Who is using ad-blockers?

Ad-blocking, depending on what report you're reading, might cost the industry anything between $1bn and $20bn. But wildly varying cost estimates might be less useful for marketers than actually understanding what the current ad-blocking landscape looks like.

Ad blocking: not mainstream yet
Ad blocking: not mainstream yet

One reason for the hysteria is the arrival of Apple’s iOS 9 software update, which will make ad-blocking on mobile Safari easy for the first time.

Popular desktop ad-blocking services like Adblock Plus have, up until recently, been barred from the Google Play store. Similarly, Apple regulates its apps closely.

In theory, better access to ad-blocking apps and software on iPads and iPhones could take ad-blocking on mobile mainstream.

GlobalWebIndex profiled around 50,000 global internet users in Q2 to study who is using ad-blockers on desktop, and how. The company found a significant minority have ad-blockers installed, at three in 10 users.

Jason Mander, head of trends, said: "Ad-blocking has become a truly global trend, with over a quarter of internet users across the world using these tools on their PCs and laptops.

"The trend is currently being led by the younger age groups but it’s clear that more people are doing it in all the major demographic groups."

He added: "A key factor to note is that ad-blockers tend to spend longer than others using the internet each day. They’re tired of the disruption and inconvenience that unwanted ads can bring."

Here are some surprising findings on who is using ad-blockers already:

iPhone owners

iPhone owners are already blocking ads online, at least on desktop. According to GlobalWebIndex’s figures, 29% of iPhone owners already have ad-blockers installed on their PCs. A third of iPhone 6 owners block ads on sites, suggesting they will take the same approach on mobile when they install iOS 9.

Mainstream web users

Ad-blocking has associations with a particular kind of internet user – the type who might hang out on Reddit and use a VPN to mask their IP address.

Looking at the spread of ad-blocker users across social networks, GlobalWebIndex found Reddit users were indeed most likely to have one installed, at 45% of active users. But there’s a strong showing from other mainstream social networks, with 36% of Instagram users and 36% of Pinterest users having one installed. Around a third of Facebook users have ad-blockers installed too.

A fifth of women

Ad-block users skew younger and male, but a significant proportion of women has installed one too. According to GlobalWebIndex, 31% of men online and 23% of women use ad-blockers.

Big spenders

Ad-blocking is a kind of piracy, but that doesn’t mean those who install them are generally unwilling to pay for content.

GlobalWebIndex notes they are actually more likely than the average internet user to pay for digital entertainment. Almost a quarter of those using ad-blockers had paid to download music in the past month, compared with 18% of all internet users. A similar proportion paid for e-books and apps.

When it came to streaming, there was a larger disparity. More than a fifth of those using ad-blockers were paying for a film or TV streaming service (like Netflix), compared with 18% of all internet users.

They were consistently more likely to pay for services like email, storage, music streaming, and, interestingly, news sites. Just 34% of those using ad-blockers said they were unlikely to pay for any online service, compared with almost 50% of wider internet users.

In some ways, this isn’t all that surprising. Independent piracy studies have shown that those who pirate music or film actually end up spending more on gigs and cinema tickets. The same might apply to online content.

People who don’t trust advertisers

It’s unsurprising that people who don’t like ads are using ad-blockers.

Most consumers using ad-blockers are more concerned by how companies are using their data than by general erosion of privacy.

Some 69% of those who had ad-blockers installed said they disliked their personal data being used by firms.

Worryingly for brands, that’s true of the wider internet population, suggesting many will be predisposed to installing ad-blockers. Some 63% of internet users said they were worried about how their personal data was being used.