Content, whether online or off, is fuelled by advertising. Ads pay for newsrooms, journalists, writers and content creators, enabling them to produce the material we devour and increasingly expect for free. Your money didn’t cover the cost of the newspaper fifteen years ago, while these days your contribution (often zilch) doesn’t add much to the balance sheet for a modern publishing brand. It is, more than ever, advertising that has to pay for it all. And it worked in the pre-internet age. We got our content, relatively cheaply, thanks to adverts that worked for both brands and consumer.


There is, however, a problem with relying on advertising to pay for content in a digital world. Flicking through a paper or magazine, you could view an ad, or not. You could flick back and forth regardless. Your viewing was hardly disturbed at all. Online, videos pop up and start to play without being asked, an errant click whisks you away to a new site, web pages take longer to appear and are jerky when they do. All of these problems are amplified (and via our data plans more costly) on our mobile devices.


It is little surprise then that we are moving en masse to an ad free world online. Ad blocking is on the rise: globally there was an increase of 41% in the last quarter of last year (YoY), and those numbers are even more depressing (from a publishers perspective), when you consider who are the heaviest users of ad blockers. The young. The moneyed. The tech savvy (apparently Tech Crunch is especially affected by their use). Or, in others words the very consumers brands would most like to reach in their native habitat.


This is becoming big news now because big players are taking clear sides. While publishing houses try to fight back (softly-softly like The Guardian or in a more belligerent, tit for tat approach like that of The Washington Post), hardware creators are seemingly coming down on the side of the consumer. Apple in particular have made it clear that ad blocking is very much OK with them (and why not? It won’t affect their stratospheric revenue stream).


I’m not writing this only as a member of the advertising industry but also as someone who is a very happy consumer of all kinds of content. Yes, digital advertising is still far too intrusive, but advertising has to be part of the solution, not something to be haggled over while an entire industry falls over because we collectively can’t think of anything more intelligent than a pop-up. I (begrudgingly) understand native advertising has a place to play, but it isn’t the solution, not without losing a lot of goodwill and trust. Old fashioned, permission marketing (Seth Godin didn’t invent it, the first guy who put a silent, hard working ad in a newspaper did), allowing for three-way beneficial relationship, where a covenant exists between the consumer, media space owner and brand, is the only sure way to provide a solid base for the future.


The form of those new permissive ads is a topic for another day, but whatever the form, effective digital adverts shouldn’t make consumers angry on sight. Work on that and then, maybe, we can have a even-handed conversation about not using ad blockers.


By Oliver Brown