This week, readers in Sweden found themselves in the dark. That’s because 90 percent of the country’s news outlets have joined forces to collectively block users who enable ad-blocking technology for the entire month of August. It’s a strong message from publishers about the advertising revenue needed to support news content.
Most consumers don’t realize that the convenient software is also blocking an entire business model. A recent survey from IAB found that 56 percent of consumers didn’t know that their decision to use the technology resulted in a loss of revenue for websites.
We’re facing a cultural disconnect that we must address directly. Many consumers believe that quality news – like so much of the internet – should be free. This belief is likely to keep them from paying for a subscription or disabling their ad blocker.
Our approach to fighting ad blocking must be multi-layered. We should address this perception among our audience while also building a better advertising environment and standing up to deceptive ad blocking practices.
At News Media Alliance, we took a hard stance against ad-blocking companies with misleading or illegal business models. We worked with our members to issue a cease-and-desist letter to Brave Software, notifying the company that its plan to swap advertising on publishers’ sites with that sold through its own network is blatantly illegal. We filed a complaint and requested that the FTC investigate specific companies with unfair trade practices, including Eyeo. And we initiated a meeting with Apple, along with several members, to discuss solutions to minimize ad blocking on mobile technology.
However, there is also a responsibility to listen to our consumers. There’s a reason ad blocking has become popular. Recent eMarketer research estimates that 69.8 million Americans will use an ad blocker this year, and that number is expected to soar to 86.6 million in 2017.
Why? Three key reasons why consumers download and use ad-blocking software, according to new research from HubSpot, are:
- Avoid disruptive ads
- Protect themselves from security concerns
- Save data and bandwidth
To effectively protect the interests of our consumers, especially as it relates to security and data concerns, it’s time that we hold ourselves and our partners to higher standards of advertising. By establishing specific requirements for the type of advertising that will be accepted on our digital and mobile properties, we will enhance the news experience for our audience and continue to build a reputation for premium ad inventory.
Digital ads are often disruptive – especially pop-ups, pre-roll video and mobile ads, according to HubSpot’s research. Yet consumers remain interested in advertising. As HubSpot notes, 77 percent would rather filter out the bad ads than block all advertising. Through innovative native advertising and high-quality ads that fit our brand and websites, we can offer our readers the same complementary and valuable ad experience they look for in our printed products.
We can look to use data more effectively. Advertising serves a valuable purpose when it can provide information on products or deals that are of specific interest to a consumer. Most news media organizations already have consumer insights, and by mining this data and applying predictive analytics, we can determine which ads are most likely to be of interest to a user at any moment.
Perhaps most importantly, we can analyze the digital user experience across our properties and work to serve data efficiently. Mobile operators have said that as much as 20 to 50 percent of users’ data can be spent downloading unwanted ads, and we should be very cautious of how much data our sites and advertising require.
While I believe that taking steps to improve the digital advertising environment is the most important thing we can do to prevent ad blocking and foster a loyal consumer relationship, it’s also worthwhile for publishers to consider additional tactics to decrease the effectiveness of ad-blocking technology.
For example, an experiment by The New York Times found that more than 40 percent of ad-blocker users whitelisted the site after receiving a pop-up message with the request. Joe McCarthy’s analysis of such pop-up messages suggests that they can be even more effective by taking the opportunity to educate readers about the importance of advertising in sustaining journalism. Addressing consumers’ perspective that online news should be free will play a critical role in the long-term stability of digital news media.
Many publishers have been investing significantly in native advertising, which is less likely to be blocked by the software. And others have restricted site access for readers using ad blockers, as news outlets are doing in Sweden this month.
The use of ad-blocking technology is expected to continue rising, publishers must exert tremendous power and influence when we educate consumers and provide a high-quality advertising experience.
Michael is former Vice President of Innovation & Communications at the News Media Alliance.