It’s so easy to see the appeal of ad blockers. You can watch YouTube without any ads, scroll through Facebook without being advertised to, and avoid those annoying flashing ads on blogs you read. And, it’s legal. That sounds great, right? But there’s an ethical conundrum to all of this. We’re able to access all of this content for free because the creators are able to make money off of these advertisements. We want to support these content producers, but we also really don’t want to have to watch ads. Before you make the decision of whether or not to turn off your ad blocker, though, let’s take a look at some facts.
What Are Ad Blockers?
An Ad Blocker is a plugin you can install in your browser that will block ads. This includes Youtube ads, Facebook ads, banners, pop-ups, and more. You have the option to turn off the ad blocker for specific websites. The most popular ad blocker out there is Adblock Plus.
Usually ad blockers are just used on computers, but last year Apple enabled integration with third-party ad blockers for Safari, meaning people can now use ad blockers on their phones as well. This is huge, considering how much web browsing and video watching people do on their phones.
15-17% of people in the U.S. use an ad blocker, and, not surprisingly, millennials are the group with the highest rates of ad blocker use. Some people use it because ad blockers can stop sites from tracking them and violating their privacy, and also allows web pages to load faster, but other people use them because they just don’t want to view the ads.
What’s the Impact for Businesses?
Simply put, if the ad is blocked, the producer of the content won’t get the advertising revenue.
This of course can harm large companies such as Google. If ad blockers are preventing Google’s search ads from showing up, then Google can’t make money from a user potentially clicking on that search ad.
But this doesn’t just impact large businesses that can afford to take a hit. It also impacts individual content producers such as bloggers. Many bloggers can make a full-time career out of running their blog by running ads on the top or sides of their blog.
PewDiePie, a YouTuber you’ve probably heard of because he has over 40 million subscribers, said that 40% of his viewers use Adblock. This means he makes 40% less money on advertising revenue. Although for someone like him 40% still leaves millions of people who aren’t using an ad blocker, he points out that for YouTubers that are just getting started, it’s a lot of lost potential revenue.
This is really where the ethics of ad blocking gets murky. Of course we don’t really care if YouTube or Forbes isn’t making money off of ads – they’re such large corporations and they’ll be just fine if I happen to skip by a few ads. But then you start thinking about the everyday people who are producing content for free and are losing revenue because of ad blockers. There is the option to turn off ad blockers for specific websites, but let’s be real, how many people will actually go through that effort to allow certain sites just to have to view annoying ads?
What Are The Options for Businesses?
The first is to do what Facebook did, which is to bypass the ad blocker and let the ads still show up on users’ newsfeeds. Another option is to do what Forbes does, which is to detect that users are using an ad blocking software and require them to turn off the blocker before allowing them to proceed onto the website.
The issue with those two options, though, is that it becomes a constant battle with the ad blocking producer. When Facebook made that ad block bypass, Adblock Plus released an update to bypass the bypass. In even less time, Facebook disabled the update. It becomes a never-ending back and forth between the two development teams. This brings up the question that is all of that time and effort worth it?
YouTube released YouTube Red, a subscription service that costs $10 a month and lets you watch videos ad-free, as an attempt to counter Adblock. It also includes a few other features such as offline download and original content.
Another suggestion is native advertising, where the content is sponsored but it looks like actual content. A good example would be BuzzFeed sponsored posts, where it’s made to look like a typical BuzzFeed post, but is actually sponsored by a company. However ad blockers can still detect the words “promoted by” or “sponsored by” and can still block those posts.
For people like bloggers or YouTubers, they’ll have to get more creative. Instead of a blogger using flash ads to bring in revenue, they could try partnering with brands and creating sponsored posts.
Adblock Plus actually has an Acceptable Ads initiative, where they have a set of guidelines that describe what would make an ad non-intrusive in regards to placement and size. If ads meet those criteria, they will not be blocked by the ad blocker.
So what do you think? Are you going to turn off your ad-blocker, or should we just hope that ad blockers will force advertisers to rethink their approach to advertising to make their ads into content that users will actually want to see? Or will you do a mixed approach by using an ad-blocker for sites of large companies, but turning it off for bloggers and YouTubers?