The Rise Of The Adblocker

3 Henry Kingston

Image for Gravytrain's Adblock blog

Remember the days of the pop up? When dozens of windows would flood the screen of your bulky desktop without warning? This was one of the first online advertising onslaughts and would often bring Windows 95 to its knees. Then of course there was the arrival of spam, the digital equivalent to hundreds of irrelevant leaflets dropping through your letterbox every morning. Even in the early days it was the advertisers who were the enemy, standing in the way of a smooth online user experience (UX).

Fast forward 20 years, and both the internet and the marketers have evolved enormously and expanded exponentially. Now we are glued to our mobile devices and tablets, experiencing the online world through a touch screen via an increasingly small selection of apps. Our attention spans are miniscule. Google rules the roost, holding more data than any other website in the world, and marketeers now base their movements around Google keyword research and analytics results. Entire industries like ours have developed to tackle the new barriers businesses face in the online battle for the coveted position of page 1 on a search engines’ results, dealing with Search Engine Optimization(SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising.

Social media has become one of the most hotly contested areas online, with particular attention being paid to likes, follows, retweets and unique views. Marketeers have found ways to slip into any available space to reach their audience, whether that means sponsored (and unrequested) content in your Instagram feed, or a desperately dull 20 second video you cannot skip which precedes your Youtube video. Herein lies the problem; this form of marketing is still having a negative impact on UX. Online content has reached breaking point, where it is nigh on impossible to separate the useful from the useless. Coupled with the consumers ever decreasing attention span, this poses a serious problem to marketeers. Consumers are unwillingly to take it anymore, and this is how they are fighting back:


Created as an extension in 2009, AdBlock was a way to keep all the unwanted content out and thus a way of improving UX. A recent survey by PageFair revealed that over 419 million users have installed it on their mobile devices; clearly it has struck a chord with the public. Germany and Poland have the highest percentage of AdBlock users, coming in at 38% of the population. In 2015 alone it cost advertisers an eye-watering $22billion, with that figure surely only set to rise. Some companies have responded to this by simply preventing users running AdBlock from accessing their sites, unless they manually disable it. In the UK you may have experienced this first hand when using online streaming services such as ITV Player and 4OD, who explain that they rely on the income advertising provides and without it the service could not exist. Similarly, in France several big newspapers including Le Monde, L’Equipe and Le Parisien have banned any users with AdBlock from their sites.

There is a delicate legal debate surrounding this too. Alexander Hanff, head of Think Privacy, has been taking companies to court for using scripts to detect if users are running AdBlock or a similar software; he cites this as a violation of his rights to privacy. His claims are based on the EUs 2009 E-Piracy Directive, article 5.3, which is to do with data protection. Although some argue against Hanff’s interpretation of the law, the European Commission agrees, saying “it [article 5.3] would also apply to the storage by websites of scripts in users terminal equipment to detect if users have installed or are using AdBlockers”. It has not been lost on the advertising industry that they are the masters of their own misfortune; flooding the internet with worthless, cluttered content. Brad Jakeman from PepsiCo actually rates AdBlock, saying at this years’ Cannes Lions that “99.5% of (ad) work is generally…digital landfill”.

Rather than sit and sulk, this should be a wakeup call for the entire advertising and marketing industry; it is time to start delivering adverts and content that people do not want to block. Stuff which is of actual value to the consumer, which is engaging and targeted to a specific audience.