Ad blocking continues to rise and we are to blame

The latest data from GlobalWebIndex finds that ad blocking is still on the rise in globally. While it is not a surprise, the news did remind me that I have seen far less coverage of this issue lately. It is almost as if the industry shrugged its shoulders and said, ‘well, it can’t be helped’. Except, of course, it can.First, the facts: in the first half of 2018 37.5 per cent of global internet users used an ad blocker on a PC or laptop in the last month and 32.9 per cent on a mobile device. While the data from GlobalWebIndex shows a continued shift from time spent with linear TV to online, it is mobile that is gaining ground on both TV and desktop. However, while blocking is lower on mobiles the overall conclusion must be that a sizeable chunk of the digital audience has chosen to make itself unavailable to advertisers, indeed the number of ad-blocking devices has grown by 495 million between 2014 and 2017.

It is not hard to figure out why. Just in case your own experience had not convinced you that the digital world is manically cluttered with interruptive, irrelevant, and repetitive ads, here are a few data points:

  •     In the latest data, I have access to the number of digital ads monitored by Kantar Media had risen by almost a factor of ten between 2005 and 2015, far outdistancing traditional channels.
  •     People have noticed. In a more recent survey conducted by Lightspeed 86 per cent of people in Asia Pacific claimed there are more ads than three years ago. In the same survey 7 out of 10 of those remembering seeing advertising online claim that it was not relevant to them.
  •     Kantar Media’s DIMENSION study conducted in 2016 found that 71 per cent of people agreed “Sometimes I see the same ad over and over again, it is too repetitive” and 55 per cent agreed that “I often see advertising online for a product I have already purchased”.

Yes, the data is a couple of years old now, but does anyone want to bet whether things have changed for the better?

These data points point to the ultimate reason why people resort to ad blockers: too many bad ads. The end result is that not only are people seeing more ads overall, more of them are formats that people actively dislike. Last year’s AdReaction study found that people were far more negative about advertising in digital channels than traditional, and that people were least receptive of mobile video and display advertising.

I believe one of the contributing factors to the rise in volume is performance marketing. If your sole end game is to get someone to click, then you need on average a thousand impressions to get them to do so. And then there is the failure to cap exposure to ads once someone has seen them. No, you cannot assume one exposure is enough given the fact that most ads are not even glanced at, but repeatedly showing the same creative time after time in the hope of being noticed simply contributes to the general discontent with digital advertising.

More relevant and engaging creative, less intrusive ad formats and less ads in general would all help to swing the pendulum back to allow digital’s full potential to be realised. However, I fear that is unlikely as the tragedy of the commons strikes again.

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