Is native advertising the cure for ad blockers?

The advertising industry has been in turmoil this week following Apple’s announcement that it will soon be possible to block ads in Apple’s Safari Web browser. Of course ad blocking is not new, for several years it has been daunting publishers and advertisers, who saw millions of dollars worth of ads being blocked by popular ad blockers, such as AdBlockPlus. In fact a recent study suggests that every month 144 million people make use of ad blocking software. AdBlockPlus’ website advertises over 300 million users. That’s a substantial number, considering the fact that it is only for desktop usage as a Chrome extension. The addition of mobile advertising is the cause for great concern, as mobile currently takes a significant share in media consumption.

Everyone agrees that this does not come as a surprise to the advertising industry. Following the on-going decline in the performance of display advertisements, the industry has been constantly developing new ways to grab the reader’s attention away from the content. The evolution has created formats that have become progressively more “aggressive”, often completely obstructing the main content on the page (e.g. interstitial ads).

AdBlockPlus’ “acceptable ad formats”

Recently AdblockPlus has added the option not to block”, what it calls, “acceptable ads”. According to the website, in a survey that they conducted among their users, 75% of users said that are willing to view view ads, as long as the ads are not disruptive. The survey also expresses the general reluctance to pay for content in exchange for an ads-free experience. Some reports say that Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus, has been taking money from major publishers such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft to get their “acceptable” ads white-listed.

Regardless of whether there is money involved or not, AdblockPlus have published a list of requirements for acceptable ads. Within this list, there are some requirements that warrant discussion:

  • Static ads – no animations, sounds or similar.
  • Text only – this requirement is optional, but it is preferred by the company. The requirement states that the ads should not include any attention-grabbing images. This of course defeats the purpose of display advertising, as it generally tries to grab the reader’s attention away from the content.
  • Ad placement – there are many requirements for the placement of the ads, but generally speaking, they should not obstruct the main content of the page, they should be clearly marked as advertisements, and they should not require the user to scroll in order to see the main content of the page.

Do native ads meet these requirements?

Let’s examine if the basic characteristic of native advertising meet the “acceptable ad formats” requirements. In general, native advertising’s purpose is not to grab the attention of the user away from the main content of the page, but rather to blend-in in a non-disruptive manner. This in itself addresses the key concern that has led users to use ad blockers. If we consider the response to the survey mentioned above, most users prefer to have non-intrusive ads instead of paying for content. And since this is the main purpose of native advertising, it seems that it’s a perfect fit.

  • Static ads – this requirement will not be a problem for native ads. Although some native ads include video previews, most native ad units are static and designed to blend in with the main content of the page.
  • Text only – most native ads that are commonly used today are not text-only, this is of course expected since the main content of the page is usually not text-only either. The fact that native ads should not grab more attention than the main content, doesn’t mean they should grab less of the user’s attention. Textual ads alongside Google’s textual search results is fine, but if the main content includes eye-grabbing images and headlines, so should the native ad. In any case, since this requirement is optional, we can safely assume it won’t be a problem for native ads.
  • Ad placement – these requirements are usually met by all native ad units. IAB’s native advertising playbook  includes specific examples for the marking of native ads in order to ensure transparency. The ads do not obstruct the main content in any way, but rather complement it with additional relevant content. In addition, the user does not have to scroll in order to see the main content.

As we’ve seen native advertising meets the “acceptable ad formats” requirements that AdblockPlus have published. Does this mean that native ads are immune from blocking? Well, as long as blockers remain faithful to their user’s interests and reasoning, they should. If a blocker has other motives such as charging companies to be included in the white list, then they will certainly find ways to identify native ads and block them.

Again, we have to remember that most users don’t want to pay for content. And if they realize that content costs money to produce, they will certainly rather get ads, as long as it does not disrupt the content consumption experience. Native ads do just that, they are not disruptive, they often add value to the users (in the same way content does), they are relevant to the user and to the context, and most importantly, they help pay the bills that will support free content.