Reader’s Block: The Age Of Adphobia

by Beth Leslie Inspiring Interns

Going digital was supposed to be a good thing for marketers. As time and place became irrelevant, potential clients could be reached anywhere, anytime. Advertisements which popped up and played sound couldn’t be overlooked. New software such as MailChimp allowed vast email campaigns to be compiled and sent out quickly, easily, and frequently.

But then the ad blockers came.

According to PageFair (which helps companies circumnavigate ad blockers) 11 per cent of the global internet population block ads.  And usage is growing year-on-year; ad blocker downloads grew 30 per cent in 2016. One consultancy firm, Ovum, has estimated that the cost of all this consumer blackballing will add up to a cool $78.2 billion in lost revenue by 2020.


But hold off hanging up your marketing black hat in despair just yet. Ovum’s figure is based on the premise that marketers do nothing at all to stem the ad blocker tide. Digital marketers who are proactive, innovative, and experimental in their business strategies can survive in an ad block world.

Consider this your very own call to action.

Blocking The Blockers

There are ways to circumnavigate ad blockers. Software can be installed that blocks ad blockers, or marketers can reach out to the ad blockers themselves and ask to be ‘whitelisted’ (this usually involves a hefty fee). Digital marketers who want to ensure their content is seen could also choose to only work with websites which force users to disable ad blockers before they can access their content.

As a marketing strategy, however, this approach alone is pretty poor. Compelling web users to view your adverts will certainly get you more exposure, but it’s likely to be the negative kind. After all, people who find adverts irksome enough to block are highly unlikely to buy from a company which shoves those same irksome adverts in their face. Indeed, the risk of brand damage is high.

Understand The Ad Block Appeal

Instead, take some time to understand why your targets are using ad blockers, in order to work out a strategy that caters to their concerns.

2016 survey by HubSpot asked web users this very question. They received four key responses:

  1. Because ads are annoying and intrusive (64 per cent)
  2. Because ads are disruptive (54 per cent)
  3. Because ads create security concerns (39 per cent)
  4. Because ads affect load time and bandwidth usage (36 per cent)

But the survey also discovered that web users are not opposed to advertising in principle. 8 in 10 people agreed that not every advertisement is bad, and 77 per cent would plump for an ad filter rather than an ad block if given the choice.

Focus On The User Experience

The important lesson for marketers is that digital advertising is still a viable business strategy, but only if the right sort of adverts are promoted.

Pop-up adverts should, therefore, be completely ruled out – their perceived obtrusiveness outweighs the benefits of their visibility. Similarly, automatic-play video content is likely to be received poorly. Not only is it disruptive, it’s is likely to suck up substantial bandwidth and slow load times. Advertisers must also be vigorous in removing any possibility that their adverts could contain or be construed as malware.

Give Customers Control

Web users’ desire for ad filters rather than ad blocks indicates that they are still aware of the personal benefits they gain from the right kind of adverts – learning about a great new company or product, accessing discounts etc.

In response to this, digital marketers should focus their efforts on pinpointing their adverts at the most receptive group of people, rather than attempting a scattergun high-visibility approach. Because no software will ever be as accurate at discerning people’s advertisement preferences as people themselves, savvy digital marketers should hand their prospects control over the type and amount of content they receive.

78 per cent of email unsubscribes cite ‘too many emails’ as their reason for opting out. When companies give the option to determine the frequency and type of emails received, fewer people are pushed into barring all their emails. Similarly, if unsuitable online adverts are easy to dismiss and do not constantly reappear, negative associations with the brand are avoided, and web users are more likely to pay attention to remaining, relevant adverts.

Filtering also provides companies with valuable data about user trends and preferences, allowing marketing money to be better spent.

Create High-Quality, Engaging Adverts

One statistics should give digital marketers pause: only 7 per cent of clickthroughs are made because the advert in question seemed engaging (one-third are made by mistake). This dismal figure suggests marketers should be more focused on creating intriguing adverts that actively engage viewers.

Prioritising quantity over quality is a losing strategy when it comes to engaging customers. Web users see a lot of adverts. They recognise common selling tricks and they resent it; over half say most online adverts are “insulting to their intelligence”.

Spending time creating content that users actually find interesting will pay off. Advertising spam will not.

Show The Customer What They Gain

It is well-known that without advertising revenue, many websites could not provide the content users access and benefit from for free. Yet many web users do not seem to acknowledge or care about this implicit compromise – 82 per cent of people state they are unconcerned about the financial impact of ad blockers on businesses.

This may be because digital marketing is still in relative infancy. Users who remember an ad-light or ad-free browsing experience (as was the case with smartphones until recently) do not appreciate or understand the reason for the sudden intrusion of ads.

But attitudes are likely to change as websites become more assertive about preventing users from having free content without ads – when pushed, 60 per cent of people named adverts as the best way for businesses to pay for their website, above user-paid services.

This is especially true of younger ‘digital natives’. 42 per cent of them are willing to turn off their ad blocker to access content, compared to 14 per cent of 55+. As this group grows older and larger, businesses should see a corresponding success with digital advertising campaigns.

Prioritise Click-Throughs Over Visibility

Accepting the presence of adverts and being converted into buyers by them are two different things. Digital marketers have spent too long being beguiled by the advertising reach and visibility offered by the phenomenal growth of internet access and time spent online, and failed to prepare for the inevitable backlash.

But by refocusing on personalised, engaging and unobtrusive campaigns, digital marketers can once again nudge web users to engage with their brand in a positive way.

Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available. Or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.