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Explainers | 05 min read

Ad Blockers: The Eternal Struggle

Ever since the first banner ad popped up on screens all over the world, way back in 1994, coders have been trying to stem the flow by figuring out ways to block them. Every single ad block enthusiast has their reasons, ranging from concerns about privacy to the simple fact that some of the more complex ads can eat up your monthly data allowance, or slow down page loading to a complete standstill. What happens if every ad on every site gets blocked, though? What would happen to all of our cherished content creators?

Thankfully, we probably won’t have to find out. Although ad blockers are growing ever more popular, content creators, publishers and ad agencies are starting to take a more proactive approach to the situation. Rather than condemning the estimated 200 million users of this software, companies are beginning to engage in active discussions, and present a rational, thoughtful case as to why, in the long term, ad blockers do the user no favours.

The biggest issue is around content. Everyone loves it. Especially helpful, insightful content that someone has taken the time to lovingly prepare, not unlike this piece. Not everyone wants to pay for this, which is fair enough. If you paid for every piece of content you consumed over the course of a day, you’d likely be broke and hungry by the end of the week, so what’s the alternative? Ads, of course!

Banner ads are necessary for most websites to bring in revenue, as most readers avoid paywalls even more than they do ads. Creators and publishers have started now to have this discussion with their readers, which is great to see. Websites like Forbes and Wired are introducing ad block detection, and requesting that their readers disengage the software in order to see all of the article they’re trying to read. Rezonence are actively looking for their clients to take this sort of action, and work on the basis of the argument that everyone can win. Users still get their free content, the advertiser gets to engage with their target audience, and the publisher gets their reward through sold ad space.

In addition to this, there are measures being taken on the technical side too. Polite loading can be implemented on all HTML5 display adverts. This essentially ensures that all the content you want to see loads before the adverts do, which could otherwise slow the page down, particularly if there are a lot of ads using rich media.

Then you have whitelists. This is something that ad block companies are working on, and its primary aim is to ensure that users of the software only see ads which fit certain criteria, including how much space the banners take up, and where they appear on the page. Also, it helps to ensure that the ads which do appear aren’t loaded with malware. This is an ongoing process, and relies heavily on what the users deem to be acceptable, but again, it’s great to see the discussion actually taking place. Also, PRO TIP – you can easily create whitelist approved ads using Bannerflow.

There are signs of movement on the browser front too, with Brave, a new program which rather than removing ads, will replace them with ads that split the revenue they generate between publishers, users, and Brave itself. It’s a bold move, and time will tell if it works, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition for all parties.

One thing is for certain. Ads aren’t going anywhere. As an industry, its year on year growth is nothing short of incredible, and regardless of the amount of people who are looking to block ads, it still pales in comparison to the amount of people who happily browse with them appearing on screen. The discussion around them, though, is great for the industry.

On one side of the fence, you have the users. The discussion encourages them to think about how the content they consume is paid for, and whether they are willing to accept a few relevant, well made ads in exchange for high quality writing. On the other side, we have the advertisers. They need to think about the best ways to engage their audience, without drawing too much attention away from the real reason the user has landed on that page. They need to come up with banners that are attractive, yet subtle. That draw the eye without being dominant.

Finally, on the third side of this fence (it’s a new kind of fence) there are the publishers. They need to, and are, engaging their readers on the subject, and they’re having an honest and open discussion about why they need their users to accept advertising as part of the overall experience.

There’s definitely a balance to be struck, but as long as we’re all part of the process, there will be a solution that suits everyone. If you take a look at the very first banner ad, and what followed in the years after, it’s clear that recently advertisers and designers the world over have worked hard to improve the quality, content, and relevance of their adverts. With programmatic advertising looming large on the horizon, ads are only going to get more relevant to the user as well.

Essentially, there are the three big solutions will, at some point in the near future, work in perfect harmony. First; the readers will be aware and willing to accept that the ads pay for the content they love to consume. Second; the websites and content producers will only accept ads of a certain quality, and limit the sizes and where they appear on the page, so the reader can enjoy what they want to enjoy without overbearing interruptions. Third; the advertisers will create amazing, relevant adverts, that appear in front of the right eyes and send engagement into the stratosphere.

Sounds easy? Well, that’s because it is. Each party just needs to recognise and appreciate how important the other two are, and then we’ll all be living in a sustainable online ecosystem, which remains free at the point of use, and that pays the bills for the creators on the other side. The rise of ad blockers is a direct result of intrusive advertising. If advertisers and publishers continue to work together to ensure that the ads they show are free of malware, quick to load, relevant, and great to look at (not asking much, right?) the readers will no longer feel the need to block them. Following that, we all click our way to beautiful sunset, displayed on a glorious yet subtle HTML5 banner ad.

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