According to Adobe and FairPage, more than 144m people are now using ad blockers to stop advertising in its tracks when they browse the web.

That number doubled in 2013 and continues to rise.

Because of demographics, ad blocking is not surprisingly most common in the video game and technology verticals, but is increasing in other verticals, like business and entertainment, too.

Frequently, ad blocking is presented primarily as being problem for publishers.

For instance, as Digiday's Ricardo Bilton notes, even small amounts of lost impressions add up at scale, and "the difficult economics of the publishing industry means the problem is likely to get even worse."

To be sure, ad blocking is a huge challenge – and in many cases existential threat – for publishers that rely on ad revenue. But finding a new revenue model or going out of business is easy compared to the challenges advertisers face.

After all, most advertisers aren't going to go out of business because consumers blocked their ads, so they'll be left to grapple with the fact that it's getting more and more difficult to reach consumers effectively online. 

Major brands in particular, which spend big bucks promoting their wares across multiple online and offline channels, are going to move a certain amount of product regardless.

But digital campaigns may become more involved and complex, the skills and knowledge required to reach consumers online may change rapidly, and customer acquisition costs may become problematic.

A good example of this can be seen with the rise of native advertising and the evolution of social media to a paid media channel.

While some brands are comfortable with content, native advertising is fraught with peril and, with it being referred to as repurposed bovine waste, there's no guarantee that even if native ads can't be blocked, they'll actually help advertisers cut through the clutter.

As for social, advertisers are increasingly being forced to pay for reach on social platforms where reach was once offered at no cost. There might not be an inherent problem with this, but it can be problematic when the price of reach is added to the cost of content creation which is crucial to so many social campaigns.

Unfortunately for advertisers, the inconvenient truth of growing consumer distaste for advertising has been known for a long time.

While better methods of attribution suggest that display advertising isn't completely ineffective, poor direct ROI for banner ad campaigns is as old as the online display ad medium, as is the concept of banner ad blindness.

And while advertisers pour lots of money into video ads, the online advertising channel du jour, according to FairPage and Adobe, video ads may be partly responsible for ad blocking's rapid growth.

So while publishers may be guilty of relying too heavily on a revenue source that consumers could choose to opt out of, many advertisers are guilty of completely ignoring the fact that consumers just don't want to view their messages – in whatever format they come.

Patricio Robles

Published 14 April, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (11)

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Louis Belpaire

Louis Belpaire, Director of Analytics at Silverback Strategies

Hi Patricio,

Thanks for sharing this report, we always hear about Adblocking as a threat for the industry but I had never seen such detailed numbers.

The report doesn't have specific numbers for Adblocking trends on Mobile. With the Ad spend expected to heavily shift towards Mobile and the higher level of control that publishers/ OS makers (especially Apple) have on their app, don't you think the outlook should be rather positive for marketers?

over 3 years ago


Lawrence Walker, Marketing Manager at Peak Health Distribution

Perhaps this is where understanding your target audience, instead of blindly blasting out advertising to everyone in a scatter gun approach, becomes key.

Autoplay video ads that have nothing to do with the content I'm looking at are incredibly frustrating too. Especially if you have multiple tabs open and the volume up.

The general public are becoming more difficult to advertise to on digital with the rise of AdBlockers and the rise in annoying pop up advertising, that makes them switch off to something that could potentially be useful to them.

over 3 years ago

Duncan Wright

Duncan Wright, Director at BSA Marketing

Surely this is not a issue. Ever since the invention of the video recorder, consumers have been "blocking" ads., but the advertising industry and advertisers adapt. After all, advertising is described as the CREATIVE industry!

over 3 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

The industry needs to accept responsibly for the increasing use of ad blockers, people were very wary of personalised adverts when they increased in popularity however I think this has faded, the biggest shot in the foot the industry gives itself is with over complex adverts which slow browsers, autoplay videos and expanding ads.

I routinely run into problems using Firefox when it comes to a standstill because of a script not responding, this is always due to a flash advert on a site (I always have lots of tabs open which doesn’t help the problem but that’s up to me). This is intensely annoying so I’ve actually added a plugin to stop flash playing automatically.

Other annoyances are video ads automatically playing with the sound TURNED ON. If you have a few tabs open you often get some random voice talking to you about a great new cleaning product (ruining my relaxing music I've got running), but you have no idea which site is hosting this advert.

My final annoyance is expanding adverts (Yahoo are terrible for this), you move your mouse over to select something and scroll over an advert, of course this means you are just desperate to have your screen taken over with the latest superhero movie advert (with an almost impossible to find close button).

OK so I’m ranting here but if advertisers want to get through to customers, annoying them is not the way. Banner ads are only annoying if they can’t be ignored, i.e. they play sound, expand or crash your browser.

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@Duncan, it's some of the supposedly creative solutions which, as Peter points out, have caused this problem.

No-one (or at least, very few people) wants video ads with autoplay sound, expanding ads, or pop-ups, and advertisers need to realise that. It's a lesson for publishers too - a lot of news sites have destroyed the user experience just to satisfy advertisers. So many are slow to load and harder to use as a result.

Instead of looking to create ads that force users to interact, it should be about smarter targeting.

over 3 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

@Graham - spot on, so many times I've seen a story or article on social media that looks interesting, clicked through only to close the window straight away due to the advertising. It's also a problem with mobile, the content is very quick to load but the complex ads take longer meaning the jumps around and you end up clicking something you don't want to.
If I leave the website loses out and the advertiser loses out, perhaps it gets a few clicks but most of these are accidental and won't lead to any signups or sales

over 3 years ago


Lucas Wild, Creative Director at Caer Edin Creative

Welcome to the Ancient and Royal realm of Broadcast Mass Media Advertising.

For the last 60 years savvy marketers have understood and accepted when making ads that:
- It will (generally) cost big bucks to make it
- It will cost 10 times those big bucks to broadcast it
- When the ad finally does air on the telebox, or appear on page 7 of the newspaper that 99% of the target audience will get up to make a cuppa or turn the page.
- It will take at least 3 months to know if it generated a penny in revenue

On the surface, it sounds crazy. Yet seasoned marketers have and continue to spent billions on TV advertising. Why?

Because it delivers according to expectation.

They don’t expect punters to put their Tetley’s down that instant and drive to the nearest sports store to load up on 4 pairs of new shiny trainers. But they do expect that over time and with continued exposure their brand will - tiny exposure by tiny exposure - increase audience mindshare and when the opportunity is right that consumers will fork out a weeks wage for a few cardboard boxes full of plastic and leather.

It’s the “over time and with continued exposure” bit that marketers hate though. Because traditionally marketing directors have had endure the displeasure of CFOs in board meetings who demand to see the ROI on the recent ad-spend, only to be told “we should have the sales data in 3 months”. Awkward.

Enter direct response media - the golden child of marketers because DRM means no more awkward board meeting moments.

It started with old-school direct mail and later email, and enabled marketers to fight back at board meetings with data. Weekly, even daily data. And with digital advertising the data guns are even bigger. They fire so much data that a marketing manager can now mow down a boardroom full of CFO’s in 20 seconds with a single burst of Google analytics.

But the reality is that online advertising isn’t really a direct response media. It may be cheaper, clickable and come with more data than you can poke a stick than traditional mass media advertising, at but that doesn’t make it DRM.

True DRM works because it is by and large delivered independently of any media stream.

People are somehow more open to being interrupted by sales messages if they are not in the middle of doing something they enjoy. The mailbox is full of bills, so a shiny brochure with pizza coupons in it a pleasant little win. A sidebar auto-play video of the latest cool small car whizzing across Icelandic landscapes while you’re in the middle of browsing something way more interesting is just an annoying distraction.

In truth, digital advertising is just the newest kid on the mass media block. Cooler hair maybe. Plenty of bling. But a mass media kid still the same. And that is not a bad thing.

Mass media advertising works. and it works very well. It costs money to make. It costs money to broadcast. And most people ignore it. Accept it for what it is though, stay aware of its strengths and weaknesses and work accordingly, and it will work.

As for marketers though, the “digital advertising-is-cheap-DRM” fairytale is coming to an end. They are just beginning to suspect that maybe they will have to begin suck it up at those pesky board meetings once more. Awkward.

over 3 years ago


Peter Cunningham, Product & Marketing at Buyapowa

Throughout the history of digital marketing every time the ad industry has found a way to make their ads even more intrusive (pop ups, pop unders, banners ads, auto play etc.) someone smart has found a way to block the noise. Ad-blockers is just one example., Tivo is an another. Paying Yahoo! or MSN a small monthly fee not to show ads is another (although I don't know anyone who does this!)

Rather than just focus on better ways to interrupt and annoy potential customers, advertisers should look at better ways to get targeted messages to potential customers. This means enlisting 'social', but here I don't mean just getting your customers to like, retweet or post broadcast messages on social networks (that is a kind of spam). Instead by giving your customers content and deals that they want to and are incentivized to share with identified friends. In other words, Social Customer get Customer.

Key to this is that social should be viewed not as a platform but a mindset. Much sharing will happen on dark social (email, whatsapp) or even offline. If your customers share with their friends (particularly on dark social - I saw a presentation yesterday from Return on Digital which estimated that this was 30-50% of all sharing) they normally do so when they think the offer is appropriate for that friend and will be welcomed. If not there is an easy way to stop annoying messages - it is called 'unfriending'.

The main thing is that the social networks are all thinking like ad networks and competing to offer more interruption ads and noise. We will likely see a new wave of tools to block this, then new tools to get round the blocks and so on.

over 3 years ago

Guy Hatton

Guy Hatton, Director at Clinic

The online advertising industry needs to evolve beyond the point where programmatic and automated are the focus.
Consider the beautifully crafted print ads in glossy fashion mags - most readers would object if there weren't any.
Will online publishers be able to incorporate similar brand-led advertising into their content offerings before it's too late?

over 3 years ago


Obio Nine, Master at Obio

What I find particularly disingenuous are the claims that ad blocking exists because ads are "too intrusive".

Let's be 100% clear on this:

AdBlock and other adblockers *block by default*. PERIOD.

They do not permit by default and then give the option of blocking intrusive advertisers.

They start by blocking *all* sites, even if they have subdued advertising.

As a publisher who practices very responsible, minimal advertising -- we also track AdBlock users -- I can tell you that the notion that "only irresponsible advertisers get blocked" is 100% hogwash.

We get blocked at exactly the same rate that ad-spam websites get blocked.

over 3 years ago


Obio Nine, Master at Obio

Blocking ad-blockers is trivial. This fight can be escalated at any point by publishers. So there's not much that's inconvenient ...yet. But at whatever pain threshold the publishers consider to be "too much", adblockers will just stop working.

over 3 years ago

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