Ad blocking

It’s a few years old now but I just came across this series of posts by Ad Block Plus  in which they surveyed users of their Adblocker about the service. One of the questions asked why people used Adblocker. The results are quite interesting.

They gave respondents 7 possible reasons and forced a choice through a four point scale (ie there was no ‘neutral’ option). Forcing choice in this way can distort results as it, obviously, forces people to express an opinion on a matter they might not care about.

I think we can group 3 items as ‘content issues’ (distracting animations and sounds, offensive or inappropriate content and missing separation of ad an content); 3 items as ‘provider issues’ (security concerns; privacy concerns and page load times); and one as a personal issue (ideological reasons). If this was done more robustly we might separate each of these items out into multiple dimensions and see how they inter-relate. But it wasn’t.

Just eye-balling it, it seems that most of the motivations for Ad Blocking relate to a lack of trust – provider issues.  This is followed by content issues. Although ideological reasons motivated about half the sample (and given the selection bias you’d expect this is an over estimation), that leaves about one-third of the sample who block ads not because they are “anti branding” but just because they don’t trust advertisers to act responsibly and because their ads are kind of annoying.

If I were a brand I’d find this very hopefully as these are much easier to fix than overcoming ideological opposition to ads. In fact, the same problem has already been solved on other media through regulation initatives (see my other blog on advertising governance).

 

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Are ad blocker breaking the internet?

 

According to this report they are.

But it is wrong – I think.

First, if a website does work when an ad blocker is installed that could be because the web designers have put in a guard against ad blockers that stops the website working. Think of it like this: on some DVDs you can’t fast-forward through the commercials and if you try it just  starts them again. No one would say that trying to skip them “breaks” your DVD player. So the findings of this report might just be: some websites are designed not to work if an ad blocker is installed.

Second, a website not working is not the same as the internet breaking. That’s like saying, “My computer is broken” when your Microsoft Word shuts down unexpectedly.

Third, an ad block may stop a website from appearing in a user’s browsers in the way the designers of the website intended but that does not mean that it is broken from the perspective of a user. If users has made an informed choice to install an ad blocker, it is most likely because they want their browser to filter out some content. This might mean that some useful content is also filtered out but that’s the choice they have made. I’m sure many users consider this a minor inconvenience that is more than covered by the benefits of blocking ads or they wouldn’t use them.

Forth, and a bit ore technically, I take issue with this conclusion: “publishers whose content we access have the right to protect the Integrity and Delivery of their web content from any form of manipulation, change or censorship”. Really? Publishers have the right to deliver web content without any form of manipulation, change or censorship? Do you really mean that? So cyber bullying is okay? Isis videos? Child pornography? Good luck arguing that with the Chinese authorities? What is the content includes malware? Presumably you don’t mean this. You mean publishers have the right to deliver ads without interference.

Finally, it is a bit disingenuous to say that a webpage should be “delivered to a user as intended by a publisher”. To my knowledge, most ad blockers try to block third party content that is not provided by a publisher but one of their partners often without any knowledge or intention on the part of the publisher. I doubt that journalists are losing sleep that their articles aren’t read alongside ads served through Google.

Perhaps if digital marketers understood the difference between what they want to show audiences and what audiences want to watch there would be no need for ad blockers in the first place.

Google: the critical marketing company

It is funny how things turn out – a point made movingly by Steve Job’s before his death. This is why I’m always skeptical of people who say business research has to support and congratulate business to be productive. And believe it or not there are plenty of people (often highly paid in top universities) who do say this. It is one of the reasons any academic research label “critical” gets marginalised.

But wait.

Google is an incredibly successful company. As is made clear in its recent corporate re-structuring, it is also predominantly an advertising company. Perhaps it is the most successful advertising company ever. Yet, ironically, it began as a critical marketing project.

In their paper which introduced the Google search engine, Brin and Page were highly critical of the influence of advertising on the web. In fact, this is listed as one of the key motivations for developing a new search engine. The very first paragraph of the paper tells us that they set out to overcome: ‘some advertisers attempt[s] to gain people’s attention by taking measures meant to mislead automated search engines’. They go on to critique the effects of an ‘advertising business model’ on the quality of web searches. They even stated that ‘advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results’. And concluded that ‘advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers … In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want’.

In this case, the freedom to critique and question the advertising business model allowed Brin and Page the ability to understand it better and to exploit their understanding. Why do we not see similar arguments in top marketing journals?

Hey Youtubers – read the rules

In light of the ASA’s blog on promotional vlogs, it might be worth the ASA having a look at YouTube’s own community standards. These state:

4E. You agree not to use the Service (including the YouTube Player) for any of the following commercial uses unless you obtain YouTube’s prior written approval: [these include] … the sale of advertising, sponsorships or promotions placed on or within the Service, or Content.

4K. You agree not to solicit, for commercial purposes, any users of the Website with respect to their Content.

Youtube: where ideas come from

Charlie Broker said that advertising creatives now just sit around surfing for ideas online. I think this is probably very unfair, but you cant help but feel that some adverts borrow a little too much from viral videos. A case in point is this new spot for the Observer. It’s funny but they could have saved the produciton cost by buying any one of the millions of wii fail videos online and bungling their standard outro over it.

Advertising, business, culture and society

I’m trying to write up my lecture notes for this term’s module into short essays. I’ll be posting these to academia.edu whenever I can.  The first essay is here.  Unfortunately, producing around 5,000 words of lucid, formatted and error-free text is not the easiest thing to do every week. Hopefully, these will be of use to my students. Any feedback on them is more than welcome.