Online ads and blocking technology: an opportunity for publishers to get creative

Web users find online advertising annoying, intrusive, often irrelevant, and a drag on browser speed. For those that go online using a mobile, there are also concerns over stealth data consumption and privacy.

It’s for these reasons, according to a recent YouGov survey, that 15% of internet users currently use ad-blocking software and 22% have at one time or another downloaded technology of this kind.

It goes without saying that use of ad-blocking technology is a problem for media businesses, but perhaps more worryingly only 44% of the public are aware that much of the free internet is actually funded by advertising. This presents a massive problem for both media owners and advertisers. For many, digital ad growth is still a long way off compensating for the decline in offline revenues and now that growth appears to be levelling off.

Of course, the public doesn’t think all advertising is bad. For example, in some parts of the publishing industry (notably fashion and car magazines), ads are as much of a draw as editorial because they’re beautiful or useful. And it’s around this time of year that people start speculating about the John Lewis Christmas ad, while other TV ads form part of pub conversations the year round.

Online advertising isn’t anywhere near this level yet. Ask yourself this – when did you last see a digital ad that really stuck in your mind? Unless you work in the industry, I’m guessing you can’t think of one. All of this suggest that that digital marketers (perhaps with the exception of those working in search marketing), haven’t really maximised the potential of digital from the consumer’s point of view. And digital audiences are in revolt as a result.

There are a number of potential solutions. One is go down the road of City AM, which recently took steps to prevent those using ad blockers from accessing content. The big advantage for City AM, however, is that its audience is affluent and highly commercially aware, and it also provides content readers can’t easily get elsewhere, so this policy might not work as well for other media owners. In some areas – classifieds for example – ad blocking isn’t so much of an issue. AutoTrader represents one of the most successful print-to-digital transformations I can think of, because the ads are the main driver of traffic in themselves, and the users know exactly what they want from them. Yet, for everyone else, ad blocking presents a big challenge.

Instead of considering the issue of ad-blocking as an insurmountable problem, what if digital publishers started thinking of it as simply another creative challenge? Media owners are solving creative problems every day; why not apply the same thinking to advertising that’s applied regularly to editorial?

For instance, does your digital strategy pay sufficient attention to native advertising and other less intrusive forms? Can you find a way of working creatively with brands to create an experience that draws users in rather than puts them off? And if not, do you have the digital talent in place to drive that change? Might you need new people, and new thinking?

Ad-blocking isn’t going to go away any time soon, nor is the public distaste for online ads, so why not try to find an inventive solution?

While online advertising is more measurable and easier to target than offline advertising, for most consumers it’s a nuisance first and foremost.