Written by Mona Chen, Class of 2020
A 2016 Adobe study showed that over two-thirds of consumers believe that online ads have either stayed the same or improved. Despite this, there is continued growth in the usage of ad blockers. Ad blocking software such as AdBlock Plus allows users to browse online without encountering advertisements, including pop-ups and video ads. In 2015, consumers around the world used this type of software 40% more than they had previously used. Blocked advertising resulted in a global loss of revenue that was estimated to be $21.8 billion in 2015, and that is projected to increase to $41.4 billion in 2016. In effect, the evolving industry may have long-standing ramifications for advertisers, ad-blockers, and consumers.
Gaming websites, social network platforms, and search engines are among those that have been impacted by the financial costs of the growing popularity of ad blockers. In recent years, a number of websites have taken to displaying messages to alert users that the ad blockers are depriving businesses of revenue and to prompt the users to disable the ad blockers before they can access the website’s content. While in some cases these efforts successfully convinced users, in other cases they encouraged users to find alternative websites, which hurt the businesses.
Earlier this year, Randall Rothenberg, President of the Interactive Advertisement Bureau, insisted that ad blocking negatively affects consumers by limiting their access to information. He also condemned ad blockers for disrespecting freedom of the press and establishing a business model based on censorship. Stern Advertising Professor Dan Cohen believes that these types of claims are extreme. He pointed out that while there are upsides to ads, ad blockers see an opportunity in the marketplace to make a profit and ultimately “deliver value to consumers, which is the foundation of a capitalist market.”
Consumers complain that ads slow down websites, compromise users’ privacy, and disrupt the web-surfing experience. Taking these concerns into consideration, businesses have been focusing more attention on improving users’ experiences so they are less tempted to turn to ad blockers. For example, The Guardian has created a new email address to receive tips about slow ads on the site. Additionally, The Coalition for Better Ads, which Google and Facebook are members of, aims to improve the digital advertising experience for consumers by setting standards for ads, implementing those standards, and increasing consumers’ awareness of those efforts.
Once people start using ad blockers, they are quite unlikely to stop. This trend, in addition to an increase in mobile ad blocking, necessitates speedy responses from business. Companies and advertisers looking to dissuade people from using the software recognize that they need to not only act fast but also look at the situation from multiple angles to come up with innovative solutions to combat ad blocking.