Ad Dodgers through the Ages

David Barton Acceptable Advertising, Ad Networks, Content Leave a Comment

October 29 is International Internet Day, recalling the first network connection on the Internet’s predecessor, the ARPANET. In celebration, PageFair wants to put adblocking in perspective with a little reminder of the fact that the Internet isn’t solely to blame for consumer ad avoidance tendencies.

The rise of adblocking has justifiably made a lot of advertisers and publishers very nervous. With mobile Internet usage exploding, Apple’s implicit acceptance of iOS adblocking and the unleashing of new adblockers on Android, it seems as though 2015 could be the year in which adblocking really starts to hurt.

PageFair’s numbers show that adblocking has been rapidly accelerating over the last few years. More people access the Internet on a regular basis, and more information is absorbed by each person. The amount of advertising being sucked in has also increased. Whereas just a few decades ago, a few hours of TV might result in a half-hour of (easily avoidable – just mute the sound or visit the refrigerator) advertising, an hour of Internet surfing now means exposure to thousands of commercial messages intermingled with content.

Human attention has been recognized as a scarce commodity for half a century. Herbert Simon argued in 1971 that “in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes.”

The rise of adblocking is an extreme allergic reaction to the information overload of pervasive advertising. However, advertising has always relied on the limited tolerance of consumers.

A Brief Timeline of Ad Avoidance

1759 Samuel Johnson complains that “advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused”.
1934 Modern Mechanix magazine previews device that “shuts off radio advertising” by turning off voice announcements
1952 Blab-Off remote control created specifically to silence advertising
1969 First message sent on Internet
1975 VCRs go mainstream and viewers start fast forwarding commercials
2002 Henrik Sorenson codes first iteration of Adblock for fun
2007 Adblock Plus listed as one of PCWorld’s 100 best products
2008 YouTube starts pre-roll advertising; Google Chrome launches
2009 Google Chrome hits 9.8% usage
2010 Adblock Plus made available for Google Chrome; Google browser hits 22.4% usage by year-end
2014 Google Chrome accounts for 61.6% of desktop Internet users
2015 Adblocking made easily available to iOS and Android users; mobile Internet use accounts for 38% of all web browsing

Our brief timeline of ad avoidance demonstrates that advertisers may not need to panic over adblocking. While it’s moving faster, and is more effective and all-encompassing than previous iterations, adblocking on the Internet is just another example of people reacting against an excess of demands on their limited attention.

Users might be turning away from ads because of overload, risk of malware, or because a handful advertisers went full tragedy of the commons and provoked a knee-jerk wave of advertising phobia. Whatever the reason, it isn’t new. From the Blab-Off to Adblock Plus, people have always avoided ads to some degree and it’s up to advertising creatives to find intelligent, non-invasive ways to overcome that aversion.

A well-known quote by Howard Luck Gossage was recently used to justify native advertising:

The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.

Native advertising or branded content might (or might not) turn out to be the goose that lays the golden egg, but, as advertisers roll up their sleeves and channel their inner Don Draper, it’s worth remembering that a little restraint and a lot of creativity can go a long way. As Gossage also said of advertising:

I think it’s obvious you can’t just have more and more of the stuff. I think it’s gotta be selective.

In our tests at PageFair we have found that people who see few ads (because they block most of them) interact with ads far more than people who see many ads. Less is more.