August 2016 marked an important moment for the advertising industry: it was the month Facebook, one of the world’s biggest advertising platforms, started fighting back against ad blocker technology. Facebook’s move is a symbol of a growing use of ad blocking technology by consumers, with one recent estimate that as many as 25% of US consumers may be using the technology while browsing online. Putting aside the larger ethical questions of ad blocking usage, the trend reflects a bigger question for the industry: what should advertisers do about this growing issue? While there’s no quick fix, some emerging guidelines do offer a path forward:
- Complement, don’t disrupt – For many consumers who have installed ad blocking technology, the issue is not with advertising itself. Instead, it reflects concerns about advertising that is irrelevant to them or simply disruptive. As noted in a recent consumer survey on ad blocking, 68% of consumers are “fine with seeing ads, but only if they are not annoying.” The advertisers who will succeed in this environment realize the importance of creating relevant, highly-targeted creative that consistently surprises and delights consumers.
- Look to television to cut through the noise – For top brands today, video and TV advertising are table stakes in every ad campaign, with both formats complementing the other’s strengths and weaknesses. This complementary nature is especially important when it comes to ad blocking, as TV often can’t be “blocked” as easily as digital ads. While there are still ways to time-shift TV viewing, pairing TV with video to address ad blocking is one way advertisers can “cover their bases,” particularly during “must-watch” events like sports and award shows where live viewing is high.
- Make sure it’s shareable – Related to #1 above, compelling, engaging advertising will always find a way to reach consumers. Given the proliferation of social media sharing tools now available, advertising that is made to be shared is much more likely to make it through to consumers. This is not only because advertising that is shared will end up in more locations around the web (and thus be less susceptible to blocking) but also because the strong endorsement that comes from word of mouth makes consumers more likely to watch.
There’s no doubt about it: ad blocking is a frustrating, challenging topic for everyone connected to the media and advertising industries. And there’s no easy answer about how to address it. But the realities of the issue mean that inaction is not an option. The more experimentation and discussion that happens now, the better off the industry and everyone involved will be in the future.