Call me Judas.
I spent the past 15-plus years of my life either working in advertising and marketing or covering it, and I’m here to tell you the single best thing you can do right now to improve your online experience is download ad blocking software.
I won’t recommend any one of them specifically, since this isn’t an ad. Look into it yourself and get one if you haven’t already.
An ad blocker will dramatically decrease the number of ads you see while web surfing. These ads have been increasing in volume, frequency and intrusiveness while simultaneously slowing your online experience.
How many of you already use an ad blocker? According to TechCrunch, only about 10 percent of Americans do right now, though the publication makes it sound like we’re late to the party: There are more than 200 million people worldwide who use one.
That’s probably at least partially because corporate media has done a good job keeping conversation and buzz about online ad blocking software largely out of its coverage until recently. I only discovered it over the summer thanks to a brave piece in Business Insider by Jim Edwards (one of the best and most trustworthy business reporters around, and worth following if you care about such things).
But once I did, my download speeds for web pages went from tricycle to motorcycle. It was a revelation, if not a revolution.
Up until now, most ad blocking software has been designed for personal computers, but the bytes really hit the fan when Apple announced new ad blocking technology for mobile, allowing iPhone users who update to iOS 9 (the new iPhone operating system) to block all ads seen through the phone’s Safari web browser.
That news was received by many in the mobile ad world with a panic like Godzilla had parachuted in on 9/11. Apple’s got about half the world’s smartphone market, and mobile web use passed computer Internet use just last year.
The ad-blocking tension between publishers and consumers is also escalating fast, with German publishing company Axel Springer—which recently acquired Business Insider, incidentally—announcing last week that it will be blocking readers who use ad-blocking technology.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing from the usual scolds of the corporate-ocracy about how consumers are being selfish, they’re getting this content for free, they should take all this advertising and like it. That’s bullshit and here’s why.
What nobody’s saying is that the pipes are getting clogged by all this advertising because the pipes aren’t that great.
Above all else, ad blockers’ growing threat to publishers and advertisers probably wouldn’t even be a problem if the United States had broadband speeds that matched the world’s best. Instead we rank 17th in Internet connection speed. If America had speeds that matched, say South Korea, Japan, Israel or…Latvia (?!?), web pages would not be slowed while loading with a half-dozen banners or skyscrapers, a pop-up and a pair of auto-play videos.
But nobody’s complaining about Comcast or Cox or Time Warner, who have slower speeds and higher prices than pretty much any country in the developed world (except Canada; poor Canada). They’re bitching about cheapskate consumers.
And that’s the second thing: In their increasingly urgent efforts to make up revenue losses that come with the decreasing circulation of physical magazines, as well as diminished prices for online advertising, publishers are cramming more and more ads on to pages in order to make up the difference in lost revenue. Then, since data says people like video, they started adding autoplay video, which slows page loads dramatically.
“It’s this more intrusive advertising that needs to go away, that’s driving ad blocker acceptance,” says Steve Hellbusch, media director at San Diego digital agency Mindgruve. “It’s supposed to be engaging, but it’s just distracting.”
So is it unexpected that readers would want to escape an onslaught of advertising that slows and diminishes their digital experience, as well as tracks their online movement? Of course not. I suspect, in the end, it will be publishers who make it impossible for users of ad blockers to read their content who will suffer.
Fortunately not everybody in the digital ad world has got a nervous twitch about ad blockers. Andreas Roell, chairman of San Diego’s programmatic ad-buying firm, Katana, takes a longer and more pragmatic view.
“Digital advertising has always been a bit of a cat-and-mouse game that marketers have had to deal with,” he points out. “There’s always a certain percentage of ‘something’—fraud, misalignment of ads—you have to deal with.”
Roell also points out another statistic that’s either overlooked or ignored by ad-blocker critics: “Time spent online continues to go up, so even if you have 10 percent of the people seeing fewer ads, the other 90 percent are spending more and more time online, so you’ve got more and more inventory for that 90 percent.”
As long as penetration sticks at 10 percent, Roell can probably afford to stay sanguine.
But the hope is if you’ve made it to the end of this column, the next thing will be to make it 10 percent plus one.