In case you missed it, Facebook has introduced technology to make it harder for people to avoid seeing marketing content on its platform. In a nutshell, this means ad blocking software is facing a crackdown. The response from ad blockers has been scathing, with Adblock Plus labelling the move as ‘anti-user’. In exchange for taking away the option to block adverts, Facebook will give users more choice over the types of brands they see in their newsfeeds. Facebook hope that by enabling users to set their ad preferences they will be more accepting of adverts appearing in their feed.
Facebook’s new technical approach alters the way in which its ads are loaded, making it much more difficult for ad blockers to detect and block ad units on the desktop site. It remains to be seen whether this change will have lasting impact, or if this bid to thwart ad-blocking will be met with a new software adaptation that circumnavigates it.
The reaction to adblocking from the wider industry has been more mixed. Facebook has taken a stand at a time when the latest figures show more than 20 per cent of UK adults are using ad blocking tools on desktop. It is a pressing issue for any publisher that is dependent on adverting revenues. Publishers such as The Guardian have attempted to tackle the problem and counter ad-blocking by taking an educational approach, making it clear that advertising funds its journalism. City AM and Wired took an even bolder approach of preventing people from viewing pages if they have an ad blocker installed. The hope is that by raising awareness of why advertising is there, users will accept ads as a necessity to access the content they want.
Setting aside for a moment the aggressive technical approach Facebook has taken to combating ad-blockers, this does feel like more of a value exchange between advertisers and users. Ask most users of ad blocking software why they choose to avoid advertising and they’ll likely tell you it’s because their online experience gets interrupted or isn’t relevant. Facebook is confident that giving users more control over the types of brands they want to see adverts from in their newsfeeds will mitigate the problem.
Ad blocking is a real threat to publishers and their business models and action does need to be taken to manage the risk it presents. The fact that Facebook has approached it in this head-on way is a good thing for the industry as it brings the issue into focus. It is interesting to note that while Facebook is losing ad revenue from desktop browsers, the majority of its ad revenue comes from mobile devices which are not affected by this new development.
Ultimately, publishers need to address the root cause of ad-blocking and ensure that they are putting users’ interests first. This means striking the right balance between serving ads and respecting the user experience, and working harder on educating users as to why ads are necessary for their survival. Until the precarious nature of the value exchange between advertisers and editorial is understood the lure of ad-blocking will remain.