The rise and rise of ad blocking software

Written by on March 31, 2016 in Opinion with 1 Comment

ad blockingAd blocking is currently the scourge of publishing and advertising businesses. There is an intense battle going on between the two. Both sides are reaching for lawyers and the publishing/advertising camp has started calling ad blockers names. Words like blackmail and extortion have been used in public. Billions of dollars of revenue is at stake, and already almost $22 billion has been lost through the practices of those ad blocking people.

The question that everyone seems to be ignoring is what customers think and want.

Many customers clearly want to read and watch content without having their experience marred by intrusive, off-putting adverts. They also do not want their device slowed down and clogged up by adverts sucking data – sometimes insecurely – out of the device, while using up storage, data and battery life.

In the latest battle, Eyeo (owner of AdBlock Plus) has won a court case in Germany against publisher Süddeutsche Zeitung, who claimed it was illegal to block some adverts and then become judge and jury as to which adverts made it through the digital net. A spokesman for Eyeo said that publishers believe that they some kind of contract with readers and viewers which allows customers to view their content free in exchange for watching adverts. No such contract exists, he said.

Publishers, meanwhile, are reacting by going to court (and, by and large, losing) and by not allowing readers to view content unless they turn off their ad blocking software. This approach is widespread in France and Sweden and more and more publishers are trying it.

One question is who gave ad blockers the right to judge what adverts people can and cannot view, running a white list of which adverts can be watched. Another issue is that if you pay them money, they will let your adverts through. And the big boys (Google, Amazon et al) do indeed pay them money. That sounds like a bunch of people exploiting the moral high ground while actually running a thoroughly commercial operation.

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that customers do not want to watch crap advertising. And there is a lot of it about.

So, the advertising industry needs to shake itself up, understand that customers want amusing, compelling and, above all, relevant adverts, otherwise they will switch them off. As Lee McCabe of Facebook told the Sydney Morning Herald recently, “no business has the objective of being social, or certainly shouldn’t. So the businesses that understand this and work well with Facebook now have the objectives they’ve had for the past 10 years. They focus on brand and performance.” This, of course, is rich coming from the company that started life as a social network and now, er, is a thoroughly commercial one. But it is a good point. And even though we struggle in the digital to find relevance in an ocean of data – and normally drown – relevance is not difficult to achieve. As a classic (newspaper) advert by Google pointed out a year or two ago, ‘who reads an advert for a hairdresser? People looking for a hairdresser’. Or as Ford realised many years ago, most people will watch a new car driving fast through mountain passes for a few seconds, but will not watch a 15 minute video of the features of the new model. Those actively looking for a new car will, though.

Ultimately the customer will decide the fate of the advertising industry but part of that decision is that without advertising, there will be no free content. An interesting dilemma.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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  1. Michah Himmelman says:

    The inherent value of content needs to be finally acknowledged (and paid for) and let’s bring to the internet a sustainable eco-cycle.
    My generation paid for music and we got the likes of Beatles, Stones, Joni Mitchel, Michael Jackson… Nowadays music is virtually free and kids get the likes of JustinB and Kanye West.

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