Block the ad blocker? Let’s innovate, not regulate


The industry should embrace ad blockers and be more strategic and creative than ever, writes JR Little, global head of innovation at Carat.

This article first appeared on M&M Global, 12 October 2015. Click here for the original post.

Some view the rise of ad blockers as the death of digital advertising as we know it – they are right.

Digital advertising evolves daily. Home page takeovers and email marketing were once the ideal ways to advertise in digital, but those days are long gone. Then, the rise of banner ads, programmatic, sponsored posts happened. Now the prevalence of walled gardens and mobile-first consumers means that ad blockers are actually improving the end users online experience.

Surely we should look at this new technological innovation differently? Instead of trying to regulate ad blockers out of our industry, why don’t we innovate around them? Make them irrelevant by outsmarting them. In the end, our work will be more effective and more interesting as a result.

As I write this I can’t help but think of the recent regulations being imposed on Uber around the world. It seems counterproductive to fight innovations that masses of people like and want. Uber is hugely successful because many people think the service has made their lives better. Therefore, if the masses think ad blockers make their online experience better, who are we – the industry – to argue otherwise?

The subject of ad blockers is currently topical because Apple has started allowing them in the new iOS system. This of course can seem like a desire to make the user experience better, or it can be interpreted as an attempt to create a stronger walled garden (self-contained ID ecosystem), or a bit of both.

Most great advertisers let go of the traditional ‘one banner fits all’ digital strategy years ago

Regardless, they are among us, but only in certain contexts. Ad blockers are only beneficial in blocking ads in browser activities (although one claims to block in native mobile apps as well) and most great advertisers let go of the traditional ‘one banner fits all’ digital strategy years ago. For those that still make banner ads simply to match to their TV and print ads, are they generating the results they desire?


There is a better way. Content collaborations are a sure way to avoid ad blockers, gain nearly unattainable organic reach in social, and build trust with consumers.

From BuzzFeed to Huffington Post to Time Inc, publishers are ready, willing and able to help brands connect with their loyal followers. It’s important to note that at the same time that iOS embraced ad blockers, it also rolled out its news app – an interface populated with great content from many differing well-known publishers – this is sure to be a space for brand and publisher collaborations in time. Native advertising within walled gardens will be a booming business in 2016.

So, what is an industry to do if it has become too dependent on the creating and serving of banner ads within browsers? Evolve. At my current agency, we’ve known for a while that ad blockers were on their way, and we didn’t need iOS to tell us.

Consider this: when was the last time you purposely clicked on a banner ad? Chances are it’s been a very long time. Now, when was the last time you clicked on an article, shared a picture, or liked a post? Chances are you did those things moments ago.

The exciting thing about the media industry right now is the role we are playing in helping our clients be relevant in cultures

Today, it is no longer good enough for advertisers to be around the periphery of great content like parasites hanging onto a source of equity. Now, advertisers must partner with great content creators and/or platforms.

The exciting thing about the media industry right now is the role we are playing in helping our clients be relevant in cultures.

With our view of data, we can help brands insert themselves into the cultures that matter most, by partnering with the content players that resonate most – from YouTube stars to more traditional publishers – we are using data to find the subjects and sources that improve business outcomes. The consumer gets a need met (content they love), while the advertisers get affinity. Banner ads – no matter how captivating – cannot do that.

Today we work with Facebook, Google, AOL, BuzzFeed, Yahoo and others to make the content people want and our clients’ need. We have shifted out of the business of only placing ads around peripheries and into the business of finding and connecting our clients’ brands to consumer cultures in a meaningful way.

Today we embrace ad blockers because our role is much more strategic and creative than ever before.

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