Why Ad Blocking Kinda Sucks

By Deane Barker on March 11, 2010

Why Ad Blocking is devastating to the sites you love: I really have to agree with this post.  Too many people feel like the Internet is designed to be free, and there’s no expense associated with content development.

This is an impassioned plea for Ars Technica not to block their ads.  It’s worth reading.

My argument is simple: blocking ads can be devastating to the sites you love. I am not making an argument that blocking ads is a form of stealing, or is immoral, or unethical, or makes someone the son of the devil. It can result in people losing their jobs, it can result in less content on any given site, and it definitely can affect the quality of content. It can also put sites into a real advertising death spin.

I wrote about this exact same thing a couple years ago: AdBlock Plus and the Future of Advertising:

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.

Still true.

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  1. Actually, I disagree.

    I think if we block the traditional methods, while we may lose some sources of content, and we may spur on some more obnoxious methods, we’ll also see better, more integrated, more useful advertising that we don’t want to block. I don’t block The Deck. I could, but I don’t have any desire to.

    Likewise, I don’t mind completely integrated, but entirely related, sponsored content. (See daringfireball.net for an example of advertising well-done.)

  2. I can sympathize with this somewhat, but not too much. The percentage of total browsers using adblock is still quite low. One site showed a result of 14% of Firefox users which equated to about 7% of his total traffic: http://wpmarketing.org/2009/08/fighting-adblock/

    The ratio admittedly is likely higher for Ars Technica, given their reader base. But the fact is that people who take the time to install adblock are precisely the ones who hate ads and won’t click on them anyway. I equate it with those who DVR all their favorite shows so they can fast-forward thru the commercials.

    The solution is to be more creative about advertising. One thing that might work is within the article itself, write a paragraph about some sponsor’s product, without setting it apart in an easily located DIV tag.

    Overall, businesses need to be smart about their customer base and realize that a certain portion of them are simply not going to be affected by advertising. They need to concentrate on reaching those who are actually moved to action by ads, and that’s never going to be the entire user base.

  3. To begin the net is not free, for me it’s 90 bucks a month. Not to mention I paid for my pc and spent my time building it, and configuring it. IMHO, if you have to tell people how they are going to use their paid for items, you have a failed business model.

    IMHO, here are your 3 options if you wish to earn a “living” online:

    1. Pay wall. If your content is worth it people will pay.

    2. Like Trek, Bose, Apple and a bazillion other sites, the site is part of their line item called advertisement and helps to sell their product. I.e. a loss.

    3. Affiliate links. You get paid when you actually have someone click thru and buy something. When I bought a domain I used the HAK5 code. I got a discount, and they proven that people were actually watching the ads. Being paid for views, images, marks, or any other term is a lie and a scam.

  4. I agree with Brade and Mark. While I think advertising is legitimate and warranted, it’s really about how it’s presented. Google’s text-based ads are unobtrusive and are actually more likely to get my attention and click-through than flashy, bright, obnoxious, Flash-based ads that pop-up or sit on a page demanding to be clicked. The latter are the ones that I block.

    Merchants/vendors that also offer “subscription-based” offerings (in addition to “free” offerings), at a reasonable price that include ad-removal and “premium features/content” are also more likely to get me to sign up if their wares are worth my money.

    Depending on advertising as a reliable source of revenue is not a practical business model. It can supplement other, more stable revenue streams, but as Mark points out, bandwidth (and hardware) is paid out by the consumer, so to have these aggressive ads that suck up bandwidth and CPU cycles is not going to win people over; it works against the site/advertisers.

    Brade summed it up nicely in his last paragraph. It’s akin to direct marketing. You know a certain percentage of the mailings are for naught and will generate opt-out requests (equivalent to blocking online ads) or no response at all (online’s version would be not to click an ad), so you need to focus on catering to the consumers who are likely to take you up on what you are offering for your marketing to be continually successful, making a profit.

  5. “But the fact is that people who take the time to install adblock are precisely the ones who hate ads and won’t click on them anyway.”

    I’m likely in the minority, and as stated in reply to previous posts on this subject, I’m an online advertiser’s nightmare in that I use AdBlock Plus because I hate being “sold to” whether online or off. I won’t click on an ad on any site I visit; if I visit a site to make a purchase, I’ll have done my research already and am ready to spend. Text-based ads? Easier to live with (thinking about GMail here – unobtrusive). Flash-based? Irritating at the very least.

    Sales and marketing people, sorry – I have little sympathy for your positions when you are trying to sell me things I neither need nor want, and can usually ill afford. Perhaps you can find another job that doesn’t involve pushing people to spend?

  6. Rick, while I appreciate the purity of your position, let’s pretend for a minute if everyone had your same position. Why would 90% of the media/news/etc. sites in existence stay in business?

    I think it’s fine to take your position…if you never consume any free, ad-supported content on the Net. But once you start visiting and enjoying something like Ars, CNN, or whatever (Gadgetopia?), your position becomes less tenable.

  7. I never see any of the ads on CNN (I visit daily), or MSNBC (again, daily), or even here – the latest version of AdBlock is really effective. I also agree with the idea that depending on advertising revenue isn’t (nor should it be) considered a reliable revenue stream.

    News sites would continue to exist so long as they were an adjunct to the broadcast arm; if and when CNN or any of the other media outlets I bother with these days attempt to force me to view content without AdBlock, I’ll get my news elsewhere.

    I’d miss visiting Gadgetopia, certainly, but attempts to force advertising down a viewer’s throat would backfire with me – I can be treated statistically as a “consumer”, but I will continue to see myself as a visitor, and not as an advertiser’s audience. This is a blog, after all, and not a site that I am required to visit – I choose to come here and read the articles and opinions you, Joe, and others post here – but I am not, nor do I believe I (or anyone else) should be expected to pay to read opinions or be forced to wade through a sales pitch before I can read them. That would be like saying I should pay to read Glen Beck’s stuff, or Rush Limbaugh’s – why pay for opinions, regardless of publication medium?

  8. Good discussion here. These comments have got me thinking about alternate possibilities for online advertising. For me personally, paying a subscription fee for website content is an absolute no-go. There will always be free sources of information on the web, and that’s exactly where most of us will go if a website starts charging.

    So I think the real solution might be the email/newsletter paradigm. Sites could allow you to view all their content for free, but only if you sign up for an account and provide an email address, so you can get a regular email with a mix of news and special offers. There are a few sites that already do this, but the email newsletter could be where marketing efforts are made. And the websites could (and should) be straightforward about this–support our website by agreeing to get, say, a weekly or monthly email with some bonus content and advertising.

    Personally I don’t mind having to sift through this type of stuff in an email. I already subscribe to some newsletters for things like Quizno’s and Ben & Jerry’s because every now and then, they give you some nice coupons. This same process could easily apply to a site like Ars Technica, with the only difference being the special offers would be from paid sponsors. It’s a win-win for everyone.

    Plus there are some great tools out there for tracking the effectiveness of email marketing (such as Campaign Monitor and iContact), much better in my opinion than trying to use website analytics for this purpose. If Ars Technica went with this approach, I’d sign up in a flash.

  9. I use adblock when visiting some sites because of the explosion of Flash ads being used. I’m milking a little more time out of an old laptop, and a page that overuses Flash just kills the experience; page loading slows down, processor usage jumps up, battery life hits the skids… Advertisers are the worst. I ignore the ads anyway, whether text-based or Flash. I’m sure there are plenty of others who do the same, so I don’t see how utilizing adblock plug-ins is such a big deal.

    I’ve recently seen a few sites that won’t show you their content if the site detects an adblocker. Sneaks.

  10. “I’ve recently seen a few sites that won’t show you their content if the site detects an adblocker. Sneaks.”

    I personally think this is a completely reasonable response. I would never do it here, but Gadgetopia doesn’t have any employees or office space either. A publisher has the absolute right to suppress their content if you reject their business model, just like you have the right not to visit their site if you don’t like the ads.

  11. Don’t take me wrong, but I don’t want to have ads while I’m surfing the web, despite what you said is considerably important and true, but won’t see ads for all I care.

  12. I get a kick out of blocking ads. It really gets me off. Ad blocking is like decking the ‘guy with a clipboard’ who stops you in the street, it makes me feel really good inside, and I’m talking about Lube and Kleenex here.

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