Adblock users in their own words: what makes them tick?

David Barton Acceptable Advertising, AdBlock, Content 4 Comments

We’re in the process of carrying out a series of surveys to get a better idea of why Internet users are resorting to adblockers in ever-increasing numbers. We expect the usual suspects to show up, but with adblocking rapidly becoming a mainstream phenomenon, we want to see whether the extensive media coverage and debate in 2015 has had any significant effect on how people think about adblocking. Are users more inclined to worry about privacy, have moral qualms about adblocking increased, or is it ultimately all about escaping from annoying ads?

Previous surveys have been included in our annual PageFair adblocking reports. In 2014, we asked adblock users why they had decided to install an adblocker. 45% just wanted to remove all ads, while 17% were worried about privacy.

2014

Our survey in 2015 took a slightly different approach, asking those who were not using adblockers to tell us what might make them start. The results show that privacy concerns had the edge over simple dislike of advertising, with 50% of non-adblocking respondents worried about the misuse of their private information.

2015

The new series of surveys will be used in our next report later this year, but in the meantime we want to highlight some of the comments on the PageFair blog and explore what our own readers have been telling us over the years about their attitudes towards advertising and adblocking.

In their own words

Commenters on our blog tend to have a professional interest in the subject, so many are vehemently opposed to adblocking:

I look at it this way. The ads on a site are the admission fee for visiting the site. If the fee is too high (ads too numerous or obnoxious) I don’t continue to visit the site. The use of Adblock and its equivalents is wrong. It is stealing. And the people who use it know this and are deliberately stealing, no matter what they say. Pvblivs

Others condemn adblocking but are more understanding of the problems that have led to its rapid adoption. Mani Gandham, a regular commenter on PageFair posts and author of a recent TechCrunch piece on adblocking, argues that publishers are partly to blame:

Publishers have prioritized short-term revenue over long-term UX and performance of their sites. It’s perfectly possible to make fast-loading sites tailored to each device but it’s just not what most publishers care about compared to the pressure of ads and analytics to squeeze out more dollars from the audience. Mani Gandham

The failings of publishers are a common theme:

Ad-blockers are a clear signal that many sites are falling down in serving their customers’ needs & wants. We want news, info & entertainment, but not at the price of the time-, privacy-, bandwidth- and sanity-destroying ads & their trackers. Walt French

Or that at the very least publishers need to find a balance and engage in more debate with their audience:

What the industry has studiously avoided precipitating is a debate with users about what they are prepared to accept, with the result that they can easily be accused of arrogance. All commerce involves finding a balance between all participants, and web advertising and tracking certainly doesn’t have some magic opt out on that conversation. Mark

All or Nothing 

There is often an undercurrent which suggests that visitors to sites are feeling quite conflicted about the all-or-nothing aspect of adblocking, exhibiting an awareness that publishers depend upon advertising to survive. Mikegale complained that “we are faced with a bit of a monoculture, ads everywhere, no choice but to block them or block the sites they come from”, while others deliberately reward some sites by turning off adblocking:

… when you activate adblock by default it will block ads on all sites, I only deactivate it on sites as a way of “thanks” for good content. We are living in the “thanks economy” now. adam smith

Even knowing that a site is aware of the problem can go a long way for some, although our data indicates that whitelisting enjoys a short-lived honeymoon:

… sites who gently insert a message like “Hey, we see you are using an ad blocker. Would you like to support us another way?” Such a message me tells me the site owners care. For them, I will re-evaluate my use of a blocker, and much more often than not, turn it off for them. qka

However, publishers are ultimately seen by many as responsible for their own plight. Caving in to the demands of advertisers may well be the short-term way to keep bringing in revenue, but it may be time for some content-producing sites to take a stand and say no to the worst advertisers.

If you want me to turn off AdBlock, you need to insist on reasonable, non-offensive, non-animated ads. If your ad provider doesn’t do that, get a better one, or lean on yours until they do. PhasmaFelis

Sympathy for publishers was generally in short supply. Faith in the Internet’s ability to conjure up alternative revenue models was not:

Find a way to generate revenue without littering my brain. If yofu can’t, someone else will. Daniel Plain

Filed and Monitored 

Privacy and tracking concerns have started to come to the fore in the last couple of years, with users becoming uncomfortable about the amount of personal data advertisers are apparently accumulating. Some of our readers expressed vague unease about privacy and security:

… much more concerned about the tracking than about the ads. Tinfoil 2.0

… privacy is my own major motivation for blocking all ads, and where possible tracking. Mark

… ads are a security threat: too much insidious stuff can be delivered by ads and trackers. D.Smithee

We expect privacy and safety to feature heavily in future, as the net increasingly becomes our sole tool for managing our lives in all spheres. Malvertising scares are likely to drive more hold-outs to adblocking, as they weigh up the personal risk versus their desire to support their favorite sites. Nobody wants to end up dealing with credit card fraud for the sake of a funny video.

Video Noise 

While privacy and security are increasingly important factors, advertising itself was predictably the main reason to turn to adblocking, with video pre-roll ads and popups attracting significant levels of anger:

I object to the bandwidth hogging video ads, the flash ads, the animated ads, popovers and popunders. dgladys

Stop the ads popping up on every youtube video and I will gladly stop using adblock. (That is the main reason I use adblock because having to watch long ads before watching the actual youtube video is extremely annoying!) Janet Ng

This is exactly why I installed Ad-Block last Friday. YouTube pre-roll ads. The pre-roll ads are just infuriating. Every single video would have a stupid pre-roll ad. I’m a web developer and content creator, been in this game for 10+ years, have known about ad-blocking software for a very long time, and this is the first time I am compelled to actually use it. sh0em0nkey

It isn’t difficult to recall or find examples of video ads that can jolt a viewer, but reubot provided an ad that made them think that they “would hate to have been wearing headphones”.

We have to agree…

Under Assault 

The Internet Advertising Bureau UK recently released results from a survey it carried out on over 2,000 adults in Great Britain. The study found that the “main reason for ad blocking is to block all ads” and that “those who block ads find adverts too interruptive”.

IAB UK

Using the Internet is an active, goal-driven pastime. Nobody likes to feel interrupted or thwarted by some unexpected obstacle when about to read a short article or view a video which might only last a minute or two. With so much content being consumed at a rapid pace, there just isn’t room for advertisers to serve their own interests and inject ads at every page refresh or video load. This is experienced by the consumer as harassment and is often counter-productive:

… when I see an ad for something I refuse to buy that product out of spite. derpasaurus

It might surprise advertisers and publishers to realize that adblockers often feel overwhelmed or under assault from ads. If adblocking can be seen as going nuclear on ads, these users feel fully justified in their often visceral response:

If someone kept jumping out at me in the street shoving pieces of A4, with advertising slogans written all over them, in front of my face as I browsed a shop window I’d punch their effing lights out. Rockman Rock

… when someone is canvassing rubbish at my door I also slam the door in his face. So why should I accept this behavior in my browser, which has become my virtual door in the online world. Lestat

Some measure of hope can be gleaned from the fact that many of the comments made by inveterate adblockers refer to the blocking of annoying ads, implying that they may backtrack if advertisers rein themselves in:

Don’t pop up ads. Don’t flash ads. And definitely don’t auto-play audio/video ads. Don’t intrude on my silence! And stop tracking me as I traverse different websites! Jason

I will not tolerate ads that are intrusive or obnoxious. I make no excuses for it, I simply won’t deal with it. IntQrk

The adblockers who have commented on the PageFair blog over the years have not taken the decision to block lightly. They know their reasons and they know that they risk losing content they enjoy. But it is clear that there are limits. Publishers and advertisers need to start respecting these limits before the mainstream Internet wipes out online advertising at the touch of an “install now” button.

  • RobSa

    I block as many advertisements in my life as possible.

  • RobSa

    I block as many advertisements in my life as possible.

  • Sarah

    I use adblockers because intrusive, annoying ads have destroyed the experience of browsing the internet. Many sites are so clogged with ads now that they are virtually unusable. One site that I used to enjoy put an ad on its mobile page that would hijack my phone and take me to the app store to try to get me to purchase a game. It would do this repeatedly during my browsing sessions. I sent several emails to the site webmaster complaining about the ad, but nothing changed, so I stopped visiting the site. After adblocking became available on the iPhone, I’ve started visiting the site again, sans ads. I do realize that the site needs ad revenue to survive, but until they can treat visitors with some respect, I refuse to view their ads.

    I hate the ads that use deceptive features, like “next” buttons that you think will take you to the next photo or page, but actually re-route you to an ad.

    I hate autoplaying videos, blinking ads, stupid ads, tacky ads, obnoxious ads, ads for obviously fraudulent products, and ads that make the page so busy that my eyes cross.

    Back when I had a VCR, I would fast forward through commercials. Was that stealing money from advertisers or from the show? What if I got up and used the bathroom during a commercial? Am I obligated to pay attention to ads as “payment” for content?

    I barely even watch TV anymore because I hate ads so much. I remember as a kid, there might be a commercial break every 15 or 20 minutes for 3 minutes (maybe 4-5 ads). Now the breaks come far more frequently and the ads seem to go on forever. Like a lot of people, I pretty much only watch streaming services now and a major reason is that the commercials have made network TV almost completely unwatchable.

    I don’t really feel bad about avoiding advertising because advertising does not respect my time, attention or mental health.

    People have already created adblockers that can defeat the anti-adblocking walls on sites like Forbes (I have one installed). You cannot win this fight. I applaud you for trying to understand what drives people to install adblockers, but the ad industry needs to do a lot more to restore trust of users.

  • Sarah

    I use adblockers because intrusive, annoying ads have destroyed the experience of browsing the internet. Many sites are so clogged with ads now that they are virtually unusable. One site that I used to enjoy starting putting an ad on its mobile page that would hijack my phone and take me to the app store to try to get me to purchase a game. It would do this repeatedly during my browsing sessions. I sent several emails to the site webmaster complaining about the ad, but nothing changed, so I stopped visiting the site. After adblocking became available on the iPhone, I’ve started visiting the site again, sans ads. I do realize that the site needs ad revenue to survive, but until they can treat visitors with some respect, I refuse to view their ads.

    I hate the ads that use deceptive features, like “next” buttons that you think will take you to the next photo or page, but actually re-route you to an ad.

    I hate autoplaying videos, blinking ads, stupid ads, tacky ads, obnoxious ads, ads for obviously fraudulent products, and ads that make the page so busy that my eyes cross.

    Back when I had a VCR, I would fast forward through commercials. Was that stealing money from advertisers?

    I barely even watch TV anymore because I hate ads so much. I remember as a kid, there might be a commercial break every 15 or 20 minutes for 3 minutes (maybe 4-5 ads). Now the breaks come far more frequently and the ads seem to go on forever. Like a lot of people, I pretty much only watch streaming services now and a major reason is that the commercials have made network TV almost completely unwatchable.

    I don’t really feel bad about avoiding advertising because advertising does not respect my time, attention or mental health.

    People have already created adblockers that can defeat the anti-adblocking walls on sites like Forbes (I have one installed). You cannot win this fight. I applaud you for trying to understand what drives people to install adblockers, but the ad industry needs to do a lot more to restore trust of users.