Friends, family, and co-workers alike have all been raving about recent ad blocking plug-ins available for browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer. Apparently the annoyance of banner ads has grown so cumbersome that the general public is ready to revolt by loading up ad blocking software in order to give themselves a smoother web experience.
I for one, rely on good old fashioned banner blindness when browsing and find ad blocking software just not worth the time. Of course as a web marketer I understand the value of advertising and question the long term viability of wide spread ad blocking.
CNet’s Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh recently posted an article covering the legality of ad blocking software. In their article they discuss copyright issues related to altering content and terms of service issues relating to publishers who specifically disallow the use of ad blocking software when using their service.
Regardless of the legal options available to publishers, in the end publishers are faced with a bit of a catch 22. On one hand you have more and more users installing software to circumvent monetization channels. On the other hand if publishers start suing or banning users for running ad blocking software they face a PR backlash. The same PR backlash could be felt if publishers start to attack the developers of ad blocking software.
What to do? What to do?
I personally see a lot of similarities in handling ad blocking software with banner blindness. In both cases you have users who are basically ignoring your ads. Of course with banner blindness you can employ strategies like animation, bright colors, and aggressive calls to action. These strategies don’t work so well when the user can’t see the ad at all.
Over the last few years we’ve seen several strategies designed to address banner blindness which could be used to address ad blocking software.
Text Based Ads
Google Adsense is the best example of this strategy. In a world of graphics based advertising Google Adsense helped advertisers re-think how they can communicate with their audience. Text based ads actually do a good job of communicating with the customer and seemed to help circumvent years of banner blindness conditioning driven by gaudy banner ads.
Text based ads are also harder to block with ad blocking software, so as publishers start to deal with more and more users employing ad blocking software, text based ads may be an effective strategy.
Pay per Post
This hotly debated strategy is a little on the black / gray hat side of things. Some publishers elect to receive payments from advertisers in exchange for writing a review of a specific service or product. While publishers have to sell their soul to employ this strategy, this is one way some publishers have been able to circumvent banner blindness and create new monetization channels for their sites.
Since ad blocking software can’t tell the difference between a pay per post and regular post this is one method we may see more and more publishers employ in order to keep their sites generating revenue.
What the Future Holds
Regardless of the technologies employed to help circumvent displaying ads, there will always be an endless array of counter strategies to make sure publishers can monetize their content. Some users may demand an advertising free web experience, but in the end it is those ads which help make most websites free of subscription fees.
If ad blocking software becomes too effective or if too many users install this software, then we’ll be looking at a fundamental shift away from free web content which would ruin the web experience the Internet has grown to know and love.
I for one would encourage anyone thinking about installing ad blocking software to consider these points. Are the ads that I’m seeing really that annoying? What quality of content implications could the web face if most users block ad content? Could these implications impact the quality of real content that’s available?
Publishers are going to find a way to monetize their content. Right now, banner or text based advertisements are an effective way for publishers to achieve monetization. If software drives publishers to disguise their advertisements how will you as a human be able to differentiate between advertising content and legitimate content?
Advertising empowers publishers to effectively bring free content to the web. Without this monetization channel serious concerns over subscription fees and quality of content become an ever increasing issue.