Forrester Analyst Susan Bidel: Marketer Lessons From The Ad-Blocking Trend

BidelProgIOForrester senior analyst Susan Bidel will appear Oct. 29 at AdExchanger’s Programmatic I/O conference, an event dedicated to the advancement of programmatic media and marketing.

The ad industry’s collective hand wringing over ad blocking reached a fever pitch in September during Advertising Week in New York City.

In reality, however, it’s far from a block apocalypse. Ad blocking isn’t new, having existed on desktop for years before Apple’s iOS 9 update turned it into an inescapable topic of discussion.

But that doesn’t mean ad blocking isn’t a wake-up call, said Forrester senior analyst Susan Bidel.

“If consumers become aware of the fact that they’re sacrificing their data plans and spending money to see ads they don’t even want to see in the first place – ads that are too heavy, too data rich and that slow down performance – that’s the worst possible scenario for any publisher,” said Bidel, referring to a recent article in which The New York Times tested the mobile sites of 50 popular publishers with and without ad blockers enabled. took the dubious first-place prize for most data consumed. Ads took an average of 30 seconds to load – the equivalent of 32 cents worth of data for simply visiting the home page. Turning blockers on cut that down to eight seconds.

Although not all mobile sites tested by the Times were as egregious, there was an appreciable improvement for the majority of publishers under the publication’s microscope.

The Los Angeles Times, for example, took 11 seconds to load sans blocker, compared to four seconds with. An ad blocker shaved the load time for the Chicago Tribune to 3.5 seconds from 9.5 seconds. Even The New York Times enjoyed a speed boost, loading in four seconds rather than seven when a blocker was unleashed.

It’s an unfortunate situation. But hey, if bad UX is the problem, a better UX is the solution.

“With the move toward viewability standards, awareness of ad blocking and the battle against fraud, we’re moving toward a more high-quality user experience all around,” Bidel said. “Not only would that mean a better environment for consumers, but more marketers spending on digital.”

AdExchanger caught up with Bidel.

AdExchanger: Ad blocking is often talked about as a publisher problem. Do marketers care and should they be concerned?

SUSAN BIDEL: I can’t speak for all marketers, but they certainly should care. Consumers already shield themselves from advertising on television with DVRs, and digital ad blocking is another step in that direction. But unlike TV, digital ad blocking prevents ads from being served at all. From a marketer’s perspective, that makes reaching and messaging some of their most desirable prospects very difficult.

Their most desirable prospects?

In the US right now, ad blocking is largely confined to a relatively small portion of the total audience comprised of largely young, tech-savvy, mostly male users. But as it becomes easier to implement, I would imagine that more people will block for user experience reasons and privacy reasons.

I envision that it will follow the pattern of DVR adoption. Over time, the best educated, highest-income users will find ways to shield themselves from advertising.

Let’s say that happens and there is less available inventory. Will CPMs go up?

From a publisher’s perspective, one would hope so. But if advertisers are getting access to a quality audience, then it’s worth paying for. This is very much a market in which you get what you pay for.

Michael Zimbalist, SVP of ad products and R&D at The New York Times, expressed a similar sentiment during a session at Advertising Week, but he was referring to the fraud issue.

It’s all part and parcel. There are a lot of headlines screaming about the high level of fraud and the amount of money being lost, but the fraud that’s happening is largely among the long-tail publishers, not the premium ones. It’s not unheard of, but premium publishers do not represent the bulk of the problem.

The biggest dollars in ad fraud seem to be going toward video, and most premium publishers sell video directly. If marketers buy video directly, it’s simply much less likely that they’ll encounter fraud.

Legal action has been floated as a potential form of retaliation against the purveyors of ad-blocking software. Good idea, terrible idea?

The legal status of what’s going on clearly needs to be determined. My initial thoughts around ad blocking is that it’s not right, but whether it’s illegal is not something for me to say. In Europe, there have been some legal steps taken, but, to date, the courts have maintained the rights of the ad blockers. The legality of ad blocking in the US is something that will have to play out in the courts.

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