Ad blocking has increasingly become a topic that it is impossible to escape within our industry: like viewability and ad fraud before it, it is now a staple part of every conversation.

In 2014-2015 ad blocking went mainstream, moving from a growing group of tech savvy users to gaining a far wider understanding among the general population. Now it is a term that many of our less advertising-immersed friends also are aware of, have opinions on and may be using.

In 2015 we saw an estimated 198 million ad block users globally, naturally putting online publishers and marketers in a worried state of mind. Likewise, across the marketing press, ad blocking, increasingly also on mobile, has seen wall-to-wall coverage, to the extent that a newcomer to the online marketing scene might be forgiven for thinking it’s the end of the industry as we know it.

However if we put aside the fear and take a more objective look, we don’t need to all apply for new careers tomorrow. Tackling this head on we can not only work to fix the problem, we can use it to our advantage.

You don’t pay for ads that aren’t shown

“I don’t want to pay for an ad that is blocked by the user!”

Well, for the advertiser, the good news is that thanks to the way that ad blocking technology works, you have a free pass on this one. You will not pay for ads that aren’t shown to users with most mainstream ad blockers. They never load your ad and you never get charged.

The flip side of this is that the publisher does pay for the lost impressions, however they also have more options than we do to influence this. There is a growing ‘arms race’ between technology designed to block ads and technology designed to help display them, with the latter helping publishers by, for example, offering users a choice between ads or subscription, or ‘counter blocking’ technology that displays an ad even if ad blocking software is installed.

Ad blockers don’t hate all ads – just some

While this may sound unbelievable, consider the reasons why ad blocking is popular in the first place and this becomes more clear.

Users have a right to browse websites without having to scroll down to mute ads, without expandable adverts that take over their whole screen when they were busy reading the article underneath and without page loads that are slowed by huge flash ads which refresh every 30 seconds. Modern advertising needs to move past this. User experience is key, and when advertising can become functional not intrusive, people won’t hate it.

Crystal, one of the most popular of the early iOS ad blockers, discovered that half of its own users would be willing to view ads that weren’t too distracting, resource-heavy or data-intensive. Additionally, Adblock Plus, another highly popular tool, found similar results, with 75% of their users saying they would be happy to allow ads that meet their “Acceptable Ads” criteria.

IAB’s LEAN guidelines are a great place to start if you want to improve how your ads are seen by users.

A chance to improve your marketing and UX

Earlier in 2015 there were fears of a “Mobilegeddon” when Google updated its algorithm to favour mobile-optimised sites in search, and in many ways, the same has happened within ad-blocking. As it turned out, the change was not a day of reckoning, however it did give many companies a much needed opportunity to reassess their mobile strategy.

As the IAB suggests, a good user experience in advertising is all about ‘listening to user feedback.’ UX should be at the forefront of your marketing strategy, and in order to do this companies need to initiate conversations with both customers and prospects.

As an industry, advertisers have an unparalleled opportunity to find out more about what their audiences actually want, and any potential to refine your advertising strategy is not to be sniffed at. These users are not just telling us they aren’t happy, they are telling us why!

With regards to internal resource allocation, marketing should always involve a mix of different activities: direct, email, social and earned media, alongside your ordinary paid marketing. It is possible to over-rely on advertising as a primary channel; get the basics right, talk to your users in more positive ways and they will allow you some banner ads to remind them of that sale.

Publishers are working on it

Now, we have discussed what we as advertisers can do, we can improve the ads and deliver better advertising for the user. However how do we get the users with ad blockers on to turn it off and start seeing the better ads we are going to be serving.

Well the publishers are on it, they have the vested interest of revenue loss, and are working hard to contact and educate users. Most users interviewed would rather see better adverts and not pay subscription, which is great news for us advertisers.

Ad blocking was a vote of no confidence for advertisers, and the people they have punished have been the publishers. Luckily for us, the publishers have a greater trust with the user and can work to rebuild the outside view of the industry with our help.

Plenty of people aren’t using ad blockers

Finally, some perspective – given the media frenzy about ad blocking, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. While the figures vary from source to source, according to Mezzobit (as of December 2015) the UK has an ad blocking user penetration of 12.8%. While this clearly shows that ad blocking is a serious issue given its swift rise to 12.8% in just a few years, it also suggests that 87.2% of Brits aren’t using an ad blocker.

As an industry we are getting the opportunity to speak to the end user and adapt our methods before it is too late, getting feedback from them as to how we can change to better suit their needs. By listening to these users, not only can we  tackle ad blocking, we can also work to deliver more relevant, user friendly and better performing ads. This can only be a good thing.

Charlie Ashe

Charlie Ashe


Head of digital strategy, Ve