Has Facebook Got A New Way To Control Ads, Or Is It More Of The Same?

23/08/2016 14:55

Some months ago, Facebook noted in one of its earnings reports that it was concerned by the rise of ad-blocking. Now, a blog post from the social network has given us a sign of how it's going to respond to this growing trend on desktops - with Zuckerberg and Co. promising 'a new way to control ads' to ensure that they are not disruptive or irrelevant.

Although mobile apps currently remain largely protected from ad-blocking (which is where Facebook is making vast and ever-growing profits), it's not hard to see why the biggest social network on the block would want to tackle the issue on PCs and laptops. According to our data, it's now over a third of internet users aged 16-64 globally who are turning to desktop ad-blockers, with the figures peaking in the US - which still remains the most important market for advertising spend. There's also a clear correlation with age which sees the youngest group in our research (16-24s) almost 15 percentage points ahead of the oldest one (55-64s). Look at this among Facebookers and they might be pretty much in line with the average but, tellingly, 16-24 year-olds on the service over-index. So, it might be a major trend already, but the demographics suggest that it's going to become still more widespread in future years.

In its blog post, Facebook is quite right to point out that users are most likely cite annoyance or ad-overload as the top reasons for turning to ad-blockers. In our data, a significant 60% of desktop blockers say that 'too many ads are annoying or irrelevant', with 1 in 2 reporting that they take up too much screen space and that there are too many of them. These reasons significantly outscore privacy-related concerns (30%) or a dislike or personalised ads (25%).

On the surface, Facebook would therefore appear to have hit the nail on the head when it promises to give users more control over the ads they see and to end 'bad ads' which are a 'waste of [people's] time'. This is very much in line with what we've said previously about ad experiences needing to become more relevant, rewarding and user-centric. But read the blog post a little more closely and it's clear that this move from Facebook comes at a cost. In Facebook's own words: 'As we offer people more powerful controls, we'll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software.' Put another way, it's essentially going to force ads on desktop users by making them indistinguishable from other types of content - probably by changing the scripting so that ad-blockers think they are the same as organic content.

To defend this move, Facebook notes that it is funded by ads and that they 'support our mission of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected.' Now, few would disagree that consumers need more education about the trade-offs involved in online advertising, but the one thing that many internet users hate more than anything else is having changes forced on them - especially ones which will re-introduce something that they have actively sought to eliminate from their social experience.

That's particularly pertinent on a service like Facebook where those employing ad-blockers still see a whole range of commercially-focused posts based on the brands they have chosen to follow, or the brand-related updates which are shared by their contacts. Even with an ad-blocker installed, Facebookers are still seeing a pretty high number of posts which are essentially ads (or which serve the same purpose). In fact, with its emphasis on 'native' content and user-shared posts, Facebook is arguably better protected from the rise of ad-blocking than most other names in the digital space.

Coupled with the huge profits and the increasing levels of mobile uptake that Facebook reports each quarter, it's not hard to see how some users are likely to be seriously irked that it wants to force ads to appear on their desktops by making them slip under radar of existing ad-blocking software. Of course, digital consumers like to complain loudly about pretty much any change they experience online, and many among this group might well get used to seeing desktop ads again quite quickly, particularly if their reintroduction is handled carefully. Even so, it's seems a shame that Facebook's much-needed emphasis on control, relevance and consumer education as ways to tackle ad-blocking could be overshadowed by it removing the element of choice from its users.


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