So my preferred ad blocking tool, Ad Block Plus has set the internet alight with controversy after announcing that they will start selling ads, effectively becoming an ad network themselves, while blocking the ads of competing ad networks.
Naturally, this has sent ad networks, webmasters and content creators to scurry for their digital torches and pitchforks, and rightly so. While I agree that this move by Ad Block Plus is insanely anti-competitive and greedy, I understand quite clearly where the true blame for this lies: With the ad networks, webmasters and content creators themselves. Had the advertising industry taken notice of the fact that people don’t want to slog through marshes of shitty ads and mended their ways, ad blocking tools would never have become as popular as they are in the first place. Nope. Instead, they made their annoying ads harder to circumvent with the introduction of things like unstoppable ads on YouTube.
I actually have an odd opinion on ad blocking, because I am a digital marketing manager for a global tourism related company. A big part of our company revenue depends on people seeing and reacting to ads I am responsible for making. However, I am also an avid ad-block user. You may think me hypocritical to be an advertiser while simultaneously blocking unwanted ads on all my own devices.
However, instead of being part of the problem, I try to be a part of the solution. In both my work ethics and private browsing habits, I follow some rules I set for myself, which I believe justifies my position:
At work, I refuse to make the same kind of ads that I find annoying. If I don’t want to be annoyed by a specific as type, like animated ones for example, then I don’t want to annoy other people either. A large number of other advertisers seem to take a “Maybe if we piss everyone off with our ads enough, they’ll buy our stuff!” approach. I however tend to spend the vast majority of our marketing budget on AdWords campaigns, running on Google’s search network. How can people hate ads, if the ads they see are exactly what they just searched for? Our Click-through and conversion rates definitely seem to support this idea.
As for blocking ads, on mobile I block ads on all sites where the ad floats above content, or is animated in any way (and especially if the ad is a video). Those little banner ads that always sits at the bottom of the page can fuck right off. Real estate is precious on devices with small screens such as smartphones, so to have ads that always sit above actual content ruins the experience and is unacceptable in my opinion. Then there is the fact that if I am browsing on my mobile, there is a good chance I am using mobile data, and video/animated ads are costing me data, which is also unacceptable. On desktop I am a little more lenient. I tend to whitelist sites that have relatively unobtrusive ads that aren’t animated or play sound of any kind.
While I am sympathetic to the content creator’s plight, I feel the industry as a whole is to blame for the situation we are in. For years as consumers, we have voted against annoying and obtrusive ads, as the huge download numbers for ad blocking tools would suggest. However ad networks and the website who rely on them for revenue responded by shaming consumers into abandoning the practice with their “I see you are using an ad blocker, here’s a full screen pop-up with the content creator’s version of a picture of a starving child to make you feel bad”, rather than meeting people halfway by, oh I dunno, not having annoying fucking ads in the first place.
While AdBlock plus is showing their greed off more publicly now and are rightfully being criticized for it, it is the fault of advertisers, the networks they use and the websites who put very little effort into ensuring the ads they display don’t ruin user experience who are to blame, and set the stage for this to happen in the first place. The advertising industry missed a very important lesson: Consumers don’t want to be annoyed into buying products. You may inform us and even try to tempt us, sure, but when you are doing the digital equivalent of forming a human blockade on a city sidewalk shouting your pitch at us over a loudhailer, you can’t blame us for wanting to avoid you at all costs.
It is perfectly OK for you to have a desire to sell me something, but the second you get in my way to do so, you can fuck off. At least Google seems to be catching on.