Ad-blockers are growing in popularity, and that could be a big problem for any business that relies on online advertising to pay the bills.
A study published Monday by Adobe and the software company PageFair reveals that 45 million active users in the United States use ad-blocking software — an increase of 48 percent between June 2014 and June 2015. That's about 15 percent of U.S. Internet users. In other countries, such as Poland, that number is as high as 30 percent, the report said.
All told, the study's authors estimate ad-blocking will cost $22 billion in advertising revenues.
While blocking all those annoying ads sounds like a good thing for consumers, it can hurt everyone over time. Sure, the individual gets a better experience, but companies are starting to feel the hit to revenue -- tech giants such as Google even pay to get around ad-blocking. With this report predicting that ad-blockers could soon become common on mobile devices, too, it’s clear that advertisers will feel the urgent need to address this issue.
One could argue that core problem is that people have become used to having things for free on the Internet and that many do not realize that advertisements are the price we pay for that, advertising analysts said. Simply put, if Web sites can't pay their bills through ads, they will have to shut down or start charging a fee. That's why it's fairly common to see messages from sites asking people to stop using blockers or to register sites with their browsers so that the ads won't be blocked.
Then there are methods such as the one by PageFair, which offers software that helps advertisers get around the ad-blockers. Other ways to increase ad views include using auto-playing or unskippable ads, or ads that pop up in unexpected places.
But guilting consumers isn't necessarily an effective method. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. A lot of people who understand how ads work — certainly those who understand enough to use ad-blockers — don't trust advertisers. They see them as intruders who've quietly gathered personal data for years and amassed profiles on users without their knowledge. Ad-blocking could be as much about wanting to protect privacy as it is about making the Internet experience less annoying.
So, is there a way out?
The dream, of course, is that Internet ads could be useful instead of annoying, and transparent instead of creepy. In a recent article from AdAge, author Brad Meehan said that advertisers can become more transparent about what they do with the information they collect from consumers; something consumer privacy advocates have pushed for years.
Meehan predicts that might spook some but not all people. Consumers are often willing to give up information about themselves to get deals. That’s basically the premise of any “personalization” or rewards program.
"When personalization is done well, consumers benefit by receiving marketing content with increased relevance and a smoother buying process," Meehan said. He also recommended allowing people to opt out of some tracking so they feel comfortable with the information that is being handed over.
Consumers can definitely expect to see more retailers and advertisers try new ways of advertising that focus on personalization, and more strategies that try to track you between sites and devices. In an ideal world, companies would realize that trust is as important a currency as data -- and that they should be more open about how they operate.
Until then, what we have is an arms race, and one in which everyone loses.