According to a 2018 Global Web Index report on ad blocking, 4 out of every 10 people browsing online are blocking ads. Asia Pacific (APAC) leads the way with 47% of people using a blocker, with North America at 43% and Europe at 39%.
And while in general there are more people blocking on desktops than mobile, there are some places in the world where blocking ads on smartphones has already caught up with the PC market.
For example, the report shows that only 23% of mobile users in North America block ads on their smartphones in comparison to 38% on desktop, and in APAC, 38% of desktop and mobile users block advertisements.
This is, understandably, a source of enormous frustration for everyone involved in the advertising supply chain. For advertisers, reach is diminished. For publishers, payouts are smaller. And with sectors of the digital economy like online journalism coming under pressure due to falling advertising revenues, it’s tempting to lash out against ad blocking.
However, that’s not the correct response. To reduce ad blocking, companies need to understand why consumers have decided to block and adapt their approaches to counter their concerns. Otherwise, blocking will continue apace, causing everyone headaches in the long term.
Intrusion Equals Exclusion
To understand why ad blocking happens, we need to understand why advertisements annoy consumers. And when we look at research into this topic, one theme continually surfaces as the dominant reason for consumers reaching for a blocker: intrusion.
An influential 2017 report asked 4,600 users in the U.S. about why they deployed ad blockers: 30% said they blocked to avoid exposure to viruses and malware, 29% to avoid interruptions, 16% to speed up loading time and 14% because there were too many ads on their webpages.
Interestingly though, only 6% of users blocked ads because of privacy or tracking concerns, suggesting that users’ concerns with ads were about their surface-level deployment, not their mechanical operation.
This is supported further by the Global Web Index report cited earlier in this piece, which interviewed nearly 40,000 ad blockers between the ages of 16 and 64 to discover why they blocked.
While 20% said they wanted to avoid ads based on their browsing history, most concerns were about how ads intruded on the user experience; 44% of respondents said outright that adverts were too intrusive. But they also hinted at how ads encroach on the browsing experience in other ways, with 37% saying they take up too much space and 33% saying they blocked ads to speed up load times.
Worst of all for advertisers, the evidence base also suggests those who block are likely to develop it into a habit.
A report from the Mozilla Corporation into the effect of ad blocking on user engagement detailed an experiment that saw a group using ad block spend 28% more time on the browser than those who didn’t.
And the principal conclusion of the Global Web Index report is that those who use an ad blocker do so almost every time they go online, with 6 out of every 10 people who use an ad blocker doing so on a daily basis.
As a result, there is a real risk that advertisers and publishers get caught in a cycle where their work actively encourages ad blocking.
On one hand, the continuing battle for a share of digital advertising revenue encourages advertisers and publishers to run intrusive ads to demonstrate they’re seen.
But on the other, such an approach will alienate users, leading to them to turn on the blockers, tune out advertisements and further exacerbate the reach and revenue issues for both halves of the digital advertising equation.
Breaking The Cycle
First, platform holders can lead the way by penalizing disruptive advertisers. Google, for example, has been blocking bad ads and demoting slow-loading mobile websites saddled with ads in its rankings since signing up to the Coalition for Better Ads in 2017. This removes incentives to overload pages with ads or run memory- or data-intensive ad units, quelling user unhappiness.
Second, advertisers and publishers can find other ways to deploy their messages in a less intrusive manner.
In app terms, it means drawing inspiration from services using interactive ads that fit seamlessly into the experience.
But in campaign terms, it may mean exploring new approaches and formats to get your message out. For example, nearly 20% of individuals aged 16-34 discover brands through influencers.
This presents an opportunity to natively advertise through the influencer themselves, and potentially promote their endorsement through other ads run across other formats. Or it allows advertisers to find influencers who have built audiences that tolerate ads — such as pre- or mid-roll video — to ensure blocking won’t happen.
Third and finally, though, advertisers need to place a higher emphasis on relevant advertising.
Irrelevance walks hand in hand with intrusiveness. If users are already annoyed by the slow loading time, by the difficulty clicking off ads and by the volume of ads, their annoyance is worsened if they’re not even close to liking what’s being advertised to them.
It can be hard to increase that relevance to users, especially when it needs to be combined with the need to respect user privacy. New technological developments, such as the use of machine learning in advertising buying, will help advertisers to reach users with the right brands in the right ways, preventing them from reaching for the blocker.
Ultimately, answering the question of why people block ads is easy. They block because they see ads that are intrusive, disruptive and, in the end, annoying. And when they get annoyed, they find a solution in the form of ad blocking software and stick to it.
But ending ad blocking is not so simple. There is little chance that ad blockers will disappear overnight. So advertisers and publishers must work together to kick the habit of intruding in favor of a more respectable advertising approach, for fear of driving more users to turn the blockers on.