Ad Blocking is Off the Charts

“Ad blocking has been a growing headache for publishers, and recent reports indicate that its reach will only increase around the world,” writes Ross Benes in Digiday.

The reason is pretty simple. “Millennials are annoyed [by ads] and older users are creeped out by the specificity,” states Omar Akhtar of the Altimeter Group.

Lest you think he’s being overly dramatic, the charts in Benes article ought to put that issue to bed.

“Reports from PageFair and Trendera both found that ad blocking is pretty evenly practiced across gender and age cohorts,” Benes notes. He quotes Forrester analyst Susan Bidel as saying, “If you think that users of ad blockers are geeky teenage gamers, you’re wrong.”

Let’s look at a few key facts about ad blocking trends:

  1. Blocking is up worldwide. 2016 saw a 30% rise in ad blocking worldwide, according to PageFair, a company that sells anti-ad blocking technology to publishers. Much of the rise was in Asia-Pacific, which appears to be catching up quickly to the penetration rates in North America, parts of Europe and India.
  2. Mobile blocking is on the rise. Benes notes that 60% of blocking is on mobile devices now, and that number is expected to increase. “According to Akhtar, mobile ads are more likely to prompt poor user experiences, which gives users more incentive to block them,” Benes notes.
  3. Desktop blocking slowing down in U.S. Most of the current blocking in this country is on desktops (50+ million of them), and that adoption rate is slowing down. But since only about 1% of U.S. mobile phones currently use blocking technology, the rate of mobile blocking has huge room for growth.

Many of us in the industry saw this rise in mobile blocking looming two years ago. Some publishers took it as a serious wake-up call; others invested in anti-blocking technology or native ads to skirt the issue.

With billions of dollars at stake, publishers need to get this right. Consumers are saying loud and clear what they will and will not tolerate. Publishers who are listening are realizing they may have been chasing a future that doesn’t exist. Some, like the New York Times, are turning their focus away from digital ads and toward subscriptions again.

Digital advertising still has a lot to learn; can they somehow figure out to emulate the print ad experience and the engagement that goes along with it? We’ll see.