This week it emerged Adblock Plus is to shortly to launch an extension allowing users of Apple’s Safari web browser to be more selective about which ads they see online.
To bring the uninitiated up to speed, Adblock Plus blocks online display ads, among other features, and has already clocked up 50 million users of its Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera web browser extensions.
Adblock Plus also launched a Facebook “customising tool”, which likewise blocks ads it deems to be ‘annoying’ earlier this week. Plus it has also involved itself in Twitter’s IPO plans, penning an open letter to the social network imploring it not to be overly aggressive with the number of ads it pushes to users once it goes public. Instead Adblock Plus encouraged Twitter to work with it instead – Twitter has yet to reply publicly.
Meanwhile, earlier in the year, Adblock Plus had a high-profile fall out with Google – in what it termed a ‘David vs. Goliath’ encounter – after its Adblock Plus app was kicked out of the Google Play store, due to an Android OS update.
Somewhat controversially, Adblock Plus’ policy of “whitelisting” sites (i.e. letting their ads through its filter) has also stirred debate, as the outfit accepts payments from larger companies on this list to cover its cost of operations.
This has led some to allege that Adblock Plus’ operations are nothing more than a racket – more of an online toll booth for advertisers, as opposed to a tool for consumer benefit, if you will. Reportedly, Google itself has succumb to Adblock Plus’ demands for ‘acceptable ads’, and has paid to be ‘whitelisted’.
I can understand the vexation of advertisers and media owners (my own livelihood itself is in-part reliant on the success of the online advertising you see next to this very piece), particularly as it could be argued that Adblock Plus is a self-appointed guardian of what is and isn’t “acceptable advertising”.
But clearly, we have a comparatively ‘small player’ here, that’s not afraid to take on the ‘big boys’, and also knows how to make noises about it in a way that makes people sit up and listen. And with Adblock Plus laying claim to over 50 million users, it’s clearly a sign they’ve tapped into a consumer mindset, one that’s been facilitated by the normal rank and file of people now able to use digital media to form networks that can subvert the status quo.
We need only think of how gangs of youths used BBM to outwit police forces up and down the country for the best part of a week back in 2011, and less ominously the use of Facebook and Twitter in the Arab Spring. Digital media has empowered people to form their own groups, and challenge the typical top-down societal structures, and that includes the old model of marketing that relied heavily on ‘preaching to the masses’.
In my view, Adblock Plus embodies this same zeitgeist when it comes to emerging consumer attitudes in this era of digitally empowered masses.
Brands not wanting to fall foul of such emerging attitudes should engage with companies like Adblock Plus (plus other ‘subversive’ elements) and not just label them as mere hustlers.
To quote that most candid of US Presidents, Lyndon Baines Johnson: “It’s better to have them inside the tent p*ssing out, than outside the tent p*ssing in.”