Users of ad block software are about to become – ironically – a very promising segment for marketers. To understand the importance of this emerging ad blocker segment, consider the emergence of the teenage consumer.
The emergence of the ‘teenager’
It was only at the end of the 19th century that the relatively new science of psychology began to identify adolescence as a discrete developmental stage in which children hovered for approximately ten years before becoming adults. Adolescence was seen as a period of “storm and stress” that was characterized by conflict with parents, mood disruptions, and risky behavior.1 Adolescents continued to primarily be considered in terms of their attitudes to their elders and to society for the next forty years, until the emergence of the “teen-ager”.
LIFE magazine introduced American readers to the concept of the teenager in 1944, heralding a “big and special market” ripe for targeting by the movie and music industry. Later that same year Seventeen Magazine was launched, complete with teen-targeted ads. Conflict between the old and the new seemed inevitable. Teenage gangs clashed with police, and teenage heart-throb Frank Sinatra’s Columbus Day concert sparked a riot by 30,000 girls in Times Square. The New York Times went so far as to publish a “Teen-Age Bill of Rights” in 1945 in an attempt to provide some perspective and calm tensions.
The teenage consumer, a backstory
But post-war America entered an era of prosperity and teenagers enjoyed unprecedented freedom and financial independence. By 1959, when market researcher Mark Abrams published The Teenage Consumer, teenagers were the most promising emerging consumer segment. They were no longer a force to be stamped out or tamed – they were a market to be targeted.
Ultimately this had a profound effect on culture and the economy. The culture and consumerism of the teenager – once seen as strange and threatening – has become the dominant mode for all ages. As writer Jon Savage argues:
To some extent, we are all teenagers now. Pop culture – once considered marginal – is now fully integrated into all levels of society. 2
2015: the year that ad blocking went mainstream
Today’s ad blockers, like the teens before them, are emerging as an important segment. Ad blockers do not just avoid advertising, they take active steps to purge all ads from their online experience (and routinely refuse to reverse these steps even for websites they enjoy). They are young, predominantly male, tech-savvy and likely to have high disposable income.
And whereas the integration of teenage attitudes and interests took decades, things move faster in the Internet Age. PageFair’s latest report shows that almost 200 million people globally were blocking ads by mid-2015. Since then, ad blocking has received unprecedented media coverage that could lead to its rapid expansion in the US and elsewhere:
- In August the PageFair-Adobe 2015 report on the state of ad blocking received an extraordinarily high level of attention, with citations in the leading global press and trade publications.
- Also that month the popular US radio shock jock Howard Stern was introduced to adblocking live on air, and was heard by 3.2 million listeners from a decidedly broader demographic than that of the ad blocker early adopters.3
- In September Apple incorporated support for ad blocking in its update to iOS on iPhones and iPads.
- In November CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden said “everybody should be running ad block software” to protect against malvertising.
- November and December saw the most sustained and elaborate mainstream references when three successive episodes of the popular animated television show South Park parodied ad blocking – introducing a mainstream TV audience to the practise.4
Generation unreachable can be reached
The ad blocker segment is becoming of increasing importance to advertisers. But there are inherent risks in targeting a group which has actively rejected ads. Think of OK Soda, a calculated attempt by Coca-Cola to reach Generation X in the 1990s with “a jaded soda marketed to people distrustful of marketing, with accompanying advertising designed for people who hated advertising” 5. OK Soda was a dismal failure and was pulled from shelves less than a year after launch. The lesson is that a segment sensitive to – and cynical about – advertising needs to be approached carefully.
PageFair has the means to put ads in front of the ad blocker segment. But for this to work advertisers must respect their audience and avoid unnecessary tracking and snooping. PageFair’s survey data shows that ad blockers are receptive to respectful ads. Two thirds of people who currently block ads are willing to view skippable video, image, and text ads. Provided the format is not annoying, data infringing, or slow, the new segment can accept respectful ads.
And we have seen in our tests that ad blockers tend to interact with ads – when they see them – more than standard web users because they see no other ads.
The ad blocker segment
Reaching the ad blocking segment is a privilege that brands have never experienced before. This new segment sees no other ads. And those brands that are seen – with low volume, respectful ads – receive more attention than the most garish and brazen formats have been able to achieve when competing in the world before ad blocking.
It’s time to pay attention, because this segment holds the promise of great opportunity. Like the earliest teenagers, ad blockers reject old models. Treat the ad blockers with respect and they will respond in kind.
- Hall, G. Stanley. Adolescence (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904). ↩
- Savage, Jon. The Independent, June 25, 2010. ↩
- Stern’s show is the top content on SiriusXM, the leading automobile-integrated satellite radio network in the US, and is enjoyed by around 3.2 million listeners every day. According to SiriusXM, its subscribers are “on average 46 years old and make $100,000 a year”, a very different group from the existing ad blocking demographic. ↩
- South Park has been around for almost two decades and has suffered from declining viewing numbers during some of that time, but the last few seasons have seen numbers increasing. The climax of the ambitious latest season was a three-part episode dealing with artificial intelligence, political correctness, gun ownership, and ad blocking. The South Park audience of over four million predominantly young males was repeatedly exposed to the concept over the course of weeks, along with handy demonstrations from several characters of irritating and intrusive Internet advertising. If any of them had never heard of ad blocking before then, South Park will have changed that. ↩
- Schulman, Michael. The Believer, February 2014. ↩