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Block the Ad-Blockers

  |  June 15, 2004   |  Comments

People who skip ads are asking for trouble.

The Do Not Call Registry, I can kind of understand. Pop-up blockers, I can kind of understand. But DVRs?

People are asking for trouble by skipping ads. And 70 percent of people with DVRs are skipping ads. This isn't another column about people skipping TV ads with DVRs. (Although I do think every time viewers skip a TV ad, they should see a black screen with bold type that says, "Advertising pays for programming. Soon, you'll have to pay for this program if you keep hitting that button.")

What I want to talk about is Internet ad blocking software -- and how useless it is.

There's a fine line between "advertising" and "annoying." As stated above, I can understand the consumer's annoyance with pop-ups. As many in this industry have observed, a few advertisers and publishers abuse the user experience to the point where users feel they have no choice but to block pop-ups. Now there are pop-up networks that have found ways around the pop-up blockers; they deliver pop-ups to users who clearly don't want them. A few have taken it too far. They've really crossed the line.

But there's a big distinction between pop-up blockers and ad blockers. The ad blockers I mean are the ones that remove all advertising from publisher sites. I refuse to mention any by name because I don't want to promote them in any way. Equally, I can't imagine why anyone in advertising would want to remove ads from their online user experience. If you work for an agency or a publisher and you use an ad blocker, shame on you.

I understand consumers get tired of advertising. They're inundated by it every day, and it's only getting worse. But I have a hard time finding any real consumer benefit to Internet ad blockers other than page-load time. Is it simply the personal satisfaction of not having to view ads online?

As for the people who put ad blockers out there, well, some of these companies don't even charge for them. Are they so mad at corporate America they want to throw a wrench in the system? Get over it. Please.

The reality is something must change. For example:

  • We sue 'em. Agencies, advertisers, and publishers band together and sue the ad blockers for wasted inventory. Why not? Everybody's suing everybody else for using Claria. (OK, just kidding.)

  • Publishers move to a subscription model. Currently, 30 percent of Internet users have pop-up blockers. How many of these are complete ad blockers? If ad blockers reach a critical mass, publishers will have to find another way to monetize content.

  • Publishers post warnings. Every time an ad is blocked, we could post in its place a black box with bold type that says, "Advertising pays for content. Soon you'll have to pay for this content if you keep blocking these ads."

  • Ad models evolve. At some point, consumers will have a choice. They will choose to either block advertising or pay for content. We already see some of this with Salon's Ultramercial platform. You get a sampling of Salon content for free. When you want to go beyond the sample, you're given a choice. Pay for a subscription, or get a free day-pass in exchange for viewing an ad.

There must be an exchange. Either the consumer pays for the content with attention to the ad message or via a subscription. The latter may happen in the future, but we must count on the former now. As interactive marketing professionals, we need to consider ad blockers' effect on our business.

It's a fine line. Which side of that line are you on? Let me know what you think.

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.


Pete Lerma Pete Lerma began his advertising career in the traditional side of the business, where he spent six years managing accounts for clients such as Coca-Cola and Subway. He then realized interactive marketing was where it's at and, in 1998, joined Click Here, The Richards Group's interactive marketing division. During his tenure at Click Here, he's forged relationships with major online publishers, networks and technology companies, and these relationships contribute to his perspective on the interactive marketing industry. As Click Here's principal, Pete oversees accounts for high profile brands including Atlantis, Hyundai, Travelocity, and Zales. His group has won numerous awards for their strategic and creative work, including recognition from the IAB, Ad:Tech, The One Club, Graphis, and Communication Arts. Pete serves on the board of directors for the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association and also contributes to the marketing blog ChaosScenario.

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