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What Every CMO Should Know About Adblockers

Dubbed one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit is the pop-up ad. You’re in the middle of reading a news article or blog, and BOOM! – a pop-up box appears out of nowhere.

“No, I don’t want to sign up for 15% off! Now where was I?” You read on.

BOOM! Another one. “No, I don’t want to subscribe!”

Frustrated and annoyed, you try to leave the page. BOOM! “Yes, I’m sure I want to exit – and never visit your site again.”

So loathsome are these ads that Ethan Zuckerman, the man who invented pop-up ads, apologized to the world in a lengthy explanation of his original intentions. 

Digital ads as a whole are often annoying, but unlike the pop-up ad, they are simply ignored. So why do we as marketers continue to use them? Because they often work.

The Rise of Adblockers

The growing popularity of ad blocking shows that ad-blocking technology may do to digital ads what DVRs have done to TV commercials. This issue became even hotter when Apple announced a new ad-blocking feature in the iOS 9 operating system. Available in the App Store, these ad-blocking applications enable Apple’s 700 million iPhone users to easily block advertising, trackers, and other third-party scripts. 

While this represents only 6% of total online users, it is cause for concern among marketers and publishers alike.

By the end of this year, ad blocking technology will cost an estimated $41.4 billion in ad revenue.

Backlash Against Adblockers

A growing number of websites have asked readers to turn off adblockers in order to view an article. Most recently, Forbes blocked its content to visitors who used adblockers, causing quite a backlash among ad-blocking advocates who accused Forbes of attempting “to hold their content hostage over people’s use of adblockers.” 

Unfortunately for Forbes, when visitors complied, they were immediately served with pop-under malware the could infect their device and silently steal passwords, personal information, and banking details. 

What’s a Marketer to Do?

Google has already begun the trend of only paying publishers for ads that are 100% viewable (ie. not blocked as irrelevant to the user’s experience). The reality is that digital advertising isn’t going away. What will go away: irrelevant, intrusive, interruptive advertising.

In a recent blog post, “Why You Should Ditch Your Ad Spend for Personalized Experiences,” I made a case for marketers to focus on developing creative, personalized experiences that demonstrate brand value to their customers. A recent example of this approach is GE’s “Unimpossible Missions” campaign

Other creative examples of compelling customer experiences:

Nike Training Club – a free functional training app. The app helps customers to set their goals towards a healthier lifestyle. Nike becomes part of their customers’ day-to-day activities, while gaining brand awareness and preference.

Brother Moto – a DIY garage for the moto-curious located here in Atlanta – makes its profit through a very interesting and innovative business model. This DIY garage provides the necessary tools, environment and knowledge for their “members” to customize, experiment and repair their motorbikes themselves. 

Understand Thy Customer

“Top performers understand the entire customer journey much better than their peers (20% versus 6%) and have much better processes for capturing insights about customers and feeding them back into their marketing programs to improve performance (30% versus 11%).”
~The Marketer Strikes Back

Best-in-class brands consistently leverage data to gain new insights into what proves to be meaningful and relevant to buyers. And this pays off: An increase in brand attachment increases 35% in spending on the brand and an 18% increase in category share.


With this approach, adblockers may do to digital advertising what DVRs have done to TV commercials, but they won’t stop you from business growth.

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