Businesses have employed digital advertising since the dawn of the internet, using the captive audience to share their message. And as web users, we’ve learned to cope with digital ads and understand that they’re just part of the browsing experience. This was largely true until ad blocking software became widely available in recent years. The most popular method comes in the form of browser extensions that work to filter third-party images, videos and pop-ups on a webpage. Using an ad blocker generally speeds up page load times and makes for a cleaner, more pleasant browsing experience.
With the growing use of ad blocking software, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to spread messages through traditional digital advertising. This presents good opportunities for public relations professionals, and serves as an instant reminder of the continued importance of earned media placements.
The data tells the story. A recent study published by PageFair and Adobe estimates that 198 million global web users were actively blocking online advertising as of June 2015. In the U.S., some 16 percent were utilizing the software to avoid online ads. The findings also show that 18-29 year-olds are the top age group to block ads, with a whopping 41 percent applying an ad blocking service.
Genres tell an interesting story, too, as 26.5 percent of visitors to gaming websites block ads. On the other end of the spectrum, just 2.5 percent of visitors to government sites are using the technology. Tech, sports and automotive websites are among the top seven categories where ads are blocked by visitors.
Web users polled said misuse of data and the increasing number of ads on websites are the top two reasons they use an ad blocker.
If companies are increasingly less able to penetrate web audiences through digital ads, an expanding importance can and should be placed in media relations. Not only are we able to get our message across from the writer’s point of view – which in most cases is received better by readers than advertising – but ad blocking never also comes into play.
These findings should be a major wakeup call to corporations and how they plan their communication strategies and budgets for the coming years. It’s evident that ad blocking software isn’t going anywhere and reaching audiences through traditional digital advertising is becoming increasingly less effective.
Steve Diehlman is an account director in Stratacomm’s Detroit office.