“Free content on the web can only survive if consumers stop using ad blocking software but advertisers need to stop their ‘pay and spray’ approach”- Guardian, August ‘15
In the simplest words, Ad-Blocker is a software that prevent advertisements from loading on your desktop or mobile devices. It is not at all a new phenomenon and is as old as online advertising itself but what has triggered its exponential growth over the last couple of years?
Few facts worth mentioning – The number of people using ad blockers have seen a 5x growth from 39 million to more than 200 million since Jan 2012. It grew by 41% globally in the last 1 year with annual growth rate of 42% in US and 82% in UK. Few leading publishers like Incisive Media in UK are seeing as high as 40% of their user base using ad blockers.
Indian Publishers might be happy that in India the situation is not so bad, current usage of ad blockers is only in the range of 2-3% of the internet users but the point to be worried about is the pace of growth. The adoption of ad blockers by Indians grew by more than 100% within the last 1 year.
So what have been the key triggers that led to this tipping point in favor of ad blockers?
Plain simple reason is that users are becoming threatened, frustrated and more aware/ tech savvy. Publishers, advertisers and the ad-tech companies, the most important pillars of digital ecosystem, have been harassing the user to a level that they have revolted.
An end user goes to any website to consume content or engage in activities that he likes but what he experiences is a maze where he has to fight his way to reach to the desired place. A plethora of ads zooming in from all corners of the screen and each one playing its own tricks are there to welcome him. People are not really adverse to advertisements and innumerable researches prove that advertisements have an inherent content value associated with them but the number of ads and the way they are being shown in the current time is what is making the audience really frustrated. ‘Oops the ever expanding ad dodged me into clicking on it by mistake, now I am on a new website and before I could close that website, another ad dodges me.’
Further, every user is marked, tracked and followed, just like an animal in a national park, as soon as he leaves the website and he can see the ad of the same website/ product wherever he goes. We can argue that any confidential information is not being shared or misused and targeting might not be harmful for the user but just imagine how threatening does it feel knowing that you are being tracked wherever you go, and that too to an average consumer with limited knowledge of the nitty-gritties of digital industry. He perceives this as an infringement of its privacy.
Moving ahead, people are becoming more aware and they understand that apart from the visual experience, there is a lot of processing and sometimes malicious code that runs in the background of these ads are slowing down his device and on top of that he has to foot the bill for data charges of these ads. Higher number of heavy video ads are further worsening the woes.
Final coffin in the nail came with ad blocking on mobile devices. Ad-blocking, a phenomenon restricted to desktop earlier has reached further alarming levels with Apple taking a hardcore stance and allowing ad blocking in IOS9. It should not be a surprise that ad blocking apps have been constantly leading the number of downloads at ITunes since the launch of IOS 9.
On the other hand from a publisher’s perspective, creation of content and maintaining the websites is a costly affair and the publishers have very little means of income apart from the ad revenues. Subscription based model does not work as the consumer does not want to pay and now he does not want to see ads as well. In most cases, the websites without any means to support its costs would die an unnatural death if the trend continues. There has been a lot of hue and cry about this and a few very strong statements have been made “Ad Blockers are going to kill free internet”; “Internet giants like Google and Apple are colonizing independent web”
Lot of experiments are being done to figure out a solution to this. Leading publishers like Forbes, Washington Post, Axel Springers etc. are blocking users using ad blockers and are getting some initial success but are these coercive steps really in the right direction of finding a permanent and more practical solution to the problem.
Every industry works on a fine balance where there is a win-win situation for all stakeholders – consumers, publishers and advertisers in this case. But this balance has been disrupted with too much forced and unethical advertising and the rhetoric rise of ad-blockers is an alarm that we need to respect our end customer. All stakeholders need to stop feeling sorry about their own grievances and understand that they cannot survive without each other. Necessary actions need to be taken on utmost priority to revive this balance and those actions will decide whether ad blockers will be another milestone or a landmark in the history of internet.
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