While there's debate around the impact of ad blocking, the statistics are clear: the extent to which consumers have embraced ad blocking is not in question.

And there's no sign that the consumer desire to keep ads at bay is waning.

In fact, according to a new eMarketer report, ad blocking in the US will grow to 69.8m users this year, a 34.4% increase from last year.

And it will grow 24% in 2017, bringing the total number of internet users relying on ad blockers to north of 86m.

If that estimate is accurate, nearly a third of the internet population in the US will be using ad blockers.

While ad blockers are still most common on desktop and laptop devices, thanks in part to Apple's iOS9 Safari update which added support for ad blocking apps, use of mobile ad blockers will grow more than 60% this year.

Reality can be hard to accept

Despite the growth of ad blockers, the majority of internet users aren't employing them.

The problem for publishers, and the advertisers they serve, however, is that the demographic segments that use ad blockers in greater numbers are the young and affluent consumers that publishers and advertisers covet.

Not surprisingly, many publishers are finally scrambling to deal with the issue.

Some are attempting to thwart ad blockers with technology-based solutions that essentially prevent users from accessing their content unless they turn off their ad blockers or pay. 

Publishers and advertisers are also embracing alternatives to traditional ads, namely native ads, which are proliferating at a rapid pace.

But do publishers and advertisers really get it?

According to eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna, "The best way for the industry to tackle this problem is to deliver compelling ad experiences that consumers won’t want to block."

That sentiment has been echoed by others in the industry.

Unfortunately, the idea that publishers and advertisers can deliver "compelling ad experiences" or appease consumers with better targeting might be misplaced.

The inconvenient truth is that large numbers of consumers just don't like ads.

As early as 2014, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver called native advertising "repurposed bovine waste," and a recent Stanford study suggested that targeted ads actually turn consumers off the most.

In other words, publishers and advertisers can try to create content, increase the supposed relevance of the ads they deliver, and so on and so forth, but for many consumers, that's all for naught.

Ads are ads, and they're not seen to be of benefit.

Putting a price on content

Perhaps recognizing that, some publishers have opted to alter their business models.

Content costs money to produce, and if consumers won't deal with the ads that commonly subsidize it, a growing number of publishers are giving consumers the opportunity to pay directly.

But even here, there are signs that publishers simply don't get it.

Case in point: the New York Times plans to launch an ad-free subscription option that costs more than its current subscription offerings. 

According to the NYT's CEO Mark Thompson, "the journalism [readers] enjoy costs real money and needs to be paid for."

But the NYT has over a million paid digital subscribers, generated $140m in total ad revenue last year and expects to generate $60m this year from native ads, which begs the question: just how much are consumers supposed to pay for the NYT's journalism?

If that amount is so disconnected from what consumers believe it's worth that the NYT can't create a reasonable, straightforward subscription plan that doesn't include ads by default, it suggests there's a bigger problem than ad blocking.

And perhaps therein lies the biggest inconvenient truth that the rise of ad blockers has exposed.

Thanks to the rise of digital advertising, many ad-subsidized publishers have been able to get away with "charging" more for their content than most of their users ever believed it was worth in the first place. Until now.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 June, 2016 by Patricio Robles

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

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Jonathan Austin, Consumer Insight Best Practice Manager at Belron International Ltd

I don't mind ads, but I use an ad blocker. Why?

I have zero patience with any website or ad or ad that plays sound without permission. Literally nothing on this Earth annoys me more. And I'm not just talking about the darker corners of the internet (which, erm, I wouldn't know anything about anyway) I'm talking of huge, respected, household name websites. I don't know how many others are like me, but I suspect I'm far from the only one who feels this way.

If advertisers (and while we're on the subject, just everyone, everywhere) agree never to play unwanted sound while I'm online, then I'll think about removing my ad blockers.

almost 2 years ago

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