Ask a Centro Expert: What’s Ad Blocking?

Ask a Centro Expert is a blog series from Centro where we break down the complicated tools, tech, and trends you’ve been hearing about in the trade pubs and around the office. We reach out to some of our in-house experts to ask the tough questions and turn them into bite-sized, palatable Q&As for your reading pleasure.

Last month, we explored ad fraud. This month’s topic: Ad blocking. We talked to Ken Rood, Centro’s Director of Technical Ad Operations, for the break down.

In the simplest terms, how would you describe what ad blocking is and what happens when an ad is blocked?
Ad blockers are generally user-installed plugins added to a browser. When a user loads a webpage, the plugin tells the browser to ignore anything and everything that looks like an ad. While plugins like AdBlockPlus are widely known and discussed, many desktop and mobile browsers also have built-in features to filter out specific ad formats as well. For example, most browsers have blocked pop-ups for years and years.

What’s the purpose of ad blocking? What are the most common reasons people would block ads?
Consumers want to be safe and in control of their user experience.

According to PageFair, a company that helps publishers measure and recover revenue lost by ad blocking, more than 45% of blocking is because the ads are impeding a user’s ability to get content (i.e. there are too many interruptions, or slow-loading ads are slowing down the page).

Another 36% cite security and privacy issues. In light of recent news about data breaches, malware and Flash security updates, users are rightfully sensitive to an increasing number of third party trackers using their data for targeting.

Who blocks ads? Is it specific to any particular group, area, browser, demographic, etc.?
Because ad blockers are designed to duck most tracking systems, hard numbers are difficult to gather. However, according to 2016 surveys from the IAB and C3 Research, consumers who use ad blocking tools skew younger and male. PageFair confirmed this research in a more recent 2017 study, but noted that ad blocker usage has now broadened across men and women of all age ranges.

Globally, ad blockers are most prevalent in India and parts of Asia – mostly on mobile devices while in the U.S. (for now) – though there are more users blocking on desktop.

How prevalent is the problem, and is this a desktop-only phenomenon or do people block ads in smartphones too?
Ad blockers exist for desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. In recent years, blocking on mobile devices has rocketed as new apps like AdBlock, Peace, Crystal, and others were introduced to the App stores in 2015.

In some cases, ad blocking companies – like Rainbow (formerly Shine) – are working directly with carriers to block ads that don’t comply with industry standards, accelerating mobile adoption.

Below is a chart of mobile vs. desktop adoption in recent years:

Can you tell us a bit about Google Chrome’s new ad blocker and Apple’s Safari ad blocker?
Google announced in June that they’ll be adding filters to their Chrome browser beginning in 2018. These filters will stop intrusive ads, such as full-page pop-ups, interstitials, and auto-play video or flashing/strobing ads on desktop and mobile.

Similarly, Apple announced they will be adding blocking features, such as Intelligent Tracking Prevention to their desktop browser Safari. These updates will stop auto-play video and curb certain types of user targeting/tracking.

Both are responses to consumers demanding better security and control over user experience – and they follow the industry trend toward better encryption and less intrusive formats.

Will these ad blockers increase the numbers in mobile ad blocking?
The Safari update will be focused on desktop-only, but Chrome’s release will impact both mobile and desktop.

Is there any connection between ad blocking, viewability, and ad fraud?
Absolutely! It’s important to consider all of these factors together to understand how it may be impacting reporting.

Humans block ads. Bots do not. Since blocked impressions are never counted, humans and bots can show up disproportionately in reports.

Will shifting to alternative formats like native, search, and social be the only solution for advertisers?
Some formats – like those on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. – are less susceptible to browser-based ad blockers because their ads are in-app (outside of a browser). The key is focusing on creating relevant, engaging ads that don’t interfere with the user experience. Avoid auto-playing ads, floating ads, or other ads that may disrupt site navigation. Use ads that give users full control and allow them to play and skip.

Can you provide 3 strategies or tips advertisers and publishers should take to tackle this issue?

Stay LEAN
The IAB and publishers introduced LEAN principles, an industry guideline that encourages:

  • Lightweight ads: limiting creative file sizes with strict data call guidelines
  • Encryption: assuring user security
  • Ad Choices: supporting consumer privacy programs that allow users the ability to opt-out of targeting
  • Non-invasive/non-disruptive formats: don’t disrupt my user experience!

Designers should follow standard ad specifications and use secure (HTTPS) protocols wherever possible. Allow users the ability to opt out and focus on ad formats that support the user experience.

Be Compelling
According to PageFair, 77% of consumers are willing to see some ads. Make sure you’re properly targeting ads, and that you’re delivering a message that is clear, timely, relevant, and engaging.

Stay informed
New consumer and industry updates to ad blocking are developing daily. Advertisers and agencies: Continue to work with your ad serving partners and publishers to understand formats that are working well. Similarly, publishers should follow updates from the IAB and other trade organizations on best practices.

Interested in other Centro resources that will help you understand ad blocking? Reach out to info@centro.net.