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Five better ways to win the #AdBlock race

Block Evil. Automatically reads the tagline of a popular ad blocking software. In another news, Adblock Plus, a popular browser plugin and app is not illegal, ruled a court in Germany last week. But the media giant, Alex Springer, who took them to court returned home with a consolation prize where Adblock Plus may not charge Axel Springer to have its ads show up for it users. The win for Alex Springer maybe partial, but nevertheless sets a major precedence in the industry where, advertisers are anxious and publishers are desperate to quash ad blockers.

From an average Joe, to industry leaders, understanding the online ad blockers industry has been an attempt similar to nailing jelly to the wall.  The business model of these ad blockers also complicated, while some of them are not-for-profit, most of them are touted as wolf in sheep’s clothing. Ad blockers have been around a decade or more now, but since the time even Apple announced that ad blockers will work on iPhones, the attention hungry advertisers and money hungry publishers are on a wild goose chase to quash the ad block players by deploying a wide range of tactics including suing them repeatedly.

So far, ad block makers are undeterred and seem to be winning thanks to millions of people using them. It pays a lot to make the web what it is. Content. By and large, everything on the web from videos, music, news articles, and memes are content. Someone has to produce it, someone has to host it and someone has to go the whole nine yards to make it free of cost for users to enjoy it.  Out of 110 million readers of the New York Times, less than 3 million readers are paid subscribers. There’s no way they can survive if not for being an ad supported business, and they are not alone. Traditionally, advertising has subsidized the cost of content creation and distribution.  Ad supported business have thrived for centuries, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV shows, mobile games and so on, the whole concept of ‘freemium’ is a derivative from this simple proposition; either pay money for an uninterrupted content experience, or pay by giving your time and attention to the ads.

Advertisers and media giants have tried to mitigate the impact of ad blockers by various means, they are increasingly adhering to acceptable ads (no pop-ups, auto play videos, etc). Speculation is ripe about the likes of Google, Microsoft and Taboola sharing as much as 30% of the ad revenue with ad blocking apps to get the ads served by them as whitelisted.  A few publishers are running scripts to ascertain if a reader has blocked ads, if so, the page won’t load until the reader turns off the ad blocker or opts for a paid subscription.

All of this looks like a collective problem the industry is trying to win over, but what can an average advertiser do? Here are a few thoughts:

Put your consumers first:
Nearly 90% of Google’s 74 billion dollar revenue comes from their advertising solutions, given how important ads are to their business, it isn’t it ironical they allow the growth of ad blocking apps on Android and Chrome extensions?
In a situation where they have to side between their advertisers that use Google’s ad solutions vs. an average consumer, they side with consumer, they respect the free will and choices consumers have.
As advertiser we have to learn to respect our audience too, ensure we don’t creep them out by too much retargeting or needless carpet bombing.

Make ads that are internet first:
A lab coat wearing dental expert recommending a toothpaste in a 30 second commercial may work well for TV, but even my three year old son knows how to skip ads on YouTube.  As an advertiser, the onus is on us to respect the medium and craft communications accordingly.

Make ads that people love:
Watching the super bowl or browsing fashion magazines is fun and entertaining, thanks to the well-crafted ads which are cute, laughable, weird, shocking or anything but definitely not boring.  The sheer amount of PR they generate yields more bang for the buck than a full page takeover that irks people to close the tab.

Check who’s in bed with you:
Ad networks are a dime a dozen now, and some of their antics are scary for advertisers, let alone end consumers. From running ugly bait and switch ads to leading people to click spurious links, they do it all to capture leads or increase clicks.  Advertisers have to ensure the utmost caution in choosing their ad network partners carefully.  Desperation to reduce campaign costs may prove costly for the brand if they lose their customer’s trust.

Experiment with content:
Redbull’s Stratos Jump, Volvo’s Epic Split, Melbourne’s Dumb Ways to Die, BMW Eyes on Gigi, Honda’s Type R are just a few great examples of content experiments which yielded runaway success. The secret ingredient? Create something new and refreshing which has ‘social currency’ and people will not just watch it but love to share it as well; that’s because it makes the person sharing it cool too.

In summary, the increase in applying data and technology to sharp focus on audience shouldn’t mar advertising’s core trait – creativity.

Views are personal. I tweet at @sree_raman
This article originally appeared in AdAge India 

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