Publisher malaise towards ad blockers doesn’t seem to have lessened consumer appetites for downloading them.
Ad blocking usage jumped 11 percent in the past year, according to a new report from Adobe and anti-ad blocking firm PageFair, bringing the total number of global users from 198 million to 220 million.
The yearly study is widely cited as the definitive measure of the global ad blocking industry, despite the fact that it seldom holds good news for those who make a living online.
The researchers behind it project an even more pronounced spike next year — up to nearly 300 million total users — given the growing pool of people with internet access in emerging countries.
“If U.S. advertisers don’t try to address user experience, they can potentially see another 20 million people added to the ad blocking pool based on similar rates we’ve seen in other countries,” said Becky Tasker, Adobe’s managing analyst for digital insights.
The team arrived at that number through an extensive survey given to more than 1,000 consumers as well as proprietary data tracked by PageFair’s software.
As with past years, Europe had much higher rates than the U.S. — particularly Sweden, Germany and Denmark — where as many as a third of all internet users have blockers installed.
But despite the uptick, consumer attitudes towards online ads are actually increasingly positive, the report says. Around seven in ten respondents say ads have either improved in quality or stayed constant, and nearly six in ten say marketers effectively provide interesting ad content.
Furthermore, about 80 percent said they’d like to see more personalized offerings, while around a quarter of the remainder said more customization would be “creepy or intrusive.”
But winning back users once they start tuning out ads is nearly impossible; nine in ten respondents say they don’t have any plans of turning their blockers off.
One thing on which marketers and ad block users can agree, it seems, is that online ads are much too numerous and rely too heavily on tracking.
The forecast does hold some bright spots for the publishing industry. For instance, Adobe considered the rate of mobile ad blocking use in the United States and Europe negligible to an extent that it wasn’t even worth mentioning.
The omission stands in stark contrast to online habits in the Asia-Pacific region, where mobile ad adoption is exponentially higher. Many low-bandwidth phones in those areas can’t handle the data drainage of advertising, and Alibaba’s UC Browser app offers a simple way to shut it out.
While many predicted that Apple’s decision to start allowing content blockers in its Safari browser last fall would be met with a surge in their popularity, it seems such predictions were overblown.
But the hypothetical launch of a simple-to-use, more comprehensive app like UC Browser could easily become a tipping point.
“The recommendation is let’s fix that issue before it gets to that point in America and we have to start talking about it,” Tasker said.
One of the more surprising findings, Tasker said, was that ad blocking rates tended to increase along with the amount of traffic on social channels, meaning that ad block users may prefer targeted ads designed to blend in alongside posts from friends and family.
“We have these users who want to engage, but it has to be the to the right channel with the right methods and the right target,” Tasker said. “It’s not all lost if someone is using an ad blocker, but you have to figure out how to talk to the consumer at the end of the day.”
Though emerging markets continue to supply the web with fresh blood, growth in overall traffic seems to have stagnated in Europe and North America. In the past three and a half years, the number of American web users increased just 0.1 percent, while Europe actually saw a 0.3 percent dip.
Such an environment may breed intense competition among websites vying for traffic — indeed, the title of that section of the report is “Eat lunch or be lunch.”
While Adobe’s survey is generally held in high esteem, some have taken issue with the company’s methods.
A BuzzFeed News report last year argued that the laws of supply and demand in the ad economy had been overlooked in reaching the total dollar losses figures for the industry. The article suggested a conflict of interest — as an anti-ad blocking firm, PageFair stands to make more money the bigger the perceived threat — could be to blame.
This year’s report no longer includes that stat.
On the other end of the spectrum, Pierre Far, a former Google exec who launched a startup called Blockmetry aimed at measuring content blocking beyond just ads, said studies like these tend to lowball the potential threat to publishers.
“What I’ve found is that nobody’s actually measuring this correctly,” Far said.
Studies focus too much on the number of new users when they should be paying attention to the number of page views blocked, he says.
Using this method, ad blocking’s impact is closer to 32 percent worldwide, Far estimates.