Critical Thinking: How Concerned Should Publishers Be About Ad Blocking?

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“How prepared should publishers be about ad block technology, and should they be concerned with how it could affect revenue?”

Zainab Khan Zainab Khan, 24, graduate student, University of California, Berkeley
Khan is a multimedia journalist and founder of Mozzified and Mozzified Studio.

Publishers should be prepared for ad block technology. If anything, the continuing rise of ad block technology signifies that publishers are doing mobile and Web advertising wrong.

Poorly integrated advertisements become layers of annoyances preventing viewers from reaching content. Most advertising on the Web and on mobile feels and looks icky. Online advertising is notoriously offensive to users. Consumers have to play advertising whack-a-mole as they navigate through auto play, auto audio, pop-ups, flash, screaming emoji, and more before they arrive at the content they’re actually looking for.

Ad block technology continuously rises in popularity because it allows consumers to reach content without disruption or distraction.

Audiences aren’t opposed to advertising; they’re opposed to the disruptive and distracting nature of advertising on the Web and mobile. Banner ads, for example, don’t feel natural to static Web pages. Like the fringe on college-ruled paper, banner ads are distracting, messy, and everyone wants to tear the unnecessary excess away. On the Web, consumers view and invest time in the content they’ve “agreed” to view by clicking on it. Distractions like banner ads feel dishonest to that agreement. I click on X, expecting to receive X, and instead, A, B, C, and D are thrown my way.

Rather than fighting the rise of ad blockers, publishers need to pivot their advertising strategies. Advertising should be specific to platforms and devices, feel native, and not disruptive or distracting. Good advertising mimics the form, style, and feel of the content and platform it’s being published on. The September issue of Vogue is filled with advertising that mimics its editorial content (with a clear, yet fluid, distinction between editorial and advertising), so much so that Vogue’s advertising is part and parcel to the experience of reading Vogue.

If publishers shift their digital advertising strategies, ad-block technology will not have a large impact on revenue. Although this is unlikely, publishers should worry about ad blocking technology affecting revenue if users and platforms begin confusing distaste for disruptive advertising with advertising in general. However, this probably will not be the case. Individuals value well thought-out advertising, and good advertising compliments a user’s sensibilities.

Darel La PradeDarel La Prade, 63, senior vice president, Independent Newspapers, Inc., Dover, Del.    
La Prade has worked for INI for the last 19 years and serves as publisher for six weekly newspapers.

The rapid proliferation of ad blocking software is yet another worrisome technological development that keeps publishers awake at night.

Though sources report different numbers, it now appears that 180 to 220 million Internet users worldwide employ a form of ad block technology. One popular commercial product, cited in a recent white paper published by the Local Media Association, claims “more than 50 million users on Google Chrome alone.”

Undoubtedly, this trend will continue accelerating, especially since the release of Apple’s iOS 9, which makes it as easy as pie to block ads on mobile devices.

It seems more than mere bad luck that greater use of ad blocking technology coincides with the shift from desktop to mobile browsing. Surely the growing popularity of ad blocking is related to this shift. Mobile audiences have little patience for slow page-load times and for ads that clutter pint-sized screens.

Publishers, particularly publishers of smaller news sites, would be wise to develop a plan to help weather these changes in the marketplace. We all recognize that finding enough digital dimes to replace print dollars is a tall, if not impossible, undertaking. Stir in ad blockers, and the future becomes even murkier.

But publishers of local newspapers and websites are not without hope. Despite newspaper readers and website visitors who simply dislike seeing ads of any kind, many customers read our newspapers and visit our websites because of an overweening interest in what we publish and that includes local advertising.

This is the audience we must nurture by guaranteeing their user experience is enhanced by ads that blend into the site’s design unobtrusively and do not disrupt the flow of content or slow page load times. A good place to start might be avoiding pop-ups or takeovers that create pages that load at a crawl or video ads with blaring audio that start on their own.

Paywalls and a carefully conceived native advertising program can begin shifting the focus away from banner advertising. Developing different revenue streams will be essential, but as always, the smartest publishers will find ways to concentrate on producing world-class reporting and storytelling.

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