Mike Burgess
Mike Burgess 4 April 2016

5 ad blocking insights from the experts

Outputs from our Senior Marketers Roundtable - Part one As part of our XYZ series about this years big marketing challenges, we hosted a Roundtable about ad blocking.

A group of senior marketing and business leaders from New ScientistPan MacmillanFetchWhichitKarmarama SER associates What&Why and BAM mobile and got together to discuss this hottest of topics.

It’s fair to say there was a lot of ‘violent agreement’ in the room (like any good Roundtable) that the industry response to ad blocking needed attention right now - from the different perspectives of publisher, advertiser, startup, agency and media. From this some key themes on ad blocking emerged.


To kick off we asked the group to pick the one thing that they would like to know by the end of the session. We used those to shape the key questions to explore. We’ll outline these below in part one;

To have a look at part two before it’s published and get more insights on what to do about ad blocking for brands, drop us a line at

  • If ad blocking grows who will pay for content?
  • Is ad blocking going to make the sky fall in?
  • Is the cause of ad blocking bad advertising?
  • What is the new business model for content?
  • Are bad ads or how we serve them the cause of ad blocking?
  • What are the next things my business should do?
  • What is the new revenue channel for publishing?
  • What is driving ad blocking from a user perspective?
  • Is ad blocking just piracy by a different name?
  • Is the biggest challenge our own industries?

1. “It’s an arms race for brands, but consumers just couldn’t care less”

Publishing, startups and agencies talk about ad blocking

The group agreed that there is a lot of noise around ad blocking at the moment - and that the ‘adblockalypse’ in digital media circles as well as mainstream press was fueling this.

The key question for the group was in tackling the practical implication of this noise - is it as big of an issue for brands and publishers as is being presented? and if so what are the the revenue generation impacts, for businesses - for either positive or negative?.

Whatever the size of the current issue, Chris Maples, ex-MD of Spotify Europe came down firmly on the language of ad blocking being one of it’s biggest problems.

‘The battle around ad blocking is being lost in the vernacular. It’s currently an industry issue and consumers aren’t feeling guilty about it. But we shouldn’t be talking about ad blocking, we should be talking about piracy, because that’s really what it is’ Chris Maples, ex-Spotify VP, Europe

The group then went on to discuss the size of the ad blocking issue in revenue terms. There was some vibrant disagreement in the room about the often quoted ‘lost revenue due to ad blocking’ figure of $21 billion - from this piece of research conducted by ad block solution provider PageFair and Adobe.

Greg Grimmer, Global COO of Fetch noted that the Pagefair/Adobe research had a fundamental flaw ‘There is a big difference between lost opportunity revenue and actual revenue. If the inventory isn’t being being seen, then the figures are too high’.

This view was also taken by BAM mobile co-founder Roy Murphy who noted that ‘The same upward trends have been seen in other recent research conducted by YouGov and the IAB, albeit with lower total lost revenue figures’

2. “The reason ad blocking exists is because of bad publishers”

Chris Maples had a view that websites serving low quality ads are nearing the end of their shelf life, due to the simplicity of blocking for consumers ‘It’s such a quick choice now to block ads, the decision is easy’

He went on to note that publishers had a big part to play in the current state of ad blocking ‘I don’t just blame bad advertising though, it’s down to bad publishers getting too greedy serving too many bad ads’ he added.

Violent agreement in action ‘bad publishers are the cause of ad blocking’

This was supported by Jon Bains, Founder of digital consultancy What&Why who suggested that the key issue was redressing the content vs ad balance. ‘We need to reshape the relative value of ads so that it’s viable for content owners to run fewer ads at a higher value.

He then went on to add ‘Doing this would make the customer experience better, keep people on web properties longer and make the whole eco-system work more harmoniously

3. ‘More ad blocking please. Ad blocking is a good thing’

Greg Grimmer highlighted that ad blocking is a positive thing - as consumers are getting more and more swamped with advertising, ‘Less advertising means more relevant messages get through adding that ‘Fewer advertising messages means the ones I see are more effective

Overloading web pages with advertising also has the effect of slowing down loading of sites and eats into consumer data — one of the top reasons why consumers choose to adblock in the first place.

‘Ad blocking is a consumer choice in that it has to be installed by the end user — but this of course is changing quickly with the advent of browsers such as Opera’ Jon Bains, Founder, What&Why

Jon Bains went on state that ‘The consumer has to make the decision’. but noted that the ad blocking technology is becoming more varied and advanced.

Trackers and blockers such as Ghostery and the new Opera browser are adding more transparency and as well as another default way to ad block for users at the web engine level. This mean it is that much easier for consumers to block - and harder for brands and publishers to get their messages across.

‘Transparency is key for brands, it’s a weapon that needs to be used’

Chris Maples agreed ‘A lot of consumers are smart, they understand the value exchange taking place between ads being served on websites and the content they get to look at or watch’.

There was disagreement in the room that on whether consumers have been treated badly, or that by accessing free content they have entered into a deal with publishers to view ads so shouldn’t have any complaints.

We did all agree that the challenge is getting the message to consumers that blocking everything could put some publishers out of business - though there is a caveat to that position...

4. “Not all publishers are created equal, ad blocking affects some more than others”

Ben Cordle, Marketing Director of New Scientist, put forward the idea that not all publishers are suffering from ad blocking to the same extent - with some publishers less reliant on ad revenue than others.

He went on to note that ‘publishers can balance revenue across their business, through subscriptions, print, events and other means, as well as advertising’and that doing so makes sense in some verticals.

Some publishers could be affected more than others by ad blocking

He also noted that ‘a good creative solution can work better than a programmatic solution’ for a publisher like New Scientist, which has a strong brand and loyal user base, adding ‘good creativity can blow any ad technology out of the water’

James Luscombe, Marketing Technology Director at Pan Macmillan, took the view that creative executions of content - rather than traditional ads would help give users a ‘better starting point for experiencing what a brand has to offer.

He added that his company we’re creating momentum on the ad blocking issues discussed ‘We’re moving. Creative content and repsonsible advertising are key here, and that’s a good thing for us’

Greg Grimmer agreed strongly with this position taking the view that ‘less advertising, is aligned directly with better ads’. Where reducing the reliance on advertising (and particularly bad advertising - by volume or creativity) allows other forms of brand communication to take place.

‘One thing the digital world hasn’t learned is if you serve people a certain number of ads they’re OK, if you go over that they’ll find a way to switch off’ — Chris Maples

Greg also mentions that his company, Fetch, spends a lot of time reducing any possible ad fraud from bots and has ‘a whole team dedicated to that task’- of ensuring the ads that are seen are relevant and appropriate.

He also notes that ad blocking isn’t a new thing ‘it just used to be called ad avoidance - nipping out to make a cup of tea during the ad break on TV

5. “Frequency capping isn’t understood well by people at all - and it should be”

Jamie Toward, Managing Partner for Content at Karmarama had the view that there should be a limit on the number of ads ‘There should be a frequency cap on the amount of ads that can be served to a user’ going on to say ‘this is to ensure that the brand is not damaged by over-messaging’.

‘Brand campaigns get quickly get into trouble if the number of ads shown is left unchecked. Jamie Toward, Content Director Karmarama

Jamie continued ‘There isn’t enough understanding about how frequency capping and programmatic works’.

‘Is the sky really falling in?’

An irony of this is situation is that another piece of tracking is required to ensure frequency capping is applied at the right level — Troy Norcross, Founder of the SER Associates highlighted this saying ‘Tracking would also be blocked by anyone with an ad blocker installed’

The room agreed that there is an imperative for the industry to be more transparent and honest about what is being served to consumers and something needs to be done quickly to reverse the damage thus far.

Wrap up insights on ad blocking

The subject of Ad blocking has been popularised over the last 12 months, even though the technology has been widely available for a number of years.

The fuel for this has been from a variety of sources; from apple adoption, strongly contested media events, a contentious subject being debated at Government level, the European privacy directive and agencies, brands and media everywhere getting on board to own some of the story.

The result is that blocking isn’t going anywhere.

Our top 6 learnings about ad blocking from part one of the Roundtable

  1. Consumers have a choice, and they are making it in favour of blocking.
  2. We (advertisers, publishers, agencies) created this blocking issue and, we need to fix it.
  3. A technology arms race to the block the blocker blockers isn’t the answer
  4. Less ads can mean better experiences for everyone.
  5. No matter which statistics you adhere to, the issue is growing.
  6. It’s going to get easier for consumers with opt-out blocking on the rise.

For an exclusive look at part two, ahead of it being published, and for more ad blocking insights drop us a line here: or head over to our adblocking resource at for the latest trends, statistics and articles.

BAM Mobile are a new agency developing innovative digital products and services like this and this. We love helping clients to make sense of mobile, and marketing. Connect with us on twitter or head over to our website for more.

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