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BW Businessworld

When Consumer Experience Is Everything

Ad blockers are blocking everything ad for uninterrupted consumer experience, but advertisers can offer better, with personalisation

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The ad blocking world is going crazy again. This time, media giant Facebook, is in the middle of it, putting up a tough fight against ad blockers. Last week, it announced that it was going to block ad blockers, giving more control to users on the kind of ads they would like to see. Soon after, Ad Block Plus released a more enhanced ad blocker, which Facebook blocked again.

Needless to say, the ad blocking community is not about to give up and by the time this issue is in print, we may have another round of ad blockers blocking the force field that blocks ad blockers. The one-upmanship is expected to continue. After all, nearly 96 per cent of Facebook’s revenue is dependent on advertising.

The whole block-ad-block-block may be a tongue twister of sorts and even an entertaining tiff, but here are some facts that point to the seriousness of the issue, especially if you are a marketer or representing one, and to the opportunity that still exists in a market like India.

Global statistics indicate that ad blocking cost the advertising industry $22 billion in 2015. As for potential revenue losses in the future, Ovum predicts that $35 billion in ad revenue will be lost by 2020 on account of ad blocking. This year, the highlight has been how ad blocking has caught up with mobile users even though it still needs to make an impact on in-app advertising, but that really is the next expected step. According to PageFair, at least 419 million people (22 per cent of the world’s 1.9 billion smartphone users) are blocking ads on the mobile web. As of March 2016, there were 122 million mobile users in India blocking ads. These are serious numbers.

The advertising industry has forgotten the lessons from mobile voice and SMS too soon, where interruptive ads led to the ‘Do Not Disturb’ rule. Ad blockers are a result of making old mistakes on new platforms. The rise of ad blocking is a clear signal to the ad industry that consumers are dissatisfied with their current experience. While digital content evolved and grew, digital advertising did not.

Ads are essentially seen as intrusive, disruptive and annoying. According to an Ipsos study, the main reasons cited for using ad blockers include avoiding disruptive ads (69 per cent), ads that slow down browsing experience (58 per cent) and security/ malware risks (56 per cent). The study also shows that reported usage of ad blocking is highest in Germany and France, followed by the US.

But there is a silver lining. Younger consumers, in general, are more open to online advertising and data collection. But consumers prefer personalised and relevant ads. Takeaway: consumers are not rejecting advertising — but marketers need to show ‘discretion’ and not abuse consumer experience.

News media outlets that are largely free services and hence heavily reliant on advertising have been experimenting with blocking access if an ad blocker on the browser is detected. Some ad blockers take money for showing ads. But Facebook did not opt for any of this. It tried something completely different by letting users choose their ad preference, and while it is looking at ways to circumvent ad blockers, this is yet another silver lining.

Those who can make a difference are trying to get this right, hopefully creating examples and precedents for other platforms and for marketers to learn from. Audience in India is not tuned off, yet. The worst thing that marketers can do now is take that for granted. The need of the hour is to salvage a situation that promises to be a very serious threat.