Ad Blocking Part 2: Publishers Fight Back

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For those of you just joining us, feel free to catch-up by reading part one of this series here. For those of you returning for part two, enjoy.

By Alex Schwartzwald

Ad blocking isn't a new technology or trend, but thanks to Apple's recent iOS 9 announcement, ad blocking has hit the mainstream hard and fast. Ad blocking, the action of removing or altering advertising content on a webpage, has been dominating news feeds, articles, and blog headlines for months. The second the name Apple was mentioned in the same sentence as ad blocker, it set off a firestorm and struck fear in the hearts of even the hardiest of organizations.

The ones most affected by Apple's recent announcement are publishers and media companies who get as much as half of their mobile traffic from Apple's mobile browser. Now that this trend has matured into a full-fledged crisis, publishers and media companies can no longer write off ad blockers as a passing fad. Their hands have been forced and below are a few ways they are currently combating this epidemic:

1. Ask and educate. One of the first tactics publishers are deploying is educating their audiences on the reasoning behind ads. Many people still don't understand how digital ads work and the purpose behind them. By explaining that ad blocking threatens their key source of revenue, which pays employees at your favorite site to produce content, the goal is to pull at the sympathetic heart strings of users to get them to disable their ad blockers and re-enable ads.

2. Tough love. Assume that the logical approach of simply asking your users to turn off their ad-blocking software has failed. What is the next step up from asking nicely? Some publishers have opted for the upfront/in-your-face option of preventing users from accessing their content while they have an ad blocker enabled. There is no reason why you can't be polite, while also being firm about your stance by showing your users some tough love.

3. Offer a freemium model. Putting up a paywall is one option to consider. You can either subscribe to a free, ad-supported version or a paid, ad-free version of the website. The problem many publishers run into is taking the gamble on how many of their users/audience members will find their content valuable enough to subscribe to the paid-ad free version.

4. Pay to play. While the pay-to-play option only really applies to larger companies such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, playing ball with ad blockers isn't a bad option when you consider the alternative. Complying with Adblock Plus and its acceptable ads initiative, as well as other ad blockers, your organization can be whitelisted as long as you follow their criteria.

5. Blocking the blockers. Publishers will continue to hunt for new ways around ad-blocking software. The problem is this cat-and-mouse game doesn't end well for publishers if they continue to bypass the ad-blocking technologies by finding weaknesses in ad blockers, coding, rules, etc.

"We have people all across the world writing filter lists and trying to find the circumvention techniques and out-circumventing them. Technically, we have the advantage, says Adblock Plus Communications Manager Ben Williams.

If a user blocked ads because they were annoying and intrusive, finding a way to override the tool the user has installed to avoid that nuisance will not nurture a healthy relationship with any user. Quite the opposite actually; and personally, I would find another source that can provide the same type of content that doesn’t force ads and override my ad blocker.

Adblock Plus, which controls roughly half of the ad-blocking market, is also well-known for its "acceptable ad program," which allows publishers, media, and even tech companies such as Microsoft and Google to pay to get their ads whitelisted by the Ad Block Plus software.

When you have such a high share of the market, you also become a target. Adblock Plus has become the target of European publishers RTL, ProSiebenSat.1, Axel Springer, and Die Zeit, which are in various stages of suing Adblock Plus parent company Eyeo in Germany. Thus far, the courts have ruled in Adblock Plus's favor, noting that the software was not anti-competitive because Internet users were choosing to install Adblock Plus.

A Continuously Growing Threat
As I stated in part one of this series, this threat is only going to continue to grow until publishers and media companies take action. The problem is many are approaching ad blocking the wrong way; instead of embracing the changes that come with this technology, they are trying to find ways around it. The companies and the technology behind ad blocking came about out of consumer demand. Publishers and media companies need to take a long hard look at what their standards are and how they can improve their ads.

How Do You Survive This New Threat?
What most people don't realize is that their message, call-to-action, and placement should all be based on very specific pieces of data. If publishers don't have a clear 360-degree view of their audience, the ad is doomed from the start. Publishers need to be able to yield clean, actionable, and most importantly, unified data to present to advertisers.

Users want ads that aren't intrusive, annoying, and irrelevant. So how do publishers accomplish this?

One way is to combine all of your disparate data sources into one unified database. With the help of a data management platform, publishers can segment groups of like individuals. These groups of people have demonstrated through actions they have taken that they are interested in similar content. These actions include clicks, opens, likes, shares, website visits, event attendance, and webinar registrations.

Segmenting your audience into groups and finding trends in your audience data is key to predicting what your audience wants, when they want it, and what device they would like to consume it on. It also plays a crucial role in deciding what specific ads would be best suited for your users on your desktop website as well as your mobile site.

Advertising had to reinvent itself when mobile showed its true potential in our ever-evolving mobilized society. Advertising moves quicker than other industries, and ad blocking has pushed up the timeline for publishers and media companies to adapt or innovate to survive. Whether the industry as a whole likes it or not, everyone will have to reinvent themselves once again to cater to ad blocking. You can either resist or accept the changes now, because the consumer is always right and the consumer always wins.

Alex Schwartzwald is marketing and communications coordinator at Knowledge Marketing.

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