Ad Blocking Moving Into the Mainstream in the UK, says eMarketer

David Murphy

AdBlock-Plus-Android-BrowserMore than a quarter of internet users in the UK - 27 per cent, or 14.7m people to be precise - will be using ad blocking software to stop digital ads appearing on at least one of their devices by the end of next year, according to eMarketer's first ever estimates of ad blocking in the UK. The analyst estimates that in 2015, 7.3m internet users in the UK (14 per cent of the total), were using ad blockers, rising to 10.9m people (20.5 per cent) this year, and 14.7m people next.

eMarketer estimates that of the group that currently block ads, the majority (90.2 per cent) do so on a desktop or laptop PC, while around 28 per cent block ads on smartphones. The corresponding figures for 2017 are 88.9 per cent and 32.7 per cent. The overlap is due to the fact that some users block ads on multiple devices.

One reason mobile ad blocking hasn't expanded as much, the analyst says, is because, up until recently, installing mobile ad blockers was a difficult process. In addition, ad blocking doesn't yet fully work within apps, which is where people are spending more and more of their time.

"There's no doubting that ad blocking is now a very real issue for advertisers,” said eMarketer senior analyst, Bill Fisher. “Next year, over a quarter of the people they're trying to reach will be wilfully making themselves unreachable. The good news is that numbers like this have forced those within the industry to think long and hard about what it is that they need to do better in order that this practice doesn't become an epidemic."

eMarketer’s forecest used a meta-analysis of comparative estimates and survey data from major research entities, including, among others, the IAB UK, PageFair & Adobe and comScore & Sourcepoint. The forecast also takes into account information culled from online publishers, ad blocking companies and interviews with ad blocking industry executives, including those from services such as AdBlock Plus and AdBlock. Because findings can vary by source, each data point is weighted based on soundness of methodology and is subsequently normalized to match eMarketer's ad blocking definition.

Based on its forecast of UK ad blocking trends, eMarketer has summarised some key learnings and advice for marketers in an article that you can read here.

David Murphy writes:
If anything, eMarketer's estimates look a little conservative to me. I was surprised when at a recent event, the IAB's Steve Chester asked  room of around 30 retail executives if they thought ad blocking was a threat to the existence of digital advertising. No hands went up. He then gave a detailed, 15-minute, warts-and-all presentation on the state of the ad blocking universe and asked the same question. Still no hands went up. Admittedly, the people in the room were not mobile advertising specialists, but they were digital marketing execs from major retailers.

I think we are past the head-in-the-sand stage, but short of publishers refusing to allow ad block users access to their content unless they turn their ad blockers off, I don't hear much about how to tackle the problem other than the oft-repeated mantra of: make the ads more interesting and engaging, which I think sounds naive to say the least.

Ad blocking could turn out, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been a slightly disconcerting flash in the pan and nothing more, if the ad blockers do backtrack when the value exchange is explained to them, as does seem to be the case (for some at least) when publishers adopt this approach. For the moment though, every time you see a report into the actual or forecast number of ad block users, the numbers only seem to be heading in one direction. Yes, trade bodies like the IAB are taking the issue very seriously; those on the digital advertising coalface need to adopt the same approach.