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Acxiom Releases Its Point of View on Ad Blocking

AcxiomNovember 24, 2015

In my last blog post regarding the new IAB L.E.A.N. ads initiative, I mentioned that we would have more to say on the subject of ad blockers.  Today, we are releasing a new Point of View on ad blocking, which is our detailed analysis of the current trends in ad blocking and what they mean for the digital media industry.

In some ways we are late to the party, as all the brouhaha about ad blocking spawned by the release of iOS 9 has now subsided. But for that very reason our timing is perfect, because we are past the point of knee-jerk responses and are entering a period where more thoughtful and data-driven conversations about the role of ad blockers can occur. Our Ad Blocking Point-of-View is intended to be thoughtful and thought-provoking. It is well-researched and hopefully will challenge at least some of the current assumptions that are taken as “facts” by the industry – such as the current size of losses due to ad blocking. But we also hope it will provide clear guidance on what we think our clients should be doing to deal not only with ad blocking, but the underlying factors that have caused consumers to adopt the technology at an increasing rate.

You can download the full white paper by clicking here. But here is quick summary of our viewpoint:

  • The immediate impact of ad blocking in iOS 9 is overblown. The ad-pocalypse predicted for mobile is unlikely to occur, and the advertising industry has time to adapt to increasing viewer frustration with current advertising practices. Within four weeks, ad blockers have gone from two of the most popular apps in the iTunes store, with approximately 85,000 downloads a day, to effective invisibility.  We do not expect ad blockers on mobile to achieve more than a 2-4% penetration in the US by the end of 2017.  Still, we strongly advise advertisers and publishers to attend to viewers’ frustrations with current advertising practices online and in mobile now to avoid a disaster in the future.
  • Ad blocking potentially offers long-term benefits to online/mobile.  The use of ad blockers indicates that the implicit bargain between publishers and viewers has gone awry.  Ad blockers will force the equation back into balance, with significant long-term benefits to the ad industry.  Short term, if ad blocker usage increases substantially, many advertisers and publishers will feel some short-term pain as they adapt to using more native ads, sponsored content and “acceptable ad” formats.
  • Don’t bet on industry-wide cooperation with ad blocker developers any time soon.  The IAB has conceived its L.E.A.N principles initiative for the industry to engage around to counter ad blocking.  Given that the IAB has called the fact that Ad Block Plus charges for being on its white list the extraction of ”mafia-like protection money”, there is clearly no desire to have Ad Block Plus or other ad blocking developers participate in any standards setting.   So focus your efforts on L.E.A.N or similar initiatives driven directly by advertisers and publishers.

Acxiom’s Recommendations to Publishers:

  1. Engage in conversations with your viewers around various strategies. Find out what bothers them most and which solutions they are most likely to tolerate.
  2. Follow the IAB’s L.E.A.N principals. They are still new and evolving, but provide a good framework for adapting to the new reality of ad blockers.
  3. Shift your mix of media to more native advertising and sponsored content. Ad blockers find it difficult to distinguish native and sponsored content because they lack the telltale code snippets that ad blockers identify to block other formats.
  4. Implement the IAB’s ad blocker sensing code along with intelligent ad serving. We do not recommend using this technology by itself.  Instead, the ad blocker should be considered another signal used by ad serving algorithms that determines how ads are served to the viewer, which ads are served, in which format, and how often.
  5. Request viewers who use ad blockers to whitelist your site in return for implementing good practices. Good practices include those that viewers say they want, those that will emerge from the IAB’s L.E.A.N initiative, as well as many of our recommendations.
  6. Consciously and judiciously use frequency caps on retargeting. We realize this technique yields the best return on ad spend (ROAS), but there are ways to implement that minimize the impact on viewers but have minimal impact on your results.
  7. Improve audience targeting with better recognition and data. Just undertaking smarter retargeting is insufficient. Serving more relevant content to viewers will increase their satisfaction with ads on your sites, reduce their likelihood of implementing ad blockers, and also reduce the impressions needed to maintain (or even increase) your ROAS.
  8. Paywalls. Set up an intelligent paywall. Numerous potential approaches exist.  Which one is best for a specific publisher depends on its business model.
  9. Set up an intelligent ad recommendation engine. Provide “an intelligent ad recommender” on your site that allows viewers to tell you which types of ads are most acceptable, and then only serve those ad types, formats and content they tell you are of interest to them. If they truly do not want any ads, then you can decide how best to monetize those viewers without reducing your reach.