Thinking outside the block

From hand-wringing to bell-ringing:

Four key strategies to help news media publishers combat the global ad blocking phenomenon


Adblock Plus, Blockr, 1Blocker, Purify Blocker, Crystal, uBlock Adguard. The list goes on. There’s a reason ad blockers are so popular. Most people hate online banner ads. They hate pop-up ads, mobile display ads, interstitials and pre-roll video ads. People especially hate homepage take-over ads.

A June 2015 Reuters Digital News Report survey found that over 30 percent of online news audiences actively avoid sites where display banner ads interfere with the content. As a result, 39 percent in the U.K. and 47 percent in the U.S. say they have installed ad-blocking software on their PC, mobile, or tablet devices. For those in the coveted 18-24 age range, over 55 percent use ad blockers.

Instead of fighting the inevitable, news media publishers should embrace this hatred and develop solid offensive strategies to tackle ad blocking. Here are four suggestions.

1.  Play to your #1 key strength – credible, high-quality content.

One of the main reasons people dislike banner ads so much is because these ads are annoying. They interrupt the online reading experience. They degrade your brand.

In contrast, the Reuters study found that 19 percent of U.S. 18–24 year olds say they feel more positive towards a news media brand when it includes contextually relevant native advertising.

Most ad blockers don’t block all ads, and some provide for whitelists of acceptable ads. In fact, good branded content can actually enhance the user experience. With clearly labeled and relevant native advertising, you can create an online environment where your readers don’t feel compelled to install ad blockers.

As Lisa Valentino, senior vice president of digital sales for Condé Nast, said in a recent AdWeek article, “We’ve got to find a middle ground that allows consumers to get the content they want as fast as they want it in all of the ways that they want it and still be able to create great advertising connected to it.”

2.  Play to your #2 key strength – deep connections to your advertising community.

Ad blocking is a problem shared by publishers and advertisers alike. Cultivate the long-standing relationships with your advertising customers, especially local advertisers. Use the ad blocking challenge to your advantage in dealing more directly and creatively with advertisers than ever before.

High-quality advertising is not seen as annoying or intrusive. In an October 2015 ComScore study of 3,300 U.K. consumers, local news media sites generated a 31 percent increase in the number of people who said they were likely to visit a store in response to viewing an ad. Even more impressive, the ComScore study found a 27 percent increase in the likelihood to purchase a product as a result of seeing a local online ad.

Sure, local advertising is not impervious to ad blockers. But, your advertisers want to know how to build effective ad campaigns that won’t be blocked, and your sales and marketing teams can provide the needed expertise. By working directly with these advertisers, you can help untangle the complex ad ecosystem that exists today. This ecosystem is what’s contributing to the increasingly slow page load times and all the third-party retargeting – i.e., the main things that lead people to install ad blockers in the first place.

3.  Redouble your efforts on native app development and a better mobile experience.

Debates in the publishing industry continue to rage on about apps versus responsive sites for your mobile and tablet audiences. Now more than ever, the right answer seems to be “both”, certainly in light of this whole ad blocking situation.

Native apps for smartphones and tablets are generally not subject to ad blocking. Of course, there are already programs showing up in the iTunes store claiming to block ads in native mobile apps. Fortunately for publishers, one of these apps (Been Choice) also tried to block ads from Apple News, so Apple quickly took it down, citing concerns for user privacy.

Nevertheless, publishers today are still in control when it comes to the total native app environment. The key here is to move fast and develop apps that give mobile readers the anytime, anywhere experience they crave. Make sure your apps support deep linking of news and advertising content. This will ensure that links from things like social media posts will open directly in your app rather than in an embedded web view, which might be subject to ad blocking.

For mobile web audiences, publishers need to bear in mind that static mobile banner ads represent some of the most universally despised ad types by readers of all ages. Therefore, focus should be placed on creating better, more engaging ad experiences – such as great native ads – for your mobile web audiences.

And, don’t forget about SEO. Ad blocking technologies elevate the significance of Search Engine Optimization. According to Google Insights, search is the most common starting point for mobile research into products and services. Advertisers today need to reach mobile consumers through natural search, and the publisher’s marketing team can provide the expertise needed to help local advertisers improve their search rankings.

4.  Think outside the block.

Sixteen years ago, Seth Godin wrote a book called Permission Marketing, in which he introduces the concept of “interruption marketing.” In 1999, interruption marketing referred to things like a TV commercial that breaks into our favorite program or an annoying telemarketing phone call that disturbs a family dinner. In 2015, Mr. Godin could easily include a pop-up banner ad in this list of ineffectual marketing techniques.

Ad blocking is the natural reaction of online audience members who are sick and tired of interruption marketing. Permission Marketing, on the other hand, seeks to develop long-term relationships with customers, create trust, and build brand awareness by offering consumers incentives to accept advertising voluntarily. As Mr. Godin said in a 2008 blog posting, “Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”

Publishers like The Guardian are already thinking in this direction by developing customized and personalized ad experiences that “put the user in control.” These initiatives – like those being considered by other local and national newspapers around the world – recognize one of the fundamentals of Permission Marketing, which asserts that “treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.”

So, forget about installing software solutions that try to block ad blockers. Don’t limit yourselves to considering subscription models that reward readers for accepting an ad-free online experience. Instead, recognize that ad blocking is a logical consumer response to a broken online marketing ecosystem. Embrace the hate, and concentrate on those things that news media publishers can uniquely offer to readers and advertisers alike:

  • Quality news and advertising content
  • Trusted relationships with readers and subscribers
  • Established partnerships with your advertising community
  • Innovative marketing services
  • Attractive digital, print and combo subscription offerings


Above all, recognize that publishers, advertisers and readers all share a common goal to deliver the fastest, friendliest and least intrusive online experience possible. Publishers can take control here and ring the bell in support of engagement over interruption; enjoyment over annoyance.


About the author: Pete Marsh


Pete Marsh is Vice President, Marketing at Newscycle Solutions. He joined Newscycle in 2013 from Atex Inc., where he was a member of the Atex executive team and Senior Vice President of Global Product Management. Pete was previously the CEO of 5 Fifteen Inc., and the founder and CEO of Deadline Data Systems, Inc. Pete holds a Bachelor of Science degree, Summa Cum Laude, from Boston University’s College of Communications. He also currently serves on the Board of Directors at Samaritans, a Boston-based non-profit organization dedicated to suicide prevention.

This article was first published by Pete Marsh