Blog Post

Blocking Content for Ad Blockers


The internet is a wild and crazy place where we can access all sorts of information for free. In an era of free social media platforms, there is -- in fact -- an expectation that stuff is free on the web. Newspapers all over the country have angered lots of people by limiting access or even requiring that readers pay for content. And many of those same people complain about having to see ads when they are on free sites.

Just like any other business, managing a successful website, newspaper, social platform, etc., requires resources. You need to have servers, designers, programmers, writers and customer support people. And people in those jobs need to make a living. So providing free content on the web is made possible by advertising. That's the trade-off for getting all this stuff for free.

So what happens when you block ads? Should you get to have your cake and eat it too?

The Interactive Advertising Bureau thinks not. IAB's executive VP for public policy, Mike Zaneis, predicts that there will soon be a battle between ad blockers and publishers in which publishers start blocking content for those who use ad blocking tools. If you want to get something for free, then you have to put up with the ads. Don't want ads? Then you don't get to see the content.

Advertising is getting smarter and more targeted. The upside: consumers are seeing more and more ads that are based on their preferences, rather than generic blasted messages. The downside: marketers and data companies know more about consumers than ever before. And the crosshairs of advertisers follow consumers everywhere they go on the web. Many consumers are annoyed and want control. (But they still want their stuff for free.)

According to a PageFair report, the use of ad blocking tools is growing 43% per year. And the stats on the number of consumers who use ad blocking vary wildly -- it's as high as 40% for tech/gaming sites and as low as 5% for some publishers. But ad blocking has become a big and growing business. And opponents say it is ultimately hurting the little guy.

Ad blockers say consumers should have a choice in what they see. Eyeo (makers of the AdBlock Plus plugin) recently put out an advertising manifesto, offering guidelines for ads:
Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we're trying to read.
Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
Acceptable Ads are appropriate to the site that we are on.

Many have described this manifesto as a compromise. The IAB's Zaneis calls this "a ransom note," since advertisers have to apply (and often pay a fee) to be on AdBlock's whitelist.

Do you think Zeneis is correct? Will there soon be a standoff between publishers and ad blockers? Or should you be able to get your money for nothin' and your chicks for free? (Credit to Mark Knopfler & Dire Straits, of course.)