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As Ad Blocker Use Grows, Publishers Face New Challenges

Evolving strategies for dealing with this innovation

June 26, 2017 | Advertising & Marketing

Advertisers and publishers are under constant pressure to better target, deliver and track their messages to consumers. But many consumers feel bombarded by the ad experience.

More than a quarter of US internet users will block ads this year, eMarketer estimates, up from just under 16% in 2014. That’s a sizeable chunk of internet users, though growth is slowing down. eMarketer defines an ad blocking user as an internet user who goes online at least once a month on a device with an ad blocker installed.

US Ad Blocking User Penetration, 2014-2018 (% of internet users)

“For now, the vast majority of those devices are still desktop and laptop computers, at least in the US—though that’s beginning to shift,” said eMarketer analyst Nicole Perrin, author of a new report, “Facing Up to Ad Blocking: How Publishers, Advertisers and Their Digital Media Partners Are Responding.”

(Subscribers to eMarketer PRO can access the report here. Nonsubscribers can purchase the report here.)

Just under nine in 10 ad blocking users block ads via desktop or laptop, which translates to 24.0% of US internet users. By the end of this year, more than a third of US ad blockers will block on their smartphone, translating to 9.5% of internet users.

Publishers are using a variety of strategies to fight ad blocking, from trying to convince users to stop doing it to focusing on improving the poor user experiences that led to it in the first place.

Appeals to readers’ conscience, goodwill and sense of economics could be considered the lowest level of direct confrontation of ad blocking.

Publishers set up technology that allows them to detect whether a visitor has an ad blocker enabled—the tech is not perfect, but it’s good. The publishers then serve a message to those users in hopes of guilting them to either turn off their ad blocker entirely or at least whitelist that publisher. These messages appeal to consumers’ sense of fairness and their understanding that ads are how publishers pay the bills.

There’s little data on the effectiveness of such appeals, but research suggests users are willing to turn off ad blockers or whitelist sites under some circumstances. For example, 18% of the ad blocking users in the US, UK, Germany and France surveyed by HubSpot and Adblock Plus in June 2016 said they whitelisted sites that served what they considered a “reasonable and appropriate” ad experience.

A stronger step some publishers are taking is to set up ad block walls, which start out like appeals. But instead of pleading with users to stop blocking ads, walls notify users that unless they do whitelist the site, they won’t be able to access any of its content.

Ad blocking users have noticed more of these walls popping up around the web, which may indicate that they are working for publishers. But research suggests most people simply go elsewhere when faced with the barriers. PageFair, which is a provider of anti-ad-blocking solutions that include ad block walls and appeals, found that 74% of US ad blocking users polled in November 2016 leave websites when faced with an ad block wall. Perhaps surprisingly, younger respondents were much less likely than older ones to be turned away by walls.

Listen In: eMarketer’s Nicole Perrin and Mark Dolliver discuss how widespread ad blocking really is in the latest episode of “Behind the Numbers.”

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