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My spouse was pounding on her iPad last night in frustration – rather more frustration than typical with technology – because a news site she helps edit kept crashing the tablet’s web browser.
After a few minutes of listening to her curse, I steeled myself against her wrath (which was causing our dogs to cower) and asked if I could offer assistance. She dialed down her fluster long enough to reload the website and show me the problem. On the screen, the site began to resolve, then it turned gray to highlight an ad window spreading over the center of the page.
The ad opened just long enough to announce a car dealership’s brand before both the ad and the browser behind it vanished, leaving me looking at neat rows of apps on the iPad’s desktop.
“This is just a bunch of …,” my wife said, followed by yet another string of epithets that made me want to join the dogs in hiding. “I need to review the morning story placement, and I can’t even get to the site!”
In separate situations, I witnessed similar exasperation recently from people at a Starbucks, at a mall food court, and in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Little else sends Americans into paroxysms of agitation quite like the intrusion of advertising into our online reverie. And yet digital publishers express surprise and concern at the latest surge in ad blocking software revealed by PageFair and Adobe Systems, Inc. in “The 2015 Ad Blocking Report,” published this week.
PageFair, headquartered in Ireland, provides solutions to detect and measure ad blockers. Adobe is one of Perficient’s Strategic Partners. The report they produced examines per-country and per-state information on ad-block usage, as well as monthly active user statistics, and it found that – surprise! – web users are ratcheting up their use of ad-blocking software.
In the past year, ad blocker usage rose 41 percent in the United States and 35 percent in Europe to encompass a total of 200 million web users worldwide. In some nations in Europe, the report said, a third of users employed ad-blocking tools. Here, in states such as California, New York, and Oregon, around 15 percent of users regularly blocked web ads.
Those numbers translate into heavy damage on corporate profit margins, the report said. PageFair and Adobe estimate that U.S. firms alone lost almost $6 billion in revenue last year because their digital ad efforts were not reaching intended targets. The loss is likely to climb north of $10 million by the end of 2015.
PageFair and Adobe define ad blocking as any solution that acts like a firewall between web browsers and ad servers. Most ads are blocked or deflected by end users using solutions that target extensions such as “adblock” or “adblock plus.”
Naturally, online marketers are alarmed by all this blocking. It means their carefully crafted sales pitches – intended to supplant the evaporating influence of print publishing – are disappearing into the digital ether.
“(The) existential threat of ad blocking has become a pressing issue in the board rooms of publishers across the world,” the report said. “A concentrated response is required, founded upon a renewed focus on user experience and enabled by secure ad-serving technology.”
The key words here are “user experience,” or UX – the defining element of success in 2015. Connected technology has matured well past the convenience stage to become essential in the livelihoods of consumers as well as companies, but consumers, not companies, are driving this evolution. Proliferate smart technology and social networking have empowered consumers; now, they can choose to engage companies at multiple levels.
If companies hamper this empowerment, or compromise the UX with excessive ads, slower page loading speeds, intrusive auto-play videos, and the surreptitious downloads of uninvited promotions carrying potential privacy threats, the companies risk losing engagement.
And that affects the entire web.
“As technology develops and ad-blocking plug-ins become more commonplace, the growth in ad-blocking usage will receive yet another catalyst,” the PageFair/Adobe report said. “This has the potential to challenge the viability of the web as a platform for the distribution of free, ad-supported content.”
Presently, the web browsers Firefox and Google Chrome are responsible for most end-user ad blocking; however, the mobile market is making strides in this direction. Developers are busy making plug-ins for smartphone web browsers, and Apple’s pending iOS 9 will include support for ad-blocking apps.
The iOS 9 platform is due to release in September. Afterward, we can expect ad-block numbers to soar and more publishers to panic – and I can expect my spouse’s cursing to subside.
I love the focus on User Experience here. I’ll you what pushed me over into the edge into ad blocking, though–it was security. I had it on good authority (a friend who manages security and dev ops at a startup) that ad networks are a consistent source of malware.