How Adblockers Will Make Advertising Better

In the traditional print model, editorial copy and advertisement lived happily side-by-side. But the neighbourhood is changing and the fences are coming down.
  • But better tools do not guarantee better outcomes. With advertisers aggressively stalking their audiences with retargeting (not to mention video that plays on page load), it is little wonder audiences are beginning to retaliate.
  • With the century old symbiotic relationship between advertisers and the media in a state of breakdown, there are two directions this is likely to go.
  • Happily, in either scenario outlined here, the consumer comes out tops.

What made editorial copy and advertisement such amicable neighbours were the good fences between them. Copy appeared to exist independently, free from commercial influence; whilst (at least to readers), ads seemed supplementary, related only tangentially to the content (sometimes even running alarmingly counter to editorial policy).

The division between advert and content is a model that has worked for decades, so its adoption by online publications seemed logical—at least initially. But the neighbourhood is changing.

It was always clear that the dynamism of the web would allow for much more granular targeting and dynamic content.

But better tools do not guarantee better outcomes. With advertisers aggressively stalking their audiences with retargeting (not to mention video that plays on page load), it is little wonder audiences are beginning to retaliate.

Adblocking software (usually a browser extension that’s very simple to install), now allows users to prevent any advertising from loading—whether they’re in the sidebar or a pop-up temporarily barring entry to a site.

For the consumer this respite is nothing but welcome. But the rise (and rise) of adblockers is fast chocking content platforms of their life-sustaining advertising revenue, threatening the very existence of precisely the quality content we as consumers are trying to read in the first place.

To add injury to insult, adblocking software is now offering advertisers the opportunity to buy their way back to their audiences by securing a position on the software’s white list.

This hostage negotiation typically takes place between advertiser and adblocker and diverts valuable advertising revenue that would normally have gone towards producing decent journalism.

With the century old symbiotic relationship between advertisers and the media in a state of breakdown, there are two directions this is likely to go:

1. In the first scenario, content platforms will start charging subscription fees or charging per article.

This is not strictly a new concept, given most print content has always been sold to audiences.

wsj-hard-paywall

The Wall Street Journal has kept their content behind a hard paywall since inception of its online platform.

The difference will be that where consumers previously paid only a fraction of the total production cost, with adblockers now leeching the party that would normally foot the lion’s share of the cost (i.e. advertisers), revenue from readers will have to constitute a much larger portion of the income for editorial platforms.

But for this model to be widely adopted, audiences must rethink their relationship with the media generally. With the middle man (advertisers) now removed, media consumption becomes a direct transaction between reader and writer. And if we want the good read, we will have to be willing to pay the full cost of producing that copy.

This disruption of the old press paradigm is likely to happen gradually. And if anything, we can hope this will make us more discerning in our news diet and less likely to ruminate on tabloid content and clickbait if we have to actually pay for it.

2. The second scenario, however, has already been widely adopted. Here, rather than removing ads entirely, they’re camouflaged so expertly, the reader doesn’t have to deal with any of the usual annoyances of intrusive digital advertising.

Boundaries between content and advertisement are blurred, as editorial content—articles on anything from a report on business rates to a DIY piece on the best way to paint your fence, are meticulously designed to feel like real journalism whilst containing highly valuable referral links to commercial entities.

nyt-sponsored-content

If it wasn’t for the light blue banner declaring that it has been sponsored by Dell, this article in The New York Times could easily pass as editorial content.

Call it content marketing, native advertising or simply: the way SEO has evolved in the face of an increasingly sophisticated Google algorithm that no longer stands for tenuous links from half-baked articles.

It’s not the end of quality content.

Happily, in either scenario outlined here, the consumer comes out tops. In the first, we’ll increasingly be voting with our bucks, directly creating the demand for the content we want. Content will be more tailored, disruptions fewer. Paid-for television and film services are already showing us how this is done.

In the second, the stringent quality controls practiced by search engines will increasingly ensure the face time that advertisers do get with their audiences through this form of new SEO will be via genuinely engaging and useful content.

nyt-philips-branded-content2

If they want to draw the full benefit from high quality backlinks (without incurring a Google penalty) brands have little choice but to collaborate with content platforms, like Phillips have done here with The New York Times. The result is engaging content that may not otherwise have been produced.

As for adblockers, they may eventually be out of a job, useful only if you’re still browsing low quality content platforms and are trying to keep spam avalanches at bay.