Facebook is Blocking Ad Blockers. Will It Work?

Aug 10, 2016

Article ImageFacebook is striking a blow against ad blockers-and hoping to improve your ad experience in the process. The social media platform announced on its blog that it will override ad blockers, while also giving users more control over their ad experiences.

All of this comes on the heels of in-depth research by Facebook and Ipsos. According to Online Control in the Era of Ad Blocking, "We surveyed the UK, US, France, Germany, Brazil and India to examine attitudes about ad blocking generally, looking more specifically at why consumers block ads and what publishers and advertisers can do to address consumers' concerns."

Ultimately, Facebook and Ipsos found "The main reasons cited for using ad blockers include avoiding disruptive ads (69%), ads that slow down their browsing experience (58%) and security/malware risks (56%). In general, younger consumers are more open to online advertising and data collection. But across the board, if consumers are going to see ads, they prefer them to be personalized and relevant."

With this knowledge in hand, Facebook is tweaking its ad preferences section. Users can see what Facebook thinks they are interested in, and add or delete preferences. Facebook also says, "We also heard that people want to be able to stop seeing ads from businesses or organizations who have added them to their customer lists, and so we are adding tools that allow people to do this."

Additionally, the announcement says, "As we offer people more powerful controls, we'll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software." This raises a question: How will Facebook get its ads around the blocking software? It will make the HTML of web ads indistinguishable from the platform's regular content.

If it's that easy to outsmart ad blockers, why aren't more sites doing it? According to Tim Bourgeois, executive editor of ChiefDigitalOfficer.net, says, "Few publishers have the clout that Facebook enjoys over its readers/members. There is only a handful that comes to mind -- The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn, and Instagram are some examples -- and they have the ability to dictate the user experience in a way that's favorable to them. The rest of us need to yield to user demands -- or they'll just go somewhere else. That said Facebook could reverse itself on this move if the market responds adversely, as it has done in the past when introducing new measures."

Digital Content Next's editorial director Michelle Manafy has a slightly different take. She says, "There are organizations and media companies that believe ad reinsertion is a viable solution to ad blocking. However, as already seen in the reaction to Facebook’s announcement, taking this response towards a consumer who has already opted-out of the advertising experience online is likely to be met with resentment, if not outright hostility. It creates an 'arms race' of sorts—and that doesn’t usually end well."

It may not stand to reason that these people simply want better ad experiences when what they want is an ad-free environment. Manafy says, "Okay, sure, there is a segment of content consumers who don’t want any ads. There are those who don’t want to pay for content in any way, either. But the rise of ad blocking is more complex than that...Less ads is a start. However what’s really needed is attention to the consumer experience overall, in the same way we think about editorial content: Ads shouldn’t slow down our web experience or eat our mobile data; ads shouldn’t be invasive for aggressive, and frankly, they should be terrific content in their own right. Consumers have a right to expect great content experiences across the sites they enjoy and advertising is part of the overall experience."

Bourgeois says, "A big percentage of the ad blocker population is digitally-savvy users who abhor advertising of any kind, but especially the uber-invasive formats. This move by Facebook will force that group to either step up their ad blocking game, or provide more information to Facebook -- and by extension, advertisers -- about the kinds of ads they 'dislike less.' More broadly, this is just another swat-- albeit by an 800 pound digital advertising gorilla -- in the ongoing volley between publishers and users on the road to some kind of equilibrium, which is probably years in the future."  

As the changes take effect we will soon start to see customer responses. "Facebook is making a decision that part of the value they bring is better ads, not just more ads," says Chairman and CEO of PebblePost, Lewis Gersh. "As in the past they are testing consumers' need for Facebook over concerns around information management and how it is used. As a major driver of digital advertising today, they will find out if this is acceptable to those that have elected voluntarily to block ads. We'll know quickly if this is brilliant or a blunder."

When it comes down to it, getting the consumer involved seems to be a good move. Manafy says, "At a minimum, consumers should have controls over their privacy and when, how and by whom data is collected about them and how it will be used. We’ve seen some of our members have some success with educating consumers about ad-supported content and subscription alternatives. So yes, involving them in the conversation is a good foundation for a strong relationship between content provider and content consumer."

Bourgeois adds, "Customers can be broadly categorized into three buckets when it comes to their thinking about advertising: agnostic, annoyed, and apoplectic. The agnostics don't notice or don't care; the annoyed will make some adjustments but won't change their behavior much; the apoplectic will either work hard to find a workaround or go away. At the end of the day, the data will dictate if Facebook continues the policy, makes revisions, or abandons it altogether. And the entire digital ecosystem will be watching carefully."