Ad blockers? We welcome them

Ad blocking exposure sky-rocketed last year when mobile network 3 hit the news for testing carrier level ad blocking. In December 2016, there were over 600million devices running ad blocking software globally, representing a year-on-year increase of 30% – and just this week, Google has launched its very own adblocking solution via Chrome. These numbers will only continue to grow exponentially.

PageFair CEO, Sean Blanchfield, stated: “The continued growth of the blocked web is a serious challenge to the digital media industry, but it is also a singular opportunity to start over, avoid the mistakes of the past, and serve ads that don’t annoy users.”

So why have so many people started using ad blockers?

It’s simple. Ads should be useful or entertaining; so much so that they strike a chord with their intended audience. But it appears that many advertisers are choosing to stray from these fundamentals, and are delivering irrelevant, intrusive or even malicious ads.

HubSpot’s research (from July 2016) stated the main motivations for using ad blockers as:

  • Finding ads annoying or intrusive (64%)
  • Disruption of their journey (54%)
  • Concern over security e.g. malware and viruses (39%)
  • Offensive or inappropriate ads (33%)
  • Concern over mobile data usage (22%)

The worst offending ads are non-skippable and auto-play video ads, that overlap many of these reasons, forcing heavy content onto someone’s device without first asking permission. Advertisers need to carefully consider the potential negative impact of such advertising practices on their audience or future audience.

The rise of ad blockers has been an attempt to make consuming content online a better and less disrupted experience. Adblock Plus, the market leader, now has 500million+ downloads. Their popularity has grown through word of mouth and media attention, as well as partnerships through the supply chain with the likes of mobile carriers.

So, it seems ad blockers are here to stay. What does that mean for the industry?

When ad blockers arose we envisaged them blocking all ads regardless, and the industry being forced to either play with members of a cartel to get around the blockers, or having to simply move away from the blocked formats into newer formats such as native. But neither of these scenarios have fully played out.

Whilst ad formats such as long form native can be an effective under-the-radar tactic for driving brand awareness, they do not provide the continuous contact opportunities, nor as yet, the precision targeting that display is able to offer.

Brands should be able to place ads across the internet wherever is appropriate and not be restricted to an elite set of publishers who have the power and money to bypass the ad blockers. This approach is less than ideal; severely limiting choice and dictating the market – and by removing display ads on sites that rely on them for revenue, free content would struggle to exist, or would force the adoption of paywalls, which as we know are unpopular at best.

There is another option: ad blockers and agencies need to work together.

Ad blockers don’t have to blanket block ads. Let’s be honest, they only exist because we, as an industry, have delivered some bad ad experiences. So, if they only block offending ads, and let through well targeted, non-intrusive ads with good creative, then everybody wins including the consumer, the advertisers, the sites that rely on ads to exist, the adblockers and the agencies which get to carry on without delivering a negative experience.

We believe ads should be targeted to the right user, at the right time, in the right place, but also with a message that is adapted specifically for that moment and that person. When this is done right, ads needn’t be annoying – they’re generally accepted and sometimes even welcomed.

Agencies and ad blockers need to work together to define what constitutes a good and bad ad, and what the rules are, and ultimately deliver choice. The sentiment of an ad experience is subjective and, with the best will in the world, no tech will get it completely right. So, as well as blocking ads we know deliver a bad experience, we also need to give people the ability to say what they do or don’t want to see.

Here at Home, we’re in support of ad blockers if they help raise the bar of digital marketing and targeting, and user experience, but as it stands they aren’t doing enough to shed their industry reputation for being indiscriminately obstructive to advertisers.

For us, the future of delivering a better online ad experience for everyone lies in programmes such as the Acceptable Ads Initiative and their Acceptable Ads Certification Tool, that lets advertisers reach ad blocking users with pre-approved ads.

Ads can be great, when they are done right.

So what can brands do to make sure they’re delivering a good experience?

We ask ourselves these questions when planning an online campaign:

  • Do I understand my audience and what interests them?
  • Do I understand where my audience are online?
  • Do I understand my audience’s customer journey online and their accompanying mindset?
  • What would my audience find useful or entertaining?
  • Does the ad complement their journey?

If the ad industry as a whole ups its game and makes sure that campaigns are rigorously planned and sensitively targeted from the outset, whilst working with rather than against the ad blockers, then it can only have positive implications for the future effectiveness of online advertising.

Written by:

Barry Bell


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