Facebook's blocking of ad blockers: A costly affair?

As a consumer, you might be a little gleeful about the onset of ad blocking. But as a marketer, you’re probably looking for ways to beat the system.

According to a report by PageFair last year, in 2015 there were 198 million active adblock users around the world and ad blocking grew by 41% globally in the last 12 months. As consumers get smarter and even more time starved, one can only expect the number of people using ad blockers to grow.

Clearly finding the issue of ad blocking a nuisance is Facebook. Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform said:

Facebook is ad-supported. Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on.

As such, the social media giant said it will be using a specialised software to show adverts to desktop users who have installed ad blockers, as the new technology begins to threaten the social network’s advertising revenue.

Facebook said that it would be updating its ad controls to allow users to specify ad preferences to make ads more relevant to the user, as well as more valuable to the advertiser.

Many have deemed the move "bold" given Facebook's strong stance on this matter. TBWA DAN's president, Asia and innovation director Tuomas Peltoniemi said the move is very much in line with their strategy of providing people the most relevant content, whether it be paid or organic. However, he adds the move to analyse ads might be an expensive one for Facebook.

Seconding him is Nick Pan, regional planning director of VML Southeast Asia & India.

Pan said that the move shows Facebook seeing the need to advertise responsibily by helping consumers place a value on ad exposure. And while this change will inevitably facilitate a more transparent, and vibrant exchange between consumers and publishers, the cost can be an issue given that Facebook would need to analyse the ads’ content themselves and this is a laborious process.

“Facebook will need to find the perfect way to analyse ads on the most granular, yet effective manner,” he said.

He added:

Ad blockers are but one solution to disruptive ads, and this bold decision is a shout-out to the industry that advertising is a vital part of the revenue mix and it would be detrimental to live in an internet age without any advertising at all.

A boost of creativity?

Ultimately, said Pan, the focus, should always be on enhancing customer experience through creative work that appeals and is relevant.

Oliver Spalding, group head of strategy, Southeast Asia and Greater China strategy partner said that while Facebook is re-iterating that their focus is on quality and relevancy, the rise in ad-blocking strongly indicates that they are failing at being creative.

Facebook advertising has become the domain of retargeting, direct response and sales, rather than genuinely interesting and worthwhile creative.

 What we’ll probably see now is a game of cat and mouse between Facebook and ad-blocking programmers. Facebook needs to adopt a more vocal position of promoting great advertising and rebuild consumer trust.

Meanwhile Serena Kutchinsky, digital editor at Newsweek under iProspect said that clearly, adblocking is worrying for Facebook, and the move isn’t surprising given advertising is the basis of their revenue model.

“The tech giant’s decision to not only introduce software which will disguise ads on its desktop service from ad-blockers, but to also empower users to choose the types of adverts they see by selecting preferred brands and businesses is potentially game changing,” she said adding:

They are firing a warning shot at ad blockers, while demonstrating that they understand how annoying ads and intrusive can be.

Kutchinsky said that while traditional media has failed to find an effective solution to bad advertising —either denying the problem or adding pleading anti ad-block pop ups to online articles—Facebook has taken steps to eliminate this threat to their business model.