Ad blockers, and how to market around them

Native ads and content marketing can help get your message past ad blockers.

By Curtis Kitchen, NAA Director of Communications

NAA auction professionals have been inundated recently with a slew of ways to better target digital advertising to buyers and sellers.

It’s led to an increased awareness of digital ad options, with general feedback from members that they have begun to incorporate those tools. That swell is part of a larger wave that saw digital advertising revenue hit a record high of $15 billion in the third quarter of 2015, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news, if you’re the marketer, is that consumers have been showing a growing general distaste for advertising in their digital feeds and are finding ways to block it. Websites, mobile users, social feeds, and emails all have been identified as places where consumers don’t want to be infringed upon, according to a substantial list of polls and surveys.

One such survey, from GlobalWebIndex, found that in the final quarter of 2015, 79 percent of mobile users said they have used an ad blocker in the past month or are interested in using one in the future. Of those who do or will, 40 percent of those mobile users were aged 16-34.
All of it has combined to create a real-time, real-life messy situation that leaves the IAB and advertisers at large the unenviable task of trying to recoup an estimated $21.8 billion in publishers’ lost ad revenues in 2015 – that projection floated last August by Adobe and PageFair (an anti-blocking agency).

But, while those numbers all indicate a growing trend of a shrinking appetite for advertising, especially through mobile, what then should marketers take away from the juxtaposed reality that even basic analytics prove somebody is clicking, liking, and sharing their ads?

For marketers, it underscores the crucial necessity for well-executed marketing concepts that fall outside of basic, blockable ads but still market a brand, service, product, or, for auction professionals, assets.

Consumers: Give us a quality experience

Regardless of your marketing medium, advertising doctrine these days dictates two things: quality matters; and, you are only as good as your next ad. Look no farther than the annual, highly-anticipated advertising showcase also known as the Super Bowl.

Consumers clamor for the event – many of whom have no interest in football. They want the ads. It’s just that they aren’t afraid to rip apart ads – including those from longstanding power brands – that don’t meet high entertainment standards. Digital advertisers now have that pressure, along with ad blockers, as they continue to try to wedge into and enhance the consumer experience.

As we go on, let’s keep in mind that an optimal consumer experience involves their:

1) Exploration and discovery – While okay with brand familiarity, consumers are more willing than ever to explore and educate themselves. Reward them for that courage by showing or teaching them something of real value. It will keep them interested.

2) Aversion to disruption – The usual digital ad killer for consumers? Pop-ups, hard-to-find close buttons, and loud audio – it is all intrusive and disruptive. Your ad is a guest in a consumer’s online house. It should act accordingly. If not, it annoys the consumption experience and gets ignored and/or blocked. The end.

3) Control – Most of the experience is based here. Consumers want to navigate where they want, when they want, and see what they want. If your advertising hinders that flow (including if your ad takes a long time to load on a page), you’re going to be identified as a foe, not friend. If that happens, you can kiss the rest of your chances at winning a new client goodbye.

Thankfully, all three of these core characteristics can be achieved through a couple of evolved concepts – native advertising and content marketing.

Beat Ad Blockers: Native advertising

Traditionally, native advertising is a form of paid media (you pay for it to be placed) in which your ad behaves just like its surrounding environment. The easiest examples are social media feeds.

Think of “suggested posts”, “promoted”, or “suggested post” items you see in your Facebook timeline. Those ads, called “In-Feed Native Ads” (as defined by the IAB Native Advertising Task Force), act like posts and follow all the rules of a regular post. The only difference between those and regular posts is that someone paid for them to show up in front of you.

Other acceptable forms of native ads per the Task Force include: Search & Promoted Listings; Content Recommendation Widgets (“from around the web” or “recommended for you”)*; and, Custom Content Units (landing pages presented as content but with obvious brand placement).

*In 2016, NAA has successfully used content pusher Outbrain – a native ad Widget. Working on a cost-per-click model, NAA content has been pushed more than one million times to a national audience over dozens of major sites that include:,, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Post,, and The “50 days of Outbrain” campaign achieved a cost-per-click average of $.12 and cost an approximate, very budget-friendly $309.

All of those native options achieve the three characteristics explained above. And, as you may have noticed, content is a major theme, which leads back out to the broader concept of content marketing.

Beat Ad Blockers: Content marketing

If it hasn’t become obvious by now, content drives the bus in a lot of ways in today’s marketing environment.

Content marketing has become popular because it may very well be the purest methodology in terms of its ability to educate, avoid annoying disruption, and provide control for a consumer all while marketing your service or product. In other words, it is the premium way to enhance the optimal consumer experience.

While you certainly can employ a paid-media approach (i.e., advertorials), maximizing your owned-media opportunities is the budget-friendly way to go. Put content – videos, blogs, images, etc. – on your own site and then push it out. Let your site become a content & educational destination. It will become part of your brand image, and as your content is discovered, may lead to additional earned-media exposure.

The consumer landscape has asked for connection and storytelling as two-way B-2-C relationships have developed. Consumers want to know more about “you” as opposed to simply buying something from you. You have to be ready to cater to that need.

Smart content and solid native advertising approaches will do the trick, and you’ll have the added bonus of knowing you’re adding to consumer experience instead of getting blocked from it.