Could Ad Blocking Be The Best Thing To Happen To The Internet?

Between a report on ad blocking recently released by Adobe and PageFair, and the news about Chrome blocking Flash, anxiety over the percentage of ads actually reaching digital users is certainly understandable.

That report puts ad blocking software on the devices of over one-quarter of U.S. Internet users.  Do keep in mind that PageFair is in the business of helping publishers with the ad blocking problem, but at the same time, don’t dismiss the issue.

Fear not, advertisers.  The vast majority of ad blocking software does not cause you to pay for ad impressions that are never seen.  Industry standard ad servers count the completed transfer of ad graphics, so you’re not getting dinged in that regard.  And most advertisers have protection above and beyond using an MRC-accredited ad server, like using a viewability vendor to ensure campaigns are held to a minimum viewability standard.

So you’re not paying for blocked ads, but you are indirectly sacrificing potential reach, as more and more Internet users hop aboard the ad-blocking bandwagon.

That said, this could be the best thing to happen to the ad-supported Internet in years.

The dynamic currently at work in digital display is one we’ve discussed several times.  Digital has a problem in that essentially infinite supply (of ad impressions) is meeting growing but limited demand from advertisers.  The result is a cluttered content landscape, a glut of clickbait, and an overtaxed ad infrastructure that holds up the display of content and makes users wait while countless tracking pixels and ad elements load, slowing down their content consumption.

And, of course, the Internet was designed from the outset to route around such things.

More users are downloading ad blocking plugins and software so they can preserve the quality of their content experience.  The ads they see are overly intrusive, the ad tech is slowing them down, and they’re concerned about being tracked and having their privacy violated.

The good news is that they’re already telling us how to solve the problem.

The right people already know what users of ad blocking plugins will tolerate.  By “right people” I mean the folks at AdBlock Plus (one of the more popular plugins for this sort of thing).  One of their programs allows for whitelisting of ads that meet some criteria:

  • They can’t be obnoxious with their animation.

  • They can’t obscure content.

  • They need to be marked as an ad.

What this says to me is that the problem of ad blocking is solvable, but we need to evolve the ad marketplace beyond unlimited supply, cluttered environments, and obnoxious competition for attention.  If that were to happen, think of the consequences:

  • A less-cluttered ad environment that gives advertisers a compelling chance at breaking through to the user.

  • A solution to the unlimited supply problem, which means advertisers would pay more per ad, but those ads would count for a lot more than they currently do.

  • A more healthy ad-supported web. Perhaps the marketplace pricing stabilizes in such a way that content producers can actually get paid for what they do.

Putting some short-term disruption aside for a moment, can someone show me the downside?

Tom Hespos is the Founder and Chief Media Officer of Underscore Marketing, an integrated media agency focusing on health and healthy brands.