Ad blocking, receptivity and payment: A complex love triangle | M&M Global

Ad blocking, receptivity and payment: A complex love triangle

Ad Blocking remains a hot industry issue based on its continued rise on desktop and mobile and it’s costing the online advertising industry billions of dollars annually. Kantar Millward Brown’s Duncan Southgate, in partnership with GroupM, explored who blocks ads and why, and recommends what advertisers, agencies and publishers can do to reduce ad blocking.

Ad blocking is just the tip of the iceberg

Online ad blocking is arguably just the newest and most measureable example of an ad avoidance issue, which extends across multiple media.  Our analysis shows that people who actively avoid ads in one medium are more likely to avoid them in another.  People installing ad blockers are also more likely to be the same people putting the kettle on when the TV commercial break starts.

The future growth of ad blocking depends in part on the pool of people who want to avoid advertising. Our study suggests roughly three quarters of people try to avoid advertising in one way or another, but the group of people who actively avoid is lower, 28% claim to have installed a desktop ad blocking plug-in and 13% claim to have installed a mobile ad blocking app.

Ad avoiders are more likely to be young and reasonably well educated males who are not particularly heavy consumers of media. They are more likely to be streamers of audio or video content. The primary reasons people install an ad blocker are because they consider ads to be an interruption or annoyance. Many also fear that ads slow devices or claim ads are generally not relevant, or helpful (especially on desktops). So will better ads truly help to hold back the ad blocking tide?

Ad receptivity drives ad avoidance & blocking

We also learned that ad blocking is significantly linked to ad receptivity, so increasing positivity towards online advertising may help reduce ad blocking.  Online ad blocking is highest among people who are least receptive to ads (and this applies to both desktop and mobile).  Within desktop, online video ad receptivity has the strongest relationship with ad blocking, so the industry should focus most attention on this format.

Given the importance of receptivity, advertisers clearly need to identify advertising formats, places and moments when people are more open to their messages.  Our analysis looked at many different individual ad formats, which can be categorised into four distinct clusters, with the following receptivity hierarchy:

  • Traditional, non-digital – TV ads, outdoor ads, print ads
  • Controllable online video – skippable pre-rolls, click to play video, sponsored lenses)
  • Online display
  • Non-controllable online video – non-skippable pre-rolls, social auto-play videos)

Many people are also less receptive to ads on mobile devices than laptops or PCs. While age plays a role in receptivity this is not a simple linear relationship across all formats.  Globally Gen Z are less positive than Millennials and Gen X to traditional and non-controllable online video, but more positive to controllable online video. Millennials are most positive to online display ads.

Publishers should consider offering subscription-based ad avoidance options

Ad annoyance drives willingness to pay to block ads, but this is low (just 12% overall, 8% on desktop, and 7% on mobile), but the economics of content is changing. Gen Z and Gen Y might be more likely to avoid ads, but they are also more willing to pay for premium content. And people willing to pay are generally less receptive to non-controllable video ads and more likely to block ads if they’re not given a premium, ad-free alternative on their favourite sites.

This suggests that more publishers may want to consider mixed revenue models. While the majority of people will tolerate advertising as long as it is not too invasive, there are a hard core of ad avoiders where a payment option may help reduce more radical ad blocking. People’s poor opinions about adsare what drive them towards avoidance, but it could also drive them to pay.

Tips for advertisers, agencies and publishers

The global online advertising industry has urgent work to do. Initiatives like the Coalition for Better Ads are making progress with best practice guidelines and industry standards which will remove the least popular online ad formats. But advertisers and publishers shouldn’t wait to act. Our global and country-level data makes it clear that shifting media budget away from non-controllable online video formats, especially on mobile devices, is the easiest way for marketers to help improve attitudes to online advertising. And, in time, this could help reduce ad blocking.

Publishers should also consider offering premium ad-free access options which will appeal to some people who are currently turning to ad blockers. Industry efforts to actively promote the benefits of not blocking ads could usefully be targeted at younger, educated males, and delivered via streaming platforms.

In addition to these initiatives, there are other factors which may help. Advertisers need to create more compelling content, publishers need to reduce advertising clutter and media agencies need to improve targeting, using more frequency capping and judicious retargeting to reduce irritation.

Ad blocking is everyone’s problem to solve, but if we urgently address the key issues, there should be a whole lot more advertising love to go around.


Duncan Southgate

Global brand director, media and digital, Kantar Millward Brown

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