Ad blocking is not the end of the free-content world

Word cloud concept illustration of media advertising glowing light effectAdvertising underpins about 90% of everything we see online. Even the sites where advertising seems to be magically absent are monetising our details to advertisers. But is the rise of ad blocking going to kill the internet as we know it?

The debate has ebbed and flowed for years now. Many proclaim the demise of the free internet; their warning is that with no ads to finance websites which provide content then it is inevitable that users will need to pay upfront. Meanwhile, others believe that ad blocking will make little or no difference at all.

The new resurgence of interest in all things ad block has been caused by Apple’s announcement that Safari users are to be given the chance to block ads online just by downloading an app. It could be seen as a cynical move by the computer giant to pump more advertising through apps, and consequently its own iAd advertising platform, rather than browsers. But will this really make any difference to advertisers?

My view is that advertising will adapt and survive these challenges and that they aren’t the coup de grace. Inevitably, advertising will get faster, more targeted. It will need to improve its tracking and measurement capabilities as well as finding new ways of reaching its audience. In addition, media owners of the sites we all know and love, will have to be less greedy.

Those who have 50% of the screen taken up by ads, might have to accept that there is a limit and rethink their business plan accordingly. Consumers who get ad overload will stop responding positively and instead feel that ads are intrusive and annoying .

Of course the big fear of practitioners who are wary of the latent popularity of ad blocking is that it will spread to other platforms like Android and Windows 10. They will tell you that online publishers are facing extinction and, when they are no longer able to sell their readers to advertisers, the entire publishing industry will die out. However, this is not a new fear.

Way back in 2010, there were features published with titles like, “Why ad blocking is devastating to the sites you love.” However, the executioner’s axe, aimed for the neck of online publishing, seems to be moving glacially slowly. In fact, for the subsequent five years there have been more people spending more time on more pages, and the economic success of online publishing has turned out to be a lot greater than the financial damage done by adblocking.

I think that Apple’s move will certainly hasten a few changes. Perhaps, the penny will eventually drop for brands that if they want to secure the attention of consumers they should start to produce quality advertising with proper budgets. Advertising will have to get smarter, and advertisers will have to get used to buying a decent number of impressions. Some may get blocked, yes, but ad blocking in one from or another has a long and distinguished tradition – just think how many people shoot off to the kitchen to put the kettle on during an ad break.

Tom Vaughton, director of VARN media