Monthly Archives: September 2007

Is ad blocking a thread?

In today’s Clickz article “Tackling Adblock Plus“, Ian Schafer expresses his deep concerns about Adblock Plus, a Firefox filtering add-on that removes all advertising from web pages:

Blocking ads en masse is a critical threat to the stability of the unwritten contract between publisher/service provider, and the consumer — especially when the content delivered or services rendered aren’t premium or paid. It’s not only publishers who would be affected by mass adoption of something like Adblock Plus, but ironically, the consumers themselves by cutting off the life support to content-developing and -sustaining businesses.

The author also mentions the “Why Firefox is Blocked” initiative, which publishers can join in response to the ad removal tool to block all Firefox users from their web sites, including the vast majority of Firefox users that do not have the extension installed.

My comments:

  1. Users who really want to block ads will always find a way to do so. Neither ad blocking software nor the debate are new. Free and commercial tools and proxies to filter online advertising became available shortly after the first banners appeared on the web back in the days. Not all such techniques may be as easy to install and configure as a Firefox extension. But even though there is many of them since a long time, ad blocking has not been a major problem to the online advertising model to date. I do not believe that a Firefox add-on will make a big difference.
  2. If somebody takes the time to install software to block ads, they have a reason to do so. Most likely this is not their technical interest in the product but a high degree of aversion to advertising. I doubt whether such users are responsive to online ads. Ad blocking advocates usually argue that ad filtering tools save advertisers money because they do not have to pay for ad impressions served to an unresponsive audience.
  3. If consumers decide that online ads is not their preferred way of paying for content, emarketers should respect this. Fighting a tool like Adblock Plus is not the right way to address this issue. If consumers don’t like ads, do not push them down their throats! Even if ad blocking would become a real thread to advertising (which I do not believe), web publishers will have to find other business models. I’m afraid that publishers whose creativity ends at the idea of blocking all Firefox users will then no longer participate in the game.
  4. Advertisers can do a lot to make advertising more effective and less intrusive. If more ads were targeted to a specific audience, and less annoying (popups, interstitials, shaky banners, misleding messages, spyware ads…), users would not complain about them so much.
  5. Tools like Adblock Plus can be configured to only block certain types of ads, or ads from a certain origin. I for one use a local proxy filter and let it only block popup ads, spyware ads, auto-playing audio, and the totally untargeted banners that are served by some ad networks. Targeted advertising like Google Adsense is still welcome.