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Ad Blockers & Whitelists: A Paradox World

In a world fraught with excessive advertising, ad-blockers allow users a faster, uncluttered experience, while making publishers lose valuable ad money. But a feature within the same software called whitelisting, can prevent blocking of ads if publishers demand. So its important for the industry to move towards more relevant, content-supplementing advertising that users will love

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Let’s take a walk down  memory lane. A few years ago, my experience on the online content train was incredible: a scenic view of the information I was looking for, decent journey speeds, and balanced advertising hoardings that only added excitement to my journey. Time lapse to today, and the moment I open an article, the first obstruction from my target content is the full screen enquiry, “Have you signed up for our newsletter, yet?” (I did. Like five years ago). When I get to start reading the headline, I’m hit with the first pop-up ad, and by the time I close the ads covering the article, I’m in half a mind to move on. Publishers started to go over and above the invisible line of acceptable advertising. Ninety one per cent of people say ads are more intrusive today than they were two to three years ago. Something had to be done.

The answer: A unique piece of software called an ‘ad blocker’, usually in the form of a browser extension or mobile app, that stops ads from loading right before the page is loaded. People across the world started adopting it in huge numbers. Ad blocker installation grew 30 per cent worldwide in 2016, and the growth continues. An ad blocker was the magic wand that promised to de-clutter the screen so you could focus on the content. But, if ad blockers continue to grow, publishers would run out of revenue streams. Be it gaming, commerce or news, for many businesses, advertising is the only business model, essentially the very model on which the Internet economy was built upon.

The other feature synonymous with ad blocking is the concept of ‘whitelisting’. It is an option within the software, to turn off your ad blocker, because a website asks you to, else it would bar you from viewing its content. While whitelisting on the surface appears to give more power to the users, it becomes a paradox: users are being coerced to disable the ad blocker or not get access to content. This essentially becomes a way of circumventing the very idea of blocking bad ads. Now if every website started doing this, the purpose of ad blocking would be neutralised. Make no mistake, ad blockers are the middlemen coercing ad networks and publishers to cough up more money, undermining the content creator, and ultimately the end-user.

I always get asked how detrimental are ad blockers to our business, especially in the light of Google and Apple having recently announced new blocking filters for certain types of intrusive ads. We have nothing on desktop and are a mobile-first and mobile-only player. The process of installing an ad blocker on mobile is not like flipping a switch. Users have to install, then open the app and allow the operating system to access its functioning. That’s not all. The user has to go to the browser option in the phone’s settings, and enable the ad blocker. There is a drastic drop off at each step of the process that the user has to go through, defeating its very purpose.

Nonetheless, the larger shift is for ad networks to serve the right ads for the right user. Be it the versatility of ad formats like video or interactive ads, the experience needs to improve. As a leading mobile ad platform and someone sitting on tons of data, we knew the end-user wants an ad experience that complements the content he/she is reading, and his/ her browsing or buying preferences. For instance, a user could be on Lonely Planet reading about what to pack for his/her next trip to Switzerland, and a travel agency could show an ad of a travel pouch, with the essential items suggested in the article.

A report by Zenith Media predicts that users will spend 200 minutes a day browsing on their phones by 2018, in comparison to just 40 minutes on a desktop. Ads on apps need to evolve. Publishers, ad networks and advertisers are coming together, like the recent Coalition for Better Ads. But above all, can we make advertising more personalised? Can we make advertising less jarring and excite users with products they will like? The answer is a resounding yes.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Arun Pattabhiraman

The author is vicepresident & global head of Marketing at InMobi

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