Ad Blockers

SEMA News—October 2016


By Joe Dysart

Ad Blockers

Protecting Your Company’s Advertising From Being Neutralized

  Ad Blockers


Any business that is advertising on the web needs to ensure that the publishers it works with are actively engaged in combating a growing threat: web browsers that are tricked-up with ad-blocking software. Installed in seconds on popular web browsers such as Firefox and Chrome, ad blockers essentially strip out all of the advertising programmed to appear on a webpage, neutralizing any impressions a company is looking to make with its precious ad dollars.

“It is tragic that ad-block users are inadvertently inflicting multi-billion-dollar losses on the very websites they most enjoy,” said Sean Blanchfield, CEO of PageFair, a service provider that helps publishers thwart the practice. “With ad blocking going mobile, there’s an eminent threat that the business model that has supported the open web for two decades is going to collapse.”

More than 45 million web users in the United States are currently using ad blockers, according to The “2015 Ad Blocking Report” released by PageFair and Adobe ( That represents a disturbing 48% jump over the prior year, according to PageFair, and it’s a problem that researchers expect to grow even worse.

Key factors continuing to fuel the growth of ad blocking will be the latest version of Apple’s iOS operating system, which was specifically designed to aid ad blocking, and similar decisions by other influential web players to foster ad blocking. Samsung, for example, recently opened its browsing software to ad blockers. And the Opera web browser—a popular alternative to Firefox and Chrome—now comes with built-in ad blocking.

The movement behind ad blocking, which is fostered by a large and active volunteer community, in part grows out of web-surfer frustration with overly intrusive ads, which are often bloated in design and can make webpage downloads excruciatingly slow. Especially impacted by those practices are younger web users, who are surfing the web using smartphone plans that offer only a limited number of data download minutes. Indeed, according to the PageFair report, the core demographic that uses ad blockers is males, 18–29 years old.

Moreover, some ad-industry insiders also admit that many businesses are not designing ads to run efficiently on smartphones. Instead, they’re simply repurposing ads designed to run on desktops and attempting to cram those same desktop graphics onto tiny smartphone screens.

Even so, “No matter your views on whose rights trump whose, the economic impact of ad blocking is real and measurable,” said Campbell Foster, director of product marketing for Adobe.

Ad Blockers
“It is tragic that ad-block users are inadvertently inflicting multi-billion dollar losses on the very websites they most enjoy,” said Sean Blanchfield, CEO of PageFair.

We can hope that advertisers and young web surfers will ultimately be able to work out the bloated-ads bone of contention. But in the meantime, here are some recommended tactics to deal with ad blockers today:

Seek publishers that request for surfers to turn off ad-blocking software: A 2015 survey by the Internet Advertising Bureau, United Kingdom, found that more than half of ad-block users (54%) said that they were willing to turn off their ad-blocking software when requested online in exchange for access to free content they wanted to see.

The New York Times, for example, runs this message when its website pinpoints visitors running ad blockers: “The best things in life aren’t free. You currently have an ad blocker installed. Advertising helps fund our journalism. To continue to enjoy The New York Times, please support us in one of the following ways: Subscribe or Whitelist (set your software to turn off ad blocking when you visit the newspaper.)”

Get help from firms such as PageFair: If you’re doing advertising on your own website, you can bring in a company such as PageFair to provide traffic analysis, which detects ad blockers and serves up ads that do an end run around ad-blocking software.

Run your own test on a publisher’s vulnerability to ad-blocking software: BlockBust ( enables you to type a website address into its search engine and see the parts of any webpage’s code that are vulnerable to ad blockers. By using the tool, you’ll be able to verify any publisher’s claims that it has put together a strategy to defeat ad blockers.

“We want publishers to have a fighting chance,” said Stephen Gill, CEO of BlockBust, which also offers its own web advertising platform. “That starts with information. Publishers that want to know what’s making their sites so vulnerable to ad blocking can now find out quickly, for free. Once they’ve made adjustments, they can test their sites again in seconds to see if the changes worked.”

Go with a publisher that attempts to compromise with people using ad blockers: Rather than banning some readers outright, some publishers have installed software on their webpages that allows people using ad blockers to read a small number of stories for free. Subsequently, those surfers are asked to turn off their ad blockers if they want to continue to enjoy the free content on the website.

Consider a new video advertising format: New web-video technology recently sanctioned by the U.S.-based Interactive Advertising Bureau (Video Ad Serving Template 4.0) reportedly enables a publisher to defeat ad blockers, at least when it comes to video ads.

Consider “native” advertising: A new buzzword for what used to be called advertorials, native advertising enables you to place editorial-like content on a publisher’s site in the form of news-like articles, informative videos and the like. As long as the native advertising or advertorials are clearly labeled, this could turn out to be a good, working alternative to a traditional banner ad.

Said Guy Phillipson, CEO of Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), United Kingdom, “The IAB believes that an ad-funded internet is essential for providing revenue to publishers so that they can continue to make their content, services and applications widely available at little or no cost. We believe that ad blocking undermines this approach and could mean consumers might have to pay for content they currently get for free.

“Part of the solution to tackle ad blocking lies in making consumers more aware of the consequences, which seems like it’s starting to filter through. If they realize that it means they can’t access content or that to do so requires paying for it, then they might stop using ad blockers. It requires reinforcing this ‘trade-off’ message—ads help to fund the content they enjoy for free.”

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.

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