Is the growth of ad-blockers a threat to online media?

The growing prevalence of ad-blockers could lead to advertisers spending less and an increase in paywalled content.

The number of people using ad-blocking software rose 70 per cent last year, suggesting a potentially worrying situation for media owners and their advertisers.

Google is among those investing in ways to combat ad-blockers – the search giant is paying Eyeo, a software company that seeks to improve users’ online experience, to get around it. Meanwhile, broadcasters such as Channel 4 can stop programmes from playing on their websites if they detect a visitor is using ad-blocking software.

Research suggests that most people are still not prepared to pay for premium, advertising-free content. However, blocking ads undermines the pay-off for any would-be advertisers, which could lead to them withdrawing much-needed investment for content creators.

Why are people downloading ad-blocking software in the first place? The increasing spend going into digital advertising now should make it worthwhile for agencies to make truly compelling ads, while advances in technology should mean very tight targeting. In addition, ads should not interfere with load times on websites.

For proponents of ad-blockers, the problem lies in the advertising itself. Ben Williams, the head of operations at Adblock Plus, argues that the daily use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as blogs and websites, has become such an integral part of people’s lives that they place a great deal of trust in them.

As a result, he explains: "It’s important that these sites don’t take advantage of their users’ trust by allowing duplicitous or intrusive advertising to affect them. Or, at least, not to make it difficult to opt out of it, as we’ve seen with the likes of Facebook’s targeted Exchange ads."

Ad-blocking software such as Adblock Plus are extremely popular, enabling users to take control of their online experience by switching on privacy tools such as the dedicated anti-tracking function EasyPrivacy and the social media buttons blocker.

They promise to protect users from invasive or unsafe advertising that they might be vulnerable to, but would this lead to more enforced paywalled sites?

NO Pete Markey, chief marketing officer, Post Office

"Growth in digital has allowed us to see the very best and very worst of online advertising. What will always succeed is great advertising that really connects with customers. Ad-blockers rightly force advertisers to raise their game."

YES Takako Elliott, head of digital operations, Mindshare

"Most people block ads because they are intrusive and distract the user from content they are trying to consume. Unless we get to the bottom of the issue, there will always be new, alternative technology to ensure ways around ads."

MAYBE Steve Chester, director of data, Internet Advertising Bureau

"We need better-tailored, targeted ads and to educate consumers that free content is paid for by advertising and may well end up behind a paywall if they continue to use ad-blocking software indiscriminately."

NO Ben Wood, global president, iProspect

"Ad-blockers aren’t really the problem – they are a symptom of poorly executed and poorly managed digital campaigns. Too much is still ‘spammy’. If advertisers evolve and learn to add value, consumers won’t need or want to block ads."

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).