Are Publishers to Blame for Widespread Use of AdBlocking Software?

Ad blocking software has been existing under the radar for years, mostly in the tech and gaming communities, where young tech savvy people didn’t mind wrestling with browser extensions. However, the new study released by Adobe and PageFair showing a 41%  global increase in the use of ad blockers last year, and an even larger 48% increase in  the use of blocking software in the United States — a country usually considered to be less fussy about privacy than the EU —  has drawn quite a bit of attention and finger pointing.

In Fortune, Mathew Ingram points the finger at publishers:

the continuing decline in rates for most forms of digital advertising causes … publishers to make even more Faustian deals with sketchy ad networks, click farms, popup manufacturers and recommendation engines like Taboola and Outbrain. And that in turn causes reader churn, low engagement and poor clickthrough rates, and probably increases the growth of ad blockers.

But publishers are only trying to make a living amidst the free fall in advertising revenue that began when most newspapers first went online. Advertisers are equally to blame. When they say they want to buy media to reach customers “at scale,” they are asking for something that could not be done before online advertising, and cannot be done without involving all the things consumers have lumped under the rubric of intrusive advertising. If it takes a billion page views for a media company to make a decent return from advertising, you can be sure consumers ar being served far too many ads.

Apple’s next mobile Safari browser will have the capability to block ads automatically, and the consumer may not even have to make a choice. But advertising won’t, and indeed can’t, go away, because consumers also indicate an unwillingness to pay for content. Something’s got to give.

The option that seems to be most widely accepted by consumers and embraced by advertisers and publishers alike is native advertising, in which the ads do not take over the page, pop up, or prevent the reading of text. Instead, they look a lot like the contents of the site. Although this presents its own ethical problems, native ads don’t slow page loads and ruin the user experience the way interruptive ads do.

The media industry is feeling its way toward an acceptable level and type of advertising that consumers will be able to tolerate. If it doesn’t hurry and do that, the doomsayers predict there will be no advertising in the future.

We don’t believe that. At its best, advertising is useful, creative, and informative. For decades, viewers actually looked forward to Super Bowl ads. The opportunity for the ad industry is to regain that creative edge, and turn out ads that consumers actually want to see.