Why ad tech is driving ad blocking – and what needs to be done about it

Why ad tech is driving ad blocking – and what needs to be done about it
Andy Mitchell joined Switch Concepts in May 2015 and is responsible for leading sales and business strategy to drive the adoption of unified auction and data technologies for large publishers. Andy has over 20 years of digital media and advertising technology experience, having held a number of leadership positions working with brands, agencies, agency trading desks (ATDs), demand-side platforms (DSPs), ad tech companies and the publisher market in Europe and the US. Immediately prior to joining Switch Concepts, Andy served as Managing Director of European Operations at programmatic video advertising platform BrightRoll, which was acquired by Yahoo! in November 2014 for $640m. Previous experience includes roles as media development director at Panasonic and development director at Ogilvy & Mather. Mitchell also served as managing director at DoubleClick UK, where he was responsible for growing the team from five to 140 employees, which led to success in securing deals with some of the most prominent brands in Europe.


It’s no surprise that there’s currently a lot of debate taking place between publishers, advertising agencies and brands over how to curb the ad-blocking explosion.

Much of the discussion tends to be focused on the quality of advertising content and how it is presented to consumers. The more relevant, inspiring, entertaining and informative the ad content, the more value and less ‘annoying’ it is likely to be, therefore reducing the demand for adblocking.

Meanwhile, the more interactive, flexible and responsive the ad unit containing the content, the more audiences will be engaged.

However, the current programmatic advertising system is also playing a key role in driving the ad-blocking phenomenon, and no matter how much more creative and engaging brands and agencies make the content, the practice is unlikely to go away until the issue is dealt with.

To a certain extent the current system has become the victim of its own success.

UX harmed by revenue maximising attitude

Programmatic technology has exploded onto the advertising scene over the past couple of years, and it has been instrumental in driving demand for digital ads.

The problem is that publishers’ understandable hunger to maximise advertising revenue is actually doing more harm than good to the user experience.

The key issue is the use of header bidding, which is implemented to create an auction platform that enables ad space to be sold to the highest bidder. The practice has been growing in popularity among publishers, and understandably so as it has achieved its goal of increasing digital advertising revenues.

If brands want to dissuade audiences from adblocking, then it’s vital to make sure they deliver the best possible experience

The problem is that it is also partly responsible for driving the ad-blocking trend. This is due to the fact that the header bidding process places a special wrapper into the publisher’s web browser which then lives and executes in the client environment stuffing in as many third party scripts as possible.

This puts increasing pressure on client-side servers, which has the unfortunate effect of slowing down the loading of web pages, through ‘latency’, and consequently damages the user experience.

By blocking the ads, the latency disappears, reducing the time it takes for pages to load, freeing consumers from the annoyance and frustration of having to wait for ads to appear before they can enjoy the content on their website of choice.

Of course, the latency problem is also likely to put people off visiting sites that are particularly badly affected – and smaller audiences equate to lower ad revenues.

Between a rock and a hard place 

So it seems that publishers are currently in a quandary, caught between a rock and a hard place. How can they grow their digital advertising revenues without damaging the user experience and driving their audiences to use adblocking?

In fact, the solution is relatively simple.

If publishers, agencies and brands want to dissuade audiences from turning towards adblocking, then it’s vital to make sure they deliver the best possible experience to consumers.

However, that does not have to mean opportunities for growing ad revenue have to be less of a priority. By switching to a first-party server-to-server solution, publishers will see the strain taken off client-side servers, allowing them to continue to give their audiences a great experience (and most importantly, reducing the need for adblocking), while still being able to partake in ad revenue opportunities.

Yes, high quality, relevant advertising content, accurately targeted to the right audiences is key to reducing adblocking, but the benefits of this strategy will never be fully realised until the current creaking system is replaced.

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