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Ad blocking: Is the war finally over?

Over a year ago, ad blocking emerged as a major threat to digital publishing, especially in Europe, which boasted the highest ad blocking rates in the world. Now, European publishers are seeing ad blocking rates stabilise and even drop, but it is too soon to declare victory in the war on ad blocking.

Publishers at the Digiday Publishing Summit Europe in Nice, France confirmed that more work still needs to be done, with one estimate in France stating publishers are losing up to 1/5 of their desktop ad revenue to ad blocking. However, several publishing executives said that ad blocking rates are no longer growing. This is likely due to the shift to mobile, where ad blocking is far less prevalent. There are also signs that publishers’ more comprehensive approaches to clean up their ad experience and crack down on users of ad blockers are paying off.

All Response Media Viewpoint

As I waited in the dentist’s reception this week, I read how the plateau of ad blocking was good news for publishers, and in the short term, it certainly is. Ad blocking is a fundamental threat to any business model, with some publishers reporting up to 1/5 of the revenue removed from this adtech.

However, I feel the real story is how the industry will react. The story itself attributed the slowing of ad blocking to the limitations in mobile ad blocking adtech coupled with “cracking down” of ad blocking users. Thus, I see the industry having paths to go down from here.

One option is to be complacent, treat this as a victory and carry on with business as usual. I believe this demonstrates dangerous levels of apathy to the source of the problem. Ad blocking signals that large numbers of consumers across the EU are dissatisfied with the current digital advertising ecosystem, so much so that some will pay to address the problem. “Cracking down” of ad blocking users and relying on adtech limitations hardly feels like addressing the problem. Instead, it symbolises ignoring that dull ache in one of your teeth and it is not a good long-term strategy.

Alternatively, the industry could use this as a platform to redesign the mobile ad ecosystem (desktop may be too far gone) making the user experience more central than design. We could look to the new pretender on the block, SnapChat, as an indicative view of what future mobile experience may be like. In this mobile experience, there is no place for banners, interstitials or incentivised video views. Yet, there are hugely valuable opportunities to engage an audience by placing the customer experience central to the advertising experience.

A significant proportion of adtech investment focuses on serving more accurate advertising. But it seems the long-term result will be undermined if the consumer so disengaged with the end experience. The ability to reach your audience in an efficient and targeted manner is hugely powerful. Is there more of an opportunity in building adtech that allows brands to create messaging that is more relevant to the actual environment that the consumer is, in not just finding them?

It does feel like the wider industry will ignore that dull ache, in the hope that it will go away with time. However, there are some publishers and adtech that are addressing the problem head on. The companies who devise a new mobile ad ecosystem will likely have an advantage in the long-term.