By most accounts, more and more people are automatically blocking the ads in their browser.
Of course, people have been blocking ads forever. By ignoring them.
And advertisers have had fifteen years to show self restraint. They've had the chance to not secretly track people, set cookies for their own benefit, insert popunders and popovers and poparounds, and mostly, deliver us ads we actually want to see.
Alas, it was probably too much to ask. And so, in the face of a relentless race to the bottom, users are taking control, using a sledgehammer to block them all. It's not easy to develop a white list, not easy to create an ad blocker that is smart enough to merely block the selfish and annoying ads. And so, just as the default for some advertisers is, "if it's not against the law and it's cheap, do it," the new generation of ad blockers is starting from the place of, "delete all."
Ad blockers undermine a fundamental principle of media, one that goes back a hundred years: Free content in exchange for attention. The thing is, the FCC kept the ad part in check with TV, and paper costs did the same thing for magazines and newspapers. But on the web, more and more people have come to believe that the deal doesn't work, and so they're unilaterally abrogating it. They don't miss the ads, and they don't miss the snooping of their data.
This reinforces the fundamental building blocks of growth today:
- The best marketing isn't advertising, it's a well-designed and remarkable product.
- The best way to contact your users is by earning the privilege to contact them, over time.
- Making products for your customers is far more efficient than finding customers for your products.
- Horizontally spread ideas (person to person) are far more effective than top-down vertical advertising.
- More data isn't the point. Data to serve explicit promises is the point.
- Commodity products can't expect to easily build a profitable 'brand' with nothing but repetitive jingles and noise.
- Media properties that celebrate their ads (like Vogue) will continue to thrive, because the best advertising is the advertising we would miss if it was gone.
Media companies have always served the master who pays the bill… the advertiser. At some point, the advertiser will wake up and choose to do business in a new way, and my guess is that the media that we all rely on will change in response. But in the meantime, it seems as though many online consumers have had enough.