AdBlock Plus and the Future of Advertising

By Deane Barker on September 3, 2007

Whiting Out the Ads, but at What Cost?: This is an interesting article on the AdBlock Plus controversy. We talked a couple weeks back about the guy blocking Firefox because of their “support” of AdBlock Plus.

The article concentrates on the taboo question: what if the Firefox-blocking guy is actually right? I mean, what if this ad-blocking thing takes off like crazy, to the point where the Internet advertising business falls apart? That’d sure be interesting.

From that perspective, the program is an unwelcome arrival after years of worry that there might never be an online advertising business model to support the expense of creating entertainment programming or journalism, or sophisticated search engines, for that matter.

There’s a point there. I wondered about the same thing after the first time I downloaded a TV show via BitTorrent. The show was in HD, and all the ads had been removed — it was, for all intents and purposes, the perfect viewing experience. But in the back of my mind, I knew there was no free lunch, and the piper had to be paid somewhere. My mind started to extrapolate…

So I can watch TV with no ads? When does that start to matter? Will advertisers suddenly feel their ads are no longer effective? Will they scale back advertising budgets? Will TV networks start feeling the loss of advertising revenue? Will they scale back their production budgets? Will I start to think, “Man, TV shows kind of suck these days”? Then, in a fit of self-awareness, will I suddenly realize…mediocre TV is the thing I created?

Obviously, I went a little far with that. What’s probably going to happen is you’re going to see ads get more integrated into other information. FM has been big on their “conversational marketing” with things like the FM Battle Royale (I’m still totally winning). Sure, it’s advertising for Toshiba, but it’s interesting beyond the sponsorship, and it’s relatively unblockable. More importantly, I don’t think anyone would want to block it, because it’s kind of interesting.

And that’s an important point that the creator of AdBlock Plus seizes on:

“There is only one reliable way to make sure your ads aren’t blocked — make sure the users don’t want to block them,” he wrote. “Don’t forget about the users. Use ads in a way that doesn’t degrade their experience.”

This is happening all the time in TV. It started with product placement, then those little in-show ads at the bottom right corner of the screen. But it keeps getting more and more pervasive.

Shows are starting to incorporate thinly-veiled ads directly into their content. I mentioned the thing with “American Heiress” a couple months ago, but I’ve noticed it more and more on “MadTV” of all places. That show went four straight episodes once with someone saying the phrase “Toyota Yaris.” The car itself appeared in two or three sketches.

Even more blatant, they had a sketch set in a video store, and one of the characters went off on a tangent about the release of “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.” Later, she talked in-depth about the plot of “Turistas,” and what appeared to be the entire trailer to the film played in the background.

I welcome stuff like this, I really do. Like it or not, advertising is the currency of media. Unless you want to pay for everything you watch, read, or hear, advertising is going to have to be somewhere.

Risking a really bad analogy, it’s like a terrorist movement, — if you successfully block its traditional methods, it will just come out in more subversive ways. It’s up to us which method we let stick — but one of them will have to stick, trust me.

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  1. I think you’re right in in pointing out the quote from AdBlock Plus that content providers should “Use ads in a way that doesn’t degrade their experience.” Personally, I find pop-ups annoying and do block those type of advertisements. However, I personally have no problem with ads on the side and understand the need for them.

    I wonder though…if the user has an AdBlocker if it’s possible for a content provider to come up with a “Content Blocker”. One would think that with the state of JavaScript and AJAX as it is today…something on the server side could be developed to block a user’s access to content if advertisement has been blocked. If you’re in the business of making money…what’s the point of users reading your content if they are not going to view advertisement (your source of income)?

  2. Playing devil’s advocate seems to be one of my natural roles, so let me ask it this way: why force the reader to view ads for products or services they have no interest in or desire for?

    This site is one of the few that I actually choose to use AdBlock on, as I don’t care for large, column-length ads that scream for my attention when I’m trying to read. The text-based ads I have no problem with, as they are easily ignored and are difficult to block; the graphic ones, with the movement intended to catch the viewer’s eye are another story. I’m quite certain I’m not alone in the belief that intrusive ads are deserving of being blocked, as BryanSD concurs. I’m also fairly certain that I’m not alone in the belief that if advertising is your only revenue stream, then something is wrong with the business. Invite me to see something of interest – don’t force it on me like so many sites do.

  3. See what I need is a service that will let me only see ads that are well done and interesting. I could see advertisers paying people to rate ads, and then the wisdom of crowds would determine which ads I actually see. Tailored, of course, to my own buying patterns, sense of humor, etc.

  4. My policy is to leave ads on sites until they annoy me — flashing red and green, talking ads, etc, will get me to pull out ABP and block ads from that site from then on.

    The problem here is that ads are generally served by big clearinghouses like Doubleclick,, etc. And once I block one obnoxious ad from one site, all ads from the same clearinghouse are blocked on all sites. Heck, looking at this very page as I enter the comment, I see that there are blocked ads from

    So it would behoove big ad serving companies to screen ads for ones likely to cause users to block their entire company for all enternity, and it would behoove site owners to pick ad serving companies who do such screening. Because I’m open to seeing ads on ad supported content, but if an ad massively distracts/annoys me, I’m going to do something about it.

  5. Deane: excellent points!

    Rick typed: “if advertising is your only revenue stream, then something is wrong with the business”

    Like TV & radio for instance? Not to mention newspapers and magazines, where the subscription price is largely used to qualify readers.

    With some notable exceptions, people don’t like to pay for content — especially online. Unless that changes (unlikely), then advertising is a fact of life.

  6. It’s not going to ‘take off’! all the odds are stacked against it and all the history. websites will find tekkie ways around, some already have. why is pop-up use declining? adblock?

    can’t believe the blog posts in response to NYT. one guy is describing adblock as ‘pure evil’!

    get a grip!

  7. I can easily be counted in the notable exception class, as I rarely watch TV (less than 3 hours every two weeks unless there is a major news story I’m following), listen to less than an hour a month of radio in any form, and absolutely despise the idea of someone trying to sell me something if I haven’t expressed an interest in it first (I tend to find nearly all advertising, whether online or mainstream media, as irritating as the HeadOn commercials I’ve caught on CNN Headline News). Just to clear away any mistaken thinking that might arise form that, I don’t live under a rock nor do I believe my friends would describe me as a misanthrope – I love tech, but hate the idea that somewhere out there are thousands of sales and marketing types trying to figure out what tactic will work to get me to buy their latest cultural oddity. TV and Radio advertisers make networks rich, certainly – I’d love to know what the actual cost of airing a 30 second spot at halftime in the SuperBowl is to the networks, as opposed to what they charge – but the ads are a waste of time on my eyes (I don’t drink beer, don’t own an SUV or plan to, etc.)

    I don’t argue for a minute that people with things to sell have no right to sell them, and I’m half afraid the directed sales techniques shown in “Minority Report” will come to pass in our lifetimes – but does every website have to be a corporate shill? Blend creates websites, and Gadgetopia is a great site for those of us interested in tech – but does every page have to have an animated irritant on it?

  8. I agree with some of the response here. Given an option, if user wants to block ads then there is problem with advertisement itself. If it fails a business model then the business model is not designed as win-win for everyone and it is destined to fail.

  9. This is an interesting question, especially since my first reaction is that to be asking this question is indicative of a serious social problem. We are now living in a world of rampart commercialism, our privacy is being intruded upon for the sake of business and we are convinced that this is all in our best interest. A combination of marketing and politics have created a situation (or at least fostered a situation) where any and all information presented has questionable REAL value as defined as accurate. I guess this is not new, but what is new is the level of pervasiveness in what we see. I, for one, get tired of the never ending assault on the sense of marketing, regardless of it is when I am on a bus, at an airport or in front of my computer. Some marketing and sales are definitely good but there is a limit and business in general seems to feel that the onus is not on them to manage the quantity or the validity. So once again society will; use draconian solutions to try to ‘solve’ the problem – in this case banning all ads.

    I guess I fell that it is NOT correct for business to constantly barrage us with ads for products that serve no real need, that consumers should have the right to limit how they are targeted, and that this is should not be an adversial relationship…


  10. From my perspective it all about performance. I use adblock on my laptop where the flash adverts detract so heavily from the performance of the machine so as to make it virtually unusable.

    Maybe the answer is simply to spend a couple of thousands dollars to get a laptop performant enough to handle both the stuff I want and the adverts as well – but realistically I’ll go with the free solution.

    In general I don’t mind adverts so long as they are relevant to me and to the environment I’m working in. I don’t want talking or musical adds while I am watching streaming video. I don’t want beer ads at all – I don’t drink. With all of the data these guys are collecting about our viewing habits it still stuns me that they have not figured out a simple way for US to tell them what we don’t want to see. If I could configure the advert stream to my interests I would have problem at all with having discrete adverts on the pages I view but when the adverts take up more processing power than the web pages, they are going to get blocked.


  11. Technical question: Does it register on a website whenever one of their ads is blocked? In other words, do the content providers know when their advertising is not reaching people? How can we know the impact of the Adblock, other than number of program downloads?


  12. Guys I am 2 years behind on this discussion but here is my 5pence.

    I have no problem with text ads, such as the ones seen on gmail, I have no problem with banner ads that dont have animated loops.

    I do have a problem with popups and with some large animated looping ads.

    I think what has driven ad blocking software is some website owners abusing the advertising position, popups will only serve to either deter visitors from your site or make people use ad blocking software as adblock plus, admuncher and proximitron.

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