Blocking Ads Is Not Evil

Nor Is It Theft

August 17, 2007

This is so silly I don't even know if I can form an argument from their vapor. How is it different than TIVO saying "yes, you can fast forward advertisements". And since when are advertisements 'intellectual property'?
Elliot Schlegelmilch - Aug 17, 2007

Well, I'm not sure I completely agree with this statement. Of course, I don't agree with their arguments.

If you're providing information for free, provide it for free. Their own arguments present their own refutation - Firefox only has a small share of the browser market and the demographic of Firefox users is that of non-spenders (and only a fraction of Firefox users have AdBlock or AdBlock Plus installed), so there is no loss by not showing the ad to those users - and, if you block the users, you have offended them and eliminated any risk that they would support your advertiser or purchase your product.

A better way to handle this would be working in "unblockable ads." This isn't hard - and these ads are less likely to generate the kind of reaction that results in the content being blocked by a user of AdBlock or AdBlock Plus, or the owners of the AdBlock subscription services in the first place.

The other assumption that the site owners referencing this are making is that it is better for business to have a smaller market share and then to offend people inside your market share, but whom you have decided to deliberately alienate.

They are also assuming that

  1. banner ads work and
  2. people who don't have an option to block banner ads like banner ads.

I know that assumption 2 here is false. I hear complaints from people who do not have AdBlock installed, or who prefer to use another browser, so this would indicate that people don't like banner ads. Also, I have presented web design mockups to a variety of people, and had them overlook key elements that looked like or were placed like a banner. As for assumption 1, you have to look at click rates and conversion rates as compared to views (or attempted views). In either case, all that AdBlock does is drop the conversion rate slightly - again, remember, according to the author of this "excuse" page, the number of Firefox users with AdBlock or AdBlock Plus installed is miniscule and irrelevant. And if you subscribe to marketing industry newsletters, such as eMarketer, Marketing Sherpa, or others, you will regularly see articles and research on how banner click rates are always dropping and how horrible this is - and the things to do to increase click-through. There are also periodically articles on ad blocking technology and how these impact ad revenues, ad design, and ad placement.

Yes, Elliot's comment about TV and products like Tivo or - gasp - a VCR is definitely relevant. When VCRs started becoming common place in the '80s, the television industry thew a fit, claiming that if people record shows, they will fast forward through the ads and the TV stations will lose all their revenue and they will all go bankrupt and everyone will die because there isn't TV any more. Well, twenty-some years have passed, and there is still commercial TV, and VCRs have advanced to the point where they can be easily programmed to record your shows, and people still record shows and still skip the ads when watching them. In fact, many television stations now broadcast codes so that VCRs can know when to start recording programs - you don't have to program start times and channels, you just give the VCR a program code and it does the rest. Then there's Tivo - it records the program digitally - and allows you to pause to make some popcorn or to use the rest room - and lets you skip the commercials. I don't know how easy this is to use, I' not big on recording TV, but, I admit, I have watched programs that friends have recorded on their Tivo or VCR, and, yes, usually, we fast forward through the commercials.

So, how does TV stay alive?

Well, first, the revenues for ads did not disappear. Why? I'd guess to start with that not everybody skips ads. Even with it becoming easier and easier to do, and some of the technology to do it being nearly ubiquitous, people still watch TV. With the ads. Of course, people get up and use the restroom during the ads, they step out to get a snack during the ads, they get up and do something else during the ads, but this isn't new, as far as I can tell, as long as there have been commercial breaks with ads, as content separate and distinguishable from the programming, people have done this.

Then, television advertisers had done more (they always seem to have done something) to make their ads entertaining. People just won't skip content they want to see. If you present people with something they want, they'll take it - and they'll like it. I've been present for many conversations about the "have you seen the latest [whatever] ad?" - and I've overheard them from other people too.

Also, on some shows on some networks, the transition from show to ad is less jarring. If you don't disturb the viewer with the ad or the break in the program, the viewer is less likely to get up or change the channel - or at least won't do so as quickly.

So, what is the solution for web sites and internet banner advertising?

First, make the ads less intrusive and less offensive. Intrusive, jarring, or offensive ads are more likely to get blocked, or get people irritates, though they may be more likely to get clicks for some demographics. And by offensive, I'm not concerned with nudity or profanity or anything like that, but more the way that certain colors of yellow cars are offensive. If the ads fit into the page well, they aren't likely to get blocked.

Then, make sure your ads are relevant. Really, this ties into the above point very well. An ad for health insurance on a page about the state of health care is probably good, but an add for prescription medication on a page on differences in dog breeds is a poor fit and is more likely to get itself blocked.

Also, look at your ad sources. Just as your mailing list sources and hygiene will impact your spam rating and the likelihood that your emails get blocked, so will the sources of your ads impact whether they will get blocked - or whether they will already be built into and AdBlock definitions subscription.

Also, think about placing types of ads that are just going to be less blockable. For example, a block of text ads on the side-bar of the page...

Really, I don't have anything against ads on pages. If they're not annoying, offensive, or in the way, I, like most users, will just ignore them. However, when they get in the way of using the site, or if they are inherently irritating, I'll block them. The message here is not advertising is evil, rather it's don't be annoying with your advertising on your web site, or it will go the same way as spam.

Nor do I have anything against making money on or with your web site. Great, good for you. However, if you feel you have to get paid for your content, charge for it. If you're publishing your content for free, publish it for free, and don't complain about how people access the information. There are plenty of ways to charge for your information and make sure you get paid for it. For one, have it printed and collect royalties on the sales of the printed copy. Or, how about just charging for access to your web site. If your content is worth paying for, people will pay for it. Of course, if you start charging for your content and it isn't worth it, word will spread quickly.

On the other hand, getting people to pay you something to place their ad on your page seems to be a good way to make some cash. The advertisers know that people block ads - people using Firefox, Internet Explorer, or other browsers - and they take this into account when creating their banners, designing their creative, and determining which sites to advertise on or which networks or services to use to post their ads. They also consider the demographics of their target for the ad as well as the demographics that the sites in question match. Advertising on web sites isn't going away, and neither is people's desire to block annoying, invasive, or offensive ads.