They irritate. And readers can do what they never could in print: erase them. Now, a frightening reckoning is at hand, a perhaps terminal diagnosis that few seem willing to accept or even acknowledge.
For publishers, ad blockers are the elephant in the room, media analyst Frederic Filloux wrote a few months ago. Everybody sees them, no one talks about it. I asked numerous publishers and ad platforms how much ad blocking they were seeing and what they were doing about it. Most didn’t reply. A Google spokeswoman did tell me this: “We believe that ads help fund free services and content on the Web. For our part, we’re continuing to invest in ad experiences that are relevant and useful for users, ensuring that users have choice over their ad experiences online, and helping publishers continue to fund their content.”
Today, we’re in the midst of tremendous change in the digital advertising industry. The online ad industry, and the publications that rely on it for revenue, are at a watershed point because ad blocking has diminished the impact ads have online. Yet their wounds are largely self inflicted: the poor experience generated by online ads directly caused the runaway adoption of ad blocking tools.
How advertisers respond to ad blockers will shape their industry and the experience of all online browsers in the future. If advertisers can agree to only display unobtrusive ads, our study shows there are a lot of people around the globe who are willing to look at them. Consumer behavior should dictate strategy. The next phase for the ad industry should begin with an understanding of what creates value for consumers.
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