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Ad Blockers: How Much of a Threat Are They?

Since ad blocking software first reared its head around 10 years ago, it has changed how marketers can use digital space, and in recent years has started to limit the visibility of online ads. This has led to large revenue losses and diminished conversion rates, leading to a panic about the potential fate of online advertising as a marketing tool.

There are many theories on how to counteract ad blocking; getting ads whitelisted is one solution, as is mounting an assault on the ad blocking software itself. However, many marketers remain unconvinced that the popularity of ad blockers will subside and insist that, given its increasing user base, it is only a matter of time before online ads in their present form become obsolete.

There are some suggestions that this will cause marketers to move towards integrative content marketing, although this would require a change in how campaigns are devised and rolled out in digital spaces. With this speculation and uncertainty in mind, here we examine the main threats that ad blockers pose to marketers and publishers, as well as the ways to temper its effects.

What are the main threats?

A number of media outlets have branded ad blocking as a huge threat to marketing. One obvious impact it will have is upon conversion rates, and it is predicted that ad blocking could cost up to $35 billion by 2020 in terms of revenue lost from online ads that cannot be seen. In the UK there are 9 million people using ad blocking software, with a further 63 million worldwide. This figure is forecast to increase in 2017 on desktop and mobile platforms. Although mobile currently lags behind desktop in terms of ad blocking, it is estimated that 62.9% of mobile traffic is affected by ad blocking, with this accounting for 19.4% of the total global web traffic.

Attempting to nullify the threat of ad blocking has an adverse affect on web traffic, as publishers that restrict the use of ad blocking software are losing traffic. This trend has also shown to work in reverse, as when the Washington Post repealed its anti-ad blocking software it saw a rise in traffic in the ensuing months. Service providers have also been at odds with how to solve the ad blocking conundrum. The ISBA recently noted that by blocking adverts, Three would be depriving itself of revenue gained from ad load time for customers using mobile data. Apple has become the latest company to recognise the consumer demand for ad blocking, as its iOS10 software features more rigorous ad blocking capabilities.

In an attempt to monetise its product, AdBlock Plus, one of the major ad blocker software developers, has created a list of Acceptable Ads which will be shown to web users even if they have installed its software. It has worked in conjunction with several big names – notably Google, Microsoft and Amazon – to create guidelines for adverts to follow in order for them to be deemed “acceptable”.

AdBlock Plus has faced a stream of criticism following this move, as many have seen it as going against its original purpose and a means of pricing out smaller businesses who cannot afford to pay its fees. Staff at the software developer are quick to point out that this setting can be disabled; however, there is no doubt that this move will drive up the margins for any publishers looking to monetise their website.

Is There Any Way Around Ad Blockers?

Facebook has been one of the first to stick its head above the parapet in the fight against ad blockers. Recently it announced that its developers had found a means to get around ad blockers, only for ad blockers to rebuff with an update that circumvented these changes. Facebook responded with another update, as did the ad blockers, and the development “ping-pong” is set to continue ad infinitum.

This arms race is nothing new in the world of ad blocking. Anti-ad blocking software has been available for some time, and there is also software that disrupts anti-ad blockers. To this point neither party has rested on its laurels and determined the battle to be lost, and this highlights what an important issue this will be in the years to come, and it will certainly be of interest to marketers to see who comes out on top.

Industry critics have said that the rising prominence of ad blocking software will actually be of benefit in the long run. The IAB admitted fault and accepted that it has not focused on user experience, instead seeking “further automation and maximization of margins”. Aly Nurmohamed of Criteo believes that in the long run this will lead to more responsible and effective advertising, commenting that there will be no space for “spray and pay ad campaigns” and that marketers will need to create online ads with more value in the years to come.

It will still be possible to perform valuable digital marketing campaigns in the face of ad blocking software. What is crucial is that those investing time in drawing out the tactics understand the nuances of marketing and don’t subscribe to options because they are easier. Several publications have urged that the key to overcoming ad blocking is utilising the benefits of personalisation, and understanding the purchase journey from the consumer’s perspective is more important now than ever.

It is also worth noting that ad blocking doesn’t affect all websites to the same degree. Research from Business Insider has shown that the majority of internet users who use ad blocking software are young males. This skew confirms that not all industries will incur the effects of ad blocking software interfering with its monetisation models.


The rise of ad blocking is the first major climacteric for marketers looking to advertise digitally as its use is set to rise in the coming years. However, marketers with a clear plan based around meaningful prompts rather than a slew of non-contextual information will realise that ad blocking will serve as an opportunity to streamline and divert ad spend into more worthwhile channels.

An important caveat to these warnings is that ad blocking software isn’t the only thing affecting the impact of digital advertising. Social media adverts have been suffering as Campaign Live recently reported that many users are actively ignoring any adverts appearing on their chosen platforms. This should affirm that ad blocking is a result of the same issues as other marketing channels and does not necessitate widespread panic.

Has your business been affected by ad blocking? What solution have you employed to get around them? Tell us in the comments section below or get in touch with us on social media.

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