Forget Adblockalypse - it's robots that will destroy us
A view from Ross Barnes

Forget Adblockalypse - it's robots that will destroy us

Advertising's doomsday is nigh, according to the soothsayers who have been obsessing about a new buzzword that exploded in media land last year.

"Adblockalypse" is an infectious phrase that plays to all our greatest fears. But what if it has allowed us to overhype the issue?

We’re in advertising. We’re good at coming up with words that catch on. But we’re Maths Men too, so let’s think about the figures. 

One consumer in five is ad-blocking. Yes, that makes it a mass phenomenon. And, yes, we’re right to be thinking about how we shrink that statistic. And there are all sorts of ways we can do that, starting with remembering what creativity, digital or otherwise, is all about: entertaining, informing, striking on a human truth that resonates – rather than causing us to skip or block an ad.

But here’s another memorable advertising saying. More than 100 years ago, the department store merchant John Wanamaker said: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half."

Fast forward to 2016’s "measurable" digital market, and we know it’s more than half. Google tells us that 56 per cent of our online display advertising never gets seen. 

Now here’s the rub. Fifty-six per cent is a lot more than one in five. More than half our digital advertising never gets seen at all. And that’s not because of ad-blocking. It’s a combination of viewability and ad fraud.

These are two different problems but they are linked. Viewability is what percentage of online ads actually get seen, as opposed to being hidden beneath the "fold" on the screen, or served "not in view of the user".

Almost all brands have a tech partner reporting back to them on the viewability of their campaign – and the benchmark of "acceptability" for viewability is 40-50 per cent. Leaving aside how unacceptable it is for advertisers to get only 40 per cent of what they pay for, what most of these tech partners aren’t telling advertisers is what percentage of those views were actually from humans. 

Up to 45 per cent of online traffic is non-human traffic, according to Adloox. That is robots unleashed across the internet by cybercriminals to click through our ads and rack up fraudulent bills for our clients. So, with up to 45 per cent of your views coming from bots, suddenly your 40 per cent viewability report is down to 22.5 per cent views from actual humans. That’s a lot of wasted spend.  

Before we lose too much sleep over the Adblockalypse, let’s focus on the 56 per cent of advertising that never gets seen, starting with the bots, and the fraudsters behind them. If we don’t, it may well be the robots that wipe out the future of advertising, before the Adblockalypse even gets a look-in.

Ross Barnes is the chief technology officer at M/SIX