Are Ad Blockers A Signal Of User Choice?

samanthapricesellsiderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Samantha Price, director of ad products at The Weather Company, an IBM Business.

I was recently asked if a recovered impression honored the user’s choice not to see an ad.

It’s an interesting question, especially at a time when there are many initiatives focused on user choice, privacy and use of data. If you channel your inner yield manager, the response is an emphatic “No, it’s stealing!”

Statistics, however, show that the primary concerns leading to the hockey-stick growth in ad-blocker adoption are the number of ads and the tracking enabled by today’s ad stack. With this, there is the legitimate question of user choice that’s here to stay. When considering the options to combat ad blocking, each tactic should be weighed on a scale that considers both user value as well as a revenue impact.

As publishers, one of the most valuable assets of our business is our users. Maintaining the value exchange that built the Internet we know today is becoming more and more of a delicate balance. The tactics outlined in the IAB Tech Lab primer on D.E.A.L. (Detect, Explain, Ask, Lift or Limit) follow this train of thought.

First, Detect

A publisher needs to be aware of the percentage of its audience that is using ad blockers. This is a binary check. Is ad blocking detected on the page view, yes or no? Several technology partners are in market offering analytics to provide that answer.

A publisher must then determine an acceptable threshold for when to start to combat ad blocking. Is 10% of audience enough, or 20%? What about those who are seeing rates as high as 50%-plus? When you start to factor those percentages, the impact to monetization becomes a material concern that cannot be ignored.


At times, users must be reminded that the the free Internet is only possible because of the advertising adjacent to the content they consume on web properties. Relevancy of the ads can either be achieved through contextual targeting or behavioral targeting, where what is known about the user informs the delivery of the ad.

Messaging to the consumer should be consistent across touch points, be it the notice served when ad blocking is detected or the reasoning offered behind “Why Ads?” links. The answer: Advertising allows publishers to offer the valuable content provided to you every day, and our goal is to offer better and more relevant ads to you, our trusted user.

Next, Ask

So we detected and we explained. Now we ask the user to take action. Whitelist you. Pay a subscription. Participate in a publisher micropayment model. Turn off ad blocking.

Offer a more acceptable ad experience in exchange for the whitelist. All of these tactics give the user a choice while still recovering some form of revenue.

Now What?

Lift or limit: If a user takes the desired action, lift. If they decline, limit.

The reality is that most users of ad blockers will not take action. Why should they? They can browse the Internet free of ads.

Publishers should then consider drawing a line in the sand against ad blocking, either through recovering the impression or blocking access to their site. Limiting access to the site can be wholesale or throttled; either immediately on detection of the presence of an ad blocker or after a determined threshold of page views before action is taken.

The methodology deployed should be considered on a case-by-case basis determined by the content available on the publisher. General availability news sites will likely deploy a different tactic than one with proprietary content.

Paywalls are great in theory, but are not scalable. If every site charged $1.99 per month for access, consumers would be very selective in choosing who to pay. That begs the question if there is value in an en mass blockage of content in response to ad blockers. Some are trying in Europe, but the user response remains to be seen.

The Delicate Ecosystem

Is there an effect on the marketer? At face value, one might be quick to say, “No! Ad blocking does not impact marketers since the ad blockers block the ad request.” No ad request, no impression. Right?

Well, yes, but it’s not that easy. While it’s true that marketers should not worry that ad blockers will add to fraudulent ad impressions, the wider adoption of ad blockers will lead to more scarcity and, according to Econ 101, higher CPMs and higher CPA.

And while these economics may be cause for concern, marketers must also understand the role they play in the rise of ad blocking as more technologies are deployed within creatives to track engagement and ROI. Publishers and marketers must work together to balance user experience with analytics. Rather than throw the kitchen sink at tracking every possible user touch point and attribution funnel, we should be collaborative in understanding the KPI for the campaign and the requisite methodology for tracking attribution.

Only by balancing KPI and user impact will the delicate ecosystem that we all must protect be maintained.

It Begins And Ends With The User

At the end of the day, the ad-blocking debate has at its center the user. Turns out when my colleague asked the question, they weren’t that far off from the truth of the matter.

How we as publishers and marketers consider the end user in every decision we make will ultimately be the deciding factor in whether we foster the balance of user experience and the monetization of the free Internet we depend on every day.

Follow The Weather Company (@weatherchannel) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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