Ad Blocking: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The emergence of browser plugins like AdBlock and AdBlock Plus has made it possible for Internet users to quickly and easily block pesky and often considered annoying advertisements when consuming content on the Internet. It’s great, isn’t it?

The Good

Who likes pop-ups or flashing banners, anyway? Judging by the rise in AdBlock adoption rates from a PageFair and Adobe 2014 report, users are increasingly casting their vote to reduce the amount of Internet spam. Any application or plugin that can completely block or at least reduce the number of annoying advertising is a long-awaited relief. Sure, advertisers have gotten a lot better at targeting and reduced some of the perceived invasiveness of the ad formats, but they are still there, we can still see them, and sometimes we just want all these ads to go away. From this perspective alone, AdBlock, AdBlock Plus, and any future plugin or app that can block ads, is certainly a welcome change. These plugins are giving some power back to the audiences to cast their own vote for what they feel is acceptable and what is not.

The Bad

Over the years, advertising has become synonymous with the Internet. Some users may not even notice or find it annoying. More importantly, well-targeted advertising can be informative and useful to users. When done well, users can discover products and services that they may be looking for or did not even know existed.

By actively blocking ads on the Internet, users are in many ways limiting their own ability to discover new products or services that can enhance their lives.

The Ugly

Advertising has long been one of the main sources of revenue for webmasters and content producers. Site content monetization is the foremost reason that quality content producers are motivated to create and maintain fresh content on their websites. Take away advertising revenue, and one wonders what will happen? The following are a few important considerations.

Advertisers

With so many users now consuming much of their media on the Internet, it has become imperative for advertisers to be able to reach these users where they spend most of their time. Take away or reduce their ability to do so can potentially slow down product sales, production, and the overall economic progress of nations. As annoying as advertising can be, one does have to remember that marketing drives sales. Less sales can have an adverse impact on everyone.

Agencies

Advertising agencies have been pushing the digital space to align client strategies with user trends. Digital advertisers are highly sought after and usually well-compensated. Take away or reduce the ability to show digital ads and one has to ask what happens to these strategies and these jobs. Yes, both can be in danger.

Webmasters and Content Producers

Many content producers rely on advertising as the main source of revenue. Take this revenue away, and their motivation for continuing to produce content will quickly disappear. In the long term, this can bring about the thinning of the Internet.

Internet Users

Internet users are an interesting bunch. On the one hand, most users will utterly repel the idea of paying for content that they have gotten used to receive for free. News, articles, music, and videos are all assumed to have to be free. On the other hand, users would like to be able to consume all this content without seeing ads they may find to be annoying. Given the ecosystem, something has to give. Unfortunately, this will probably mean less free content.

Future Outlook

Where there is money to be made there is usually a will, and where there is a will, there is usually a way. Content producers are not going to easily give up their sources of revenue. Much like AdBlock is using technology to recognize and block advertising, webmasters will have to adjust technologies and methods of delivering advertising.

This can and will create a cat-and-mouse game between ad-serving technologies and ad-blocking plugins. Stuck in the middle will be government agencies trying to comprehend and govern how the Internet should work. There must be a way to strike a balance between relevant advertising, user acceptance, and the financial bottom line of quality content producers. Not a simple task, but if it were simple it would not be worth mentioning.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the emergence of ad-blocking browser plugins and applications is not surprising. It was only a matter of time before someone developed a way to block ads that so many users find annoying. It also should come as no surprise that user adoption is accelerating. The interesting part will be to watch the Internet’s evolution and to see how webmasters and advertising agencies will deal with this growing challenge.

AdBlock Plus allows companies to apply to be whitelisted. Larger companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have even paid to be whitelisted. Willingness of large companies to pay is not a big surprise if the benefits far outweigh the cost. However, the principle that larger companies have to pay to be whitelisted can be seen as a form of extortion. For how long and how far will be this be allowed to go? Even if AdBlock Plus attempts to stick to a moral business model, will future ad blocking plugins/applications do the same? Easy to see how this quickly becomes a murky, slippery slope.

Will advertisers abandon the internet? Highly unlikely.

It will certainly take some tinkering and time to get things right. Governments will need to play an increasing regulatory role in how advertising is delivered on the Internet. To balance things out, governments will also need to step in and regulate the blockers.

Dmitri Echin, senior earned media analyst at iProspect, also contributed to this article.

Image via Shutterstock.

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