The adblocking phenomenon is like global warming, according to Johnny Ryan, head of ecosystems for PageFair in Ireland.

“The portion of the Web where people are blocking ads is growing,” he told the 2016 INMA World Congress. “It isn’t going to consume the rest of the Web overnight, but it is getting bigger.”

Johnny Ryan of PageFair addresses the INMA World Congress 2016 about adblocking.
Johnny Ryan of PageFair addresses the INMA World Congress 2016 about adblocking.

Unlike people who deny climate change, adblocking detractors — particularly many publishers who depend on advertising revenue — don’t disbelieve the data. They just don’t like it. They consider it to be bad behaviour on the part of online users. And they want to stop it before it becomes any more common.

Unfortunately for them, adblocking is not new and not without reason, agreed Ryan and the two other panelists in Tuesday afternoon’s session on ad-blocking strategies — Frederic Filloux, editor of the Monday Note in Paris, and Piers North, strategy director at Trinity Mirror in London.

Adblockers exist because the Web is an incredibly cluttered space, Ryan explained: “There’s too many ads and too little attention. The consumer has fixed this problem. The consumer has fixed the attention deficit problem.”

By using adblockers, media customers make it easier for themselves to focus more attention on content rather than navigating around interruptions.

Filloux said adblocking software has existed since 2006.

By 2015, Ryan noted, 200 million people were using adblockers in their Web browsers, for a multitude of reasons. The most widely accepted explanations are that:

  1. Ads obscure content (i.e., they’re annoying).

  2. Ads invade privacy.

  3. They snoop on your machine.

  4. They slow Web site load times.

  5. They decreased security

But Ryan added one more rationale that he said is probably the No. 1 reason people use ad blockers: because they can.

The good news for opponents, he said, is that adblocking is also irrelevant: “It is possible to serve ads in a way that is impossible to circumnavigate by ad blockers.”

One option is an adblocking wall that requires site visitors to disable their adblocker. Ryan said that up to 40% of users are willing to disable their blockers to get past such a wall. But he also said the potential loss of customers is not worth it.

North gave blocker walls an even larger success rate. Trinity Mirror has found that nearly 60% of its viewers are willing to whitelist the site and turn off an adblocker, he said, explaining it is because they have confidence in the quality of the content on the other side of the wall.

Piers North of Trinity Mirror in London says 60% of viewers will turn off adblocking for quality content.
Piers North of Trinity Mirror in London says 60% of viewers will turn off adblocking for quality content.

Developing such confidence, and reminding customers of the value exchange they are getting, was just one of his five recommendations for the nearly 400 publisher representatives in the room. The others were:

  • Don’t panic.

  • Tough it out. Realise ads have to be part of the solution.

  • Be critical “of yourself and of our industry.”

  • Be open to new horizons. Don’t be blind to other opportunities in other ecosystems.

Ryan views the blocked Web and the unblocked Web as two separate ecosystems and believes they can be approached in different ways.

“Start to explore how to advertise on the blocked web and do so differently,” he said. “You don’t have to change what you’re doing, but experiment elsewhere.”

Filloux believes adblocking is a reaction to a bad experience and urged that publishers strive to build relationships between viewers, advertisers, and journalists.

“The key solution is to reach relationship with reader, publisher, writer,” he said. Make the issue a conversation, to better understand the user’s perspective: “Say, ‘OK, you reject ads. We have a button here and ask why you reject ads. We actually hear you.’”

Frederic Filloux, editor of the Monday Note in Paris, speaks at the INMA World Congress on adblocking.
Frederic Filloux, editor of the Monday Note in Paris, speaks at the INMA World Congress on adblocking.

Tobias Henning of Bild shared from the audience that his company has been blocking adblockers since October.

“Anyone using an ad blocker cannot see content,” Henning said, adding that overall the company is happy with that approach.

Despite Bild’s satisfaction, Filloux said blocking the adblocker doesn’t address the problem.

“Good news: We publishers have all the cards in hand to restore the situation,” Filloux said. “To make lots of test, measure, assess what is acceptable. The lead has to be taken by the publishers and the brands.”