Over the last year, we've seen several publishers introduce measures designed to tackle the spread of ad-blockers. In their quest to make sure ads are being seen by consumers, some have simply disabled access to their sites unless visitors turn off their blocking tools. Others have developed versions of their sites which feature far fewer ads, have asked people to consider donations/subscriptions, or have introduced messages explaining why advertising is crucial to funding free access (and journalism more generally).
Despite this, there's been no respite in the numbers who are turning to blockers. In fact, our research shows that half of online adults are now blocking at least some ads on their mobiles or desktops - almost double the number reported at the beginning of 2015. What's more, while mobile ad-blocking has so far been concentrated in Asia Pacific, the conditions are right for it to increase in popularity across Europe and North America - regions where our data shows that people are spending longer and longer on their mobiles and where more and more online activities are becoming mobile-first rather than PC- or laptop-first (a transition which took place some time ago in APAC as well as in most emerging markets).
Of course, some consumers will always resist ads no matter what, using any means at their disposal to avoid them. But there's an important segment within this group who are not averse to all advertising per se, and who are willing to engage with some ads when they can see the value exchange. That would be the 25% of ad-blockers in our research who fall into the "Selective Blocker" segment - those people who use ad-blocking tools some of the time, but who also tell us they have nevertheless clicked on or interacted with an online ad in the last month. The problem here is that, even when 25% of blockers can be convinced about the necessity of online ads, the industry itself is still serving too many ads which are, in effect, "anti-consumer".
Recently, Ad Lightning's 'Ad Quality Report for Publishers' found that over 40% of online ads are larger than the industry standards - and will therefore slow down sites and eat into data allowances. Stats from elsewhere make for equally sobering reading; Google recently reported that the average load time for mobile sites has slowed down to 19 seconds over 3G connections while, according to Ad Lightning's research, ads as large as 4MB are being served to mobile browsers.
If a creative agency packs more into an ad to make it animated, and then tech partners add on tracking scripts, it's easy to see why ads can quickly become so heavy that they weigh down a site. Crucially, though, this is a key motivation behind ad-blocking. When asked why they turn to these tools in our research, one in three blockers say it's to speed up page-load times, while one in five say they want to preserve data on their phones. The issue of ads eating into data allowances is especially important for developing markets, where people are often reliant on expensive and slow mobile connections.
Beyond this, there's also the issue that the ads served are often of poor-quality, are too intrusive or are deemed irrelevant. Indeed, when we look at ad-blocking motivations, people are most likely to say that ads are annoying or irrelevant, that they take up too much space, or that there are too many of them. Poor user experience is what lies at the heart of this issue - something that has undoubtedly worsened over time as more and more consumers are getting online via mobiles, with smaller and more easily invaded screens.
Although many publishers have relatively little control over the programmatic ads that are displayed on their sites, some high-profile ones have nevertheless acted decisively to guarantee that their ads will stay within the limits of acceptable data. But in the interests of consumers, publishers and advertisers, there is an urgent need for ads to be slimmed down across the board. Too many websites are yet to take any meaningful steps here, and until consumers are convinced that the ads they might see will not be too large, invasive or annoying, their desire to turn to ad-blockers is not going to change.