Ad Blocking Is Not the Problem, It’s the Symptom

January 17, 2017 Daniel Fisher

Ad Blocking Is Not the Problem, It's the Symptom

Tourists visiting São Paulo, Brazil might feel that something is missing. One reason could be that the world’s fourth-largest metropolis passed the Clean City Law in 2006, which outlawed all outdoor advertising, including billboards, storefronts, and public transit ads. The law was proposed by former Mayor Gilberto Kassab, who felt that the city’s character and architecture were obscured by ads. Immediately after taking effect, the Clean City law forced businesses to take down over 15,000 billboards and 300,000 signs, transforming São Paulo in more ways than one.

In other words, São Paulo was a victim of ad blocking.

Before the law was enacted:

Sao Paulo

After the law was enacted:

Clean City Law

Similar to the wave of anxiety that is sweeping the online advertising industry as the usage of ad blockers rises, local businesses in São Paulo were outraged. Advertisers were worried about the loss of funds, jobs, and even urban scenery. Despite the initial panic, the advertising industry in Brazil continues to thrive, and some local businesses were even thankful for the ban’s positive influence, forcing them to be more creative and agile.

So far, the worldwide advertising industry’s response to ad blocking has been nothing short of hysterical. Doomsday predictions announced the end of advertising—and the internet— as we know it. Media headlines remind us occasionally of how much the industry has lost, and make the darkest of speculations about what is yet to come.

Moreover, recent events related to ad blocking prove that digital advertising is yet to adapt to the new rules of the game. Facebook’s latest attempt to offer a technological bypass to ad blockers shows that marketers are potentially focusing on the wrong aspect: the symptom, not the underlying cause. In order for advertisers to win in the era of ad block and viewability challenges, and get their message across despite the technical and legal obstacles that are standing in their way, we must first devote time to understanding the circumstances that led to the birth of this technology in the first place.

The Long List of Ad Block Advantages

Ad-blocking technology provides a number of advantages to users, including quicker loading times and less intrusive content experiences. But more than anything, it is associated with decreasing the distractions, privacy violations, and overall annoyance that users experience when encountering ads. Whether we like it or not, ad blocking was born to answer a legitimate need, which is why over 26 percent of desktop users are currently using it—an incredibly rapid growth of 34 percent since last year. In a nutshell, users cannot click the X fast enough, and they dread the day their favorite social app will be pressured to monetize with advertisers (which is inevitable for most). A great example was the public response to Facebook’s decision to purchase WhatsApp back in 2014, and the massive backlash it was met with from app users, after learning that the app would be sharing user data with Facebook for advertising purposes.

To better understand how users experience ads, let’s examine this recent study conducted by Hubspot and AdBlock Plus. The study showed that users feel very strongly about the ads they wish to block. Many had a problem with being forced to consume content they didn’t want or ask for. However, a closer look at the findings revealed another interesting stat—83 percent of users agreed that “not all ads are bad, but I want to filter out the really obnoxious ones.” Users are not stupid. They realize that—right now—advertisers help pay the bills, but want their ads to be selected and delivered responsibly and to be non-intrusive. It is a value exchange.

While direct advertising managed to aggravate users and drive them away, native ads were successful in bringing people in. So much so that the value of native advertising worldwide is expected to almost double over the next three years, and a recent study shows that 59 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase from brands that are featured in native ads. The reason behind this interesting consumer journey is quite simple: People have a basic and understandable need for relevant, entertaining, and informative content. And just as they will invest time searching for technology to help them avoid content they find annoying, they will devote time and attention to what they are actually interested in.

Native advertising is able to answer users’ need for relevancy because it is typically content driven and needs to fit in with its editorial surroundings. Instead of bombarding their audiences with out of context (and sometimes intrusive) “selling,” marketers are able to form a dialogue with consumers, and add value to their content as a result. When keeping in mind users’ negative feelings regarding traditional advertising, it’s easy to see what makes native formats so effective. Better yet, when native ads go the extra mile and combine interactive content formats (think polls and quizzes), consumers are making a very conscious decision to continue absorbing the brand message by playing a part and sharing their views and opinions.

As Facebook is beginning to understand it cannot code its way to a solution, so must the rest of the advertising industry. Marketers who are looking to create a stronger content strategy for 2017 should focus on solving the problems users are facing—instead of seeking sophisticated ways to bypass them. After all, if one of your friends decided to block you on social media, would you hack your way back into his life, or try to figure out what went wrong?

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