Will Facebook’s vow to ban ad blockers alienate audiences?

Facebook is taking a pro-active approach in its battle against ad blockers, but some have warned forcing users to view ads might do more harm than good.

Facebook is looking to halt ad blocking with new technology that will stop ad blocking software identifying what content is an ad and what is not.

Marketing Week understands this new technology will work by stopping ad blockers from identifying which Facebook posts are ads, and which are not, on people’s news feeds. It will still be clear to Facebook users which content is paid for, however.

Facebook is also also looking to make its ad preferences easier to use by allowing users to stop seeing certain types of advertisements.

According to the latest IAB stats, 22% of British adults are using ad blockers, with that number highest among younger internet users. And the IAB has welcomed Facebook’s move.

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, says: “Facebook should be applauded for its leadership on preserving a vibrant value exchange with its users. Its decision to respect advertising as an essential ingredient in connecting users worldwide is spot-on, and should be replicated across the free and open internet.”

Battling a backlash

But not everyone is enthused. Perhaps predictably, Ad Block Plus condemned the move. In a statement entitled ‘Oh well, looks like Facebook just got all anti-user’, the ad block software company condemned the “unfortunate move” as it takes “a dark path against user choice”.

“It’s hard to imagine Facebook or the brands that are being advertised on its site getting any sort of value for their ad dollar here: publishers (like Facebook) alienate their audience and advertisers (the brands) allow their cherished brand name to be shoved down people’s throats,” he explains.

“If nothing else, all this attention from Facebook shows that ad blocking has finally made the big time. We’re ready for our close up.”

Rob Bassett, head of UK and EU multinational advertising at eBay, agrees with Ad Block Plus and believes banning ad blockers does not get to the root of the problem – irrelevant ads.

“Sure, you can force users to view all ads on a platform, but if these feel intrusive and poorly targeted, at best it’s a waste of marketing budget but at its worst can actively damage brand perception and alienate people. Advertisers should focus on reaching the right people and not the most people,” he says.

But not everyone agrees. Matthew Payne, head of creative technology at social media agency We Are Social believes Facebook’s decision to allow users to have a bigger say in what ads are served to them is a good thing.

“Facebook ads aren’t too intrusive generally, so being upset by its decision to ban ad blockers is a bit harsh.”

Matthew Payne, head of creative technology, We Are Social

“I’d rather see ads that I am potentially interested in than not. Improving the control users have over this can only be a good thing – as long as it’s not intrusive,” he says.

One thing remains clear – ad blocking is not going away any time soon. The only way to get around ad blocking will be an industry-wide focus on high quality, personalised content.

“It is important not to ignore those using ad blockers, but instead to ensure that the right adverts are served to the right people, at the right time, and in the right location,” concludes Greg Isbister, CEO at location data technology company Blis.

“Through this approach, adverts become interesting and valuable to consumers, discouraging them from deploying ad blockers in the first place while enhancing the overall user experience and presenting a sustainable solution in the long term.”


Learn more about digital innovation at the Festival of Marketing, which is running on the 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here.

Hide Comments1 Show Comment
  • James Beeson 12 Aug 2016 at 10:42 am

    I think the ad-blocking debate has been distorted. Solutions so far have been about how to “punish” those who use ad-blockers when, in fact, I think we need to understand the reasons why people (including myself) consciously block ads and, instead, look for smart solutions to the problem. Ad fraud, bandwidth (at a stretch) and privacy are some reasons, but there’s something deeper at work. Simply, where is the value exchange? The invasiveness is one thing, but I think the ad industry has lost the trust of generations. Instead, people are looking to their peers for recommendations. So the issues are lack of trust, poor value exchange and invasive belligerence in my opinion. And are we, as publishers, marketers and advertisers addressing these?

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