May 5, 2017

Adblockalypse Now: Get up to speed ahead of our upcoming Curious talk

Ahead of the second instalment in our 5th season of Curious talks, we thought we’d bring you up to speed on the world of Adblocking (so you can get your clever questions ready). The talk will take the form of a panel debate, with speakers from Google, The Telegraph, LAD Bible, and our very own Adrian Gans. We’ll be kicking off with the question: “What’s to blame for adblocking and what’s your organisation doing to combat it?”. No doubt there’ll be some good, bad, and downright ugly examples. In the meantime, here’s our adblocking 101 to whet your appetite…

Adblockers have been around for almost a decade, but really made headlines in 2015 when Apple announced it would update iOS to allow adblocking for Safari users. This marked a pivotal moment in the adblocking debate, sending it into the mainstream. Adblocking has been a controversial issue for many years: if you use an adblocker, like 11% of the world’s population, chances are it’s AdBlock Plus or Adblock. The way these extensions work is by analysing a web page’s code, and automatically blocking all ad content, save some ‘whitelisted’ ones. Ads can become ‘whitelisted’ by paying a fee, which is how these blockers make their money (although some publishers have described this process as akin to blackmail). Because companies like Google then had to pay to circumnavigate third-party adblockers, many have built their own versions (such as Chrome adblocker) to regain control.


Image Credit: Pixabay


At the heart of the rise in adblocking lies the undeniable fact that many online ads are a nuisance that people aren’t prepared to put up with. Autoplay, pop-ups, and automatic sounds can really interfere with day-to-day browsing. Many of these sites rely on revenue from adspace to be able to provide content free to the reader, so the rise in adblocking has significantly affected their business models, with more and more sites resorting to paywalls in order to monetise their businesses. To try to combat this, the ad industry and other big publishers (Facebook, Google, etc.) formed the Coalition for Better Ads, to make advertising better – enabling these sites to continue providing free content to users. The Coalition has banned some ad formats which really mess with user experience – like autoplay ads and pop-ups – and because representatives from all publishers sit in the organisation, this means that all of their ads will eventually comply with the Coalition’s standards.

The issue is ever-evolving, with new types of adblockers threatening the status quo. Just this week the Perceptual Ad Blocker, developed by researchers at Princeton and Stanford, was launched in beta testing. This software scans the visuals of a web page, rather than its code, allowing it to identify and block ads much like humans do: by looking. This could mean ad formats such as sponsored posts are able to be blocked. However, given that 77% of adblock users say they are willing to view some online ad formats, the story isn’t all doom and gloom. If the ad industry can work with publishers to deliver ads their users find acceptable, then the need for adblockers on those sites will diminish.

Overall, the landscape of adblocking is an ever-changing one. Organisations that hold its members accountable to new standards of online advertising could negate the need for adblockers on these sites, but in the meantime, the levels of adblocker usage and sophistication are increasing. Make sure you head to our next talk to come and hear more. Thursday 11th May, 9am. See you there!

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Team Curious

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