More internet users are blocking adverts than ever before, according to a new report, with the rate more than doubling over the course of last year.
Those figures are significantly larger than the authors had expected. “We did a report last year, around the same time, and we had anticipated growth of about 43%,” said Sean Blanchfield of PageFair, which produced the report with Adobe. “What really surprised us was that the actual growth was significantly higher.”
The figures, which are derived from observed downloads of adblocking software, aren’t the only thing in the report likely to scare advertisers. Ad blocking is most popular with younger users – 41% of American internet users aged between 18 and 29 used adblocking software, rising to 54% of when only young men are counted.
Use of adblockers “is really concentrated on exactly the kind of people that advertisers are targeting,” explained Blanchfield. “It’s millennials. You can basically see a large cohort of adblockers growing up – as adblockers. And this isn’t good news for the advertising industry, or publishers.”
Describing the growing use of the software as “like the Napster of the advertising industry”, Blanchfield questions what the media’s response to the rise of ad blocking will be.
“Are they going to go after the end users? Or are they going to try and recognise that something’s changed here, and that certain kinds of users, who are more technically sophisticated, and media literate, aren’t going to accept very aggressive forms of advertising any more.”
PageFair, which produces analytics tools that help site owners work out how many of their visitors are blocking ads, argues forcefully that adverts need to change. In that at least, the firm is backed up by the adblockers themselves, who justify their software through appeals to user choice.
“Adblocking technology puts power back into users’ hands,” Adblock Plus’ founder Till Faida wrote in the Guardian this summer, “and the advertising world needs to respond by working out how to get its messages across without being annoying and intrusive.
“Research shows that very few people find advertisements in more established media annoying,” he continued. “So why can’t that be replicated online? Why shouldn’t online adverts, just, uh, grow up a bit? Indeed, they must – because as opposed to the rather solid spot adverts occupy elsewhere, users call the shots online.”
The report emphasises that not all adverts are created equal: while 80% of users are “completely unwilling” to give up their ability to block popups and ads in the middle of online video, some can be talked around to less intrusive ads: 30% are at least “somewhat” willing to allow text display ads.
There’s also going to have to be some “education” of users, Blanchfield says. “The thing about advertising is that the end user isn’t part of that contract; the contract is between the publisher and the advertiser. And the end user who installs Adblock really isn’t mindful of the fact that they’re impacting the revenue of the publisher.”
But however publishers do it, there’s a ticking time bomb beneath it all. At some point, all the 15 year olds blocking adverts now are going to grow up, Blanchfield points out. “Where’s that going to leave us in five years time?”
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