The Industrial Advertising Complex is crumbling. In 2016, one in four Americans will use an ad blocker, and in just one year the number of users will surge from 70 to 87 million. This phenomenon is driven by multiple factors including endemic over-messaging, poor targeting, cumbersome ad units, and millennials’ lack of interest in irrelevant advertising.
Online publishers will see an equally large drop in revenue. An estimated $21 billion was lost due to blocked advertising during 2015.
While the initial Industry response to ad blocking was slow and somewhat resistant, recently both professional organizations like the IAB and individual publishers have deployed new ad units that are less damaging to the user experience. Premier publishers such as The New York Times and Forbes have begun experimenting with tactics to wean users off ad blocking, including asking consumers to “whitelist” their sites so that ads may still appear.
Not a company known for half measures, Facebook decided to sidestep the entire issue of ad blocking. The advertising juggernaut, which took in over $17 billion in ad revenue in 2015, recently deployed technology that essentially neuters all ad blockers for desktop content – allowing Facebook to serve ads on its desktop site even to people who have ad blocking software installed and running.
“Disruptive ads are an industry problem, and the rise of ad blockers is a strong signal that people just don’t want to see them,” said Andrew Bosworth, vice president for Facebook’s ads and business platform. “But ad blockers are a really bad solution to that.”
Facebook’s solution to ad blocking is two-pronged, and also flawed. It offers an “expanded” set of tools to give consumers more control over their advertising experience while “updating” their approach to ad blocking on Facebook.
The implicit notion here is that by telling Facebook more about your preferences, you will get more targeted advertising, and who doesn’t like more targeted ads? While logically sound at an abstract level, the reasoning breaks down almost immediately when you consider that consumers who have already installed ad blockers will probably not respond well if those ad blockers are disabled without their permission. And while more data theoretically results in more targeted ads, that is not always the case in practice.
Ultimately, Facebook’s new offering fails to address advertising fatigue or the poor quality of digital advertising units, which were the main drivers behind adoption of ad blockers in the first place.
So what motivated the move? Despite recent grumblings by P&G about the efficacy of targeting on Facebook, more detailed user profiles will allow Facebook to offer more targeted ad products, putting more dollars in their pocket.
Reading between the lines, it also seems that ad blocking was becoming a big enough problem for Facebook that they had to figure out a way to get around it.
Perhaps the move is not quite the “dark path against user choice” that some have called it. But showing ads to people who have downloaded ad blockers is spammy and short-sighted. It remains to be seen if the bait-and-switch of consumer data for better, more targeted ads still has any gas left, or if consumers will continue to tune out the targeted ads as they do most digital advertising.