The use of ad blocking software accelerated again this year, with Apple adding the ability to natively block ads to its new iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan updates. The development has seen ad blocking appear on the AOP’s annual Content and Trends Census for the first time since the survey began in 2006, with 65% of those questioned calling it a problem, and 19% saying that it was the most significant problem they face.
Ad blocking is not a new technology, but the decision by Apple to embrace it suggests that it is now in the mainstream. Research from Sourcepoint and comScore found that one in 10 use such software on desktops and laptops before the Apple update, and it was younger and wealthier people who were most likely to download it – those most desired by advertisers. A Pagefair report, meanwhile, claims that ad blocking has now grown globally by 41%, and in the US by 48%.
Ads are seen as an annoyance by many, and if people can avoid them, they will. Particularly because of the more intrusive ads, such as pop up videos. Apple’s decision to introduce ad blocking software is ostensibly part of a move to speed up web page download times, which have dramatically slowed as a result of the plethora of ads that now adorn web pages as sites look to maximize revenue. Although Apple’s motives have been questioned as the tech giant does not make money from advertising in the same way that Google do, and some have interpreted the move as a way of undermining the search engine.
The growth in ad blocking is not necessarily devastating news for established publishers, but it could be the downfall of many smaller sites. Those with Paywalls will be better positioned, and some could move towards integrating ads into the foundation of each webpage instead - bringing them closer in appearance to printed ads that go on the same paper as the article next to it. This would, however, mean that advertisers would be unable to find out much about who was seeing their advertising online, though at least they’d know someone was seeing it. What this would mean for video ads too, which the AOP Census revealed 12% of publishers achieved over 10% of digital ad revenues from, is hard to say.
There were a number of other areas of concern revealed by the AOP survey, including ad fraud and brands acting as content creators, which 35% of respondents cited as an issue. These are areas that firms will have to work around, and it is likely that new and perhaps more sustainable business models will spring up in response. There were also a number of positives found by the census. Eighty-five percent of publishers said content marketing was an important area of investment, while the growth of mobile saw 63% of publishers claim to have achieved growth in smartphone and tablet ad revenues over the past year. Smartphones were seen as a key prospect for growth by 81% of respondents, whilst 77% said the same of apps/digital editions.