The Adblock Wars - Stop blaming the victim!

Much to the dismay of the advertising and publishing industry, Adblock is indeed here to stay. But, what is the industry doing about it? For the most part, pointing the finger and accusing the end user of underhanded tactics. To that I say: Pot, meet Kettle.


Over the last few months I have noticed an increasing number of articles surround Adblock usage, most of which are coming from advertisers and publishers perspective.  Within these articles the underlying theme is that Adblock is evil and people using it are:

  • Trying to get something for free
  • Crippling their revenue streams

Enough is enough and it is high time that advertisers and publisher wake up and realise this is a problem of their own making and they are not the victim, the end user is!

Advertisers and publishers appear to be pushing the misconception that people using Adblock software do not want to see any ads at all and are completely ignoring the real reason people use it.  The real reason that users are opting to use Adblock is to shield themselves from the sheer volume of ads that are thrown at us on a daily basis, and, if you combine this with the disruptive intent the industry is pushing in online advertising it's a wonder it has not happened long ago.

I will acknowledge there are some users that do not want to see any ads and they will install Adblock software to remove all ad from every website they visit, but I also have to acknowledge the other end of the spectrum.  This other end of the spectrum is a utopia that advertisers and publishers covet, a place where they can deliver entire pages fill with nothing but ads, but I reckon most people fall outside of these 2 extremes.

If ads were restricted to say, 2 or 3 per page, and of a unobtrusive nature, then chances of the end user needing to install Adblock would be greatly diminished but unfortunately that is not the world we live in.  Too often we find the number of ads being served per page is much higher and as advertisers pay publishers quite a lot of money to get their ad in front of their audience, many of them are irrelevant to the end user.  

If you take me as an example, I am not in any sort of position to authorise purchase of a new software system for my company so there is no point serving me ads for Office 365, Adobe, dotmailer etc over and over again.  Ads for Dominos pizza are more likely to be relevant to me as that is more the sort of budget I can sign off on.  Too high a frequency of irrelevant ads will undoubtedly send your users running in droves to Adblock to remove the noise and get to them back to reason they arrived at the page in the first place, the content.

In addition to the number of ad displayed per page, we also have to factor in the intrusive and abusive nature of some of these ads.  Most of you will have come across a "Download our app" banner ad on a mobile site but the app it refers to is nothing to do with the site you are on.  

Adblock does not discriminate (unless you one of the big guys paying to get your ads through) so smaller sites and start-ups are getting caught in the crossfire between big advertisers and publishers and the end user.  These smaller sites are often reliant on ads, especially in their start-up phases, but their ads are getting blocked too which in some cases may force the company under before it even gets on its feet.  Unfortunately the damage is already done and even if publishers and advertisers adopt a more responsible advertising strategy it's unlikely to stem flood of users installing Adblock software.

Looking back on some older marketing channels we find their equivalents to Adblock.  The Telephone Preference Service was set up to stop unsolicited sales or marketing calls and the Mail Preference Service was set up to stop unsolicited sales and marketing mail and both exist due to the way marketing and advertising has abused those channels.  Those abusive practices have simply moved online and Adblock has come about as a result of how online advertising has been abused.  The responsibility for that, and the repercussions, can only fall square on the advertisers and publishers. 

Ali suggests that each industry has its villains and heroes and in the case of the advertising and publishing industry the villain is Adblock.  Advertising as we know it has to change as a result of Adblock, how, I'm not sure, but the hero does tend to result in a better experience for the user.

More information

Alistair came across a recent podcast from The Shop Talk Show (Podcast 191: Panel on Ad Blockers) featuring Lydia Laurenson, Vitaly Friedman & Todd Garland in which a number of the points raised here are discussed in more depth.


I am a web developer specialising in web driven applications using PHP, MySQL, Symfony and Zend and I am currently working for the The Drum in Glasgow, Scotland.

Most days I can be found frantically coding away with EuroDance in my ears and consuming what I hope to be a never ending supply of coffee... happy days!

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