Advertisers Win the Ad-Blocking War

By Craig Buckler
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Ad blocking grew by more than 41% in 2015 and cost the industry $22 billion in revenue. Ad blockers are not new, but there has been a significant elevation in public consciousness partly owing to the number of options available. You have probably encountered ads from browser vendors promoting their ad-blocking systems. Only the popular Lynx browser is yet to implement similar technology.

Ad-Blocker Blockers

Publishers began to retaliate last year and several popular sites now show messages to any visitor running ad-blocker software. Messages range from gentle suggestions to purchase a subscription to actively hiding page content while an ad blocker remains active.

Detecting an ad blocker is simple. A script checks whether the advertising script has loaded or a specific DOM node has content. If ads fail to appear, the article is unloaded or the visitor is redirected to another page.

Beta Ad-Blocker Blocker Blockers

Ad-blocker blockers depend on client-side scripts which, themselves, can be blocked. Ad-blocker software teams can block the blocker within minutes of a new website script being reported. Several solutions are in development which thwart any publisher’s attempt to undermine the ad-blocking process.

Frail Loop

Advertisers and ad-blocker organizations spend inordinate amounts of time battling the innovations of the other. In computing terms, this is known as a “frail loop”. Two or more technologies recursively weaken each another until neither is effective.

Ad Network No Opt-out Initiative

Dozens of ad-revenue-dependent organizations have formed the Free Advertising and Responsible Targeting Syndicate. Their first proposal, the Advert Network No Opt-out Initiative, aims to end ad blocking forever by reversing content and ad publication methods.

Publishers normally create content which is hosted on their own servers to attract visitors. Their pages include scripts provided by third-party advertising networks which pull in advertising links and imagery from a variety of sources. From today, all publishers will be contacted by their ad network with new instructions. This will vary across providers but the general process is:

  1. The publisher will be issued with a number of static advertisements to include in their page templates. Updates will be posted regularly so the latest campaign graphics and links can be posted.
  2. The publisher must upload all their content to the advertising network, typically via FTP, REST, SOAP or fax. Plugins are available for popular Content Management Systems such as WordPress which automatically transfer then delete the article text.
  3. The publisher must add a script to their template where the content will appear.
  4. The page will pull the original article content from the advertising network and display it on request.

Visitors browsing without an ad blocker will see a normal page of quality content:

standard page content

Those using an ad blocker will prevent the advertising network download and the real content will not be shown; they’ll be presented with a page of advertising:

site running ad-blocking software

A syndicate spokesman, Ian Trusive, told us:

Our members depend on advertising revenue in order to publish high-quality, informative, life-affirming articles. This initiative requires minimal effort from advertising networks and content publishers. It finally defeats those who have risen against us in the ad-blocking war. We have won.

Our recent survey highlights that 98% of web users are prepared to exchange distracting, high-bandwidth, tracked advertising in return for free content. That’s a fact*.

Are you a publisher using the new anti-ad-blocking technique? Did your revenues increase accordingly?

Are you experiencing more advertising today despite using an ad blocker?

(*Full survey results not publicly available. Survey information may not be provided if you no longer meet eligibility criteria. Access request charges do not include taxes, insurance, interest or other quixotically-applied fees. Statistics are subject to change based on market conditions, regional deviations, daily percentage rates, and viewer ingenuousness. Contents may settle in transit.)

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  • Broscobeat

    “Those using an ad blocker will prevent the advertising network download and the real content will not be shown; they’ll be presented with a page of advertising”[…]

    …And they move on and go to another page where they don’t have to disable their ad-blocker to see the content. That’s the “problem”. You could block ad-blockers but at the same time you are also blocking people visiting the site. Out of 10 people coming to a site like this, how many you think will disable the ad-blocker? Not too many methinks.

    • dzstormers

      it is totally true , if you take design related websites they usually go with carbon Ads like site point and that would never bother me because it is some how still elegant and not distracting

  • ChanceumDisqus

    I hoped that they’d just use more responsible ads. Ads that won’t use up so much bandwidth and battery life, and ads that are malware free. If I come across a site (especially a news site) using these tactics, I’ll go somewhere else.

  • Yeah this is like poisoning the remaining soldiers to win a war… After seeing my browser many people are instantly converted to AdBlocker for the lite targeted experience. People don’t ever want to be on your website; they come to get what they like, then they move on. That is how websites should work, it costs you less to serve a site that people are on for less time, if you have good content (by which I mean simply content visitors want to see), it’s accessible and user-friendly, that is what converts.

    The article does get one thing right, AdBlocker mainly and historically has only got rid of some ads. A Weird thing since the initial dot-com bubble is that some people literally post ads that are supposed to be content. This is probably far more dangerous and harder to block; as an adblock user for life I’d like them to try to target the new wave of ads and let platforms like forbes die.

    • Content creators on social media such as Instagram and YouTube are also getting paid to advertise now. I’d be casually watching a video and then suddenly they will mention a product that they have been sponsored by, which is sometimes related to the video’s content, and then I feel betrayed because I had been watching an ad this whole time…

      • You have raised a valuable point. Despite the fact I hate lock-in with a passion. My hatred for ad-blocking comes more from my consent to it…

        If I watch a YT video I actually unblock ads on a per-play basis to show support for those that I consciously consent to support.

        Also I listen to a lot of podcasts, for whom I completely leave myself open to product placement ads in the content, but also on the page.

        The only context I disagree with product placement ads in such content are if I am paying (and I mean anything); towards the content-creator. I.e. if I pay you for staff training, and you turn up and do a 2 minute slot for someone else; I’m pissed; but if you as an industry expert do a podcast I listen to; I respect you enough to put up with a minor amount of placement and page-ads.

        Of course if they get too heavy on this, I tend to leave and never return. I’m a pretty unforgiving b-word when it comes to silliness. The simple fact is, if you have sold all three minutes of your ad’s, create more content, or charge more; you don’t need to create more ad-space as you end up with scumbags selling loans, or Forex, etc

  • Vaikan

    This is an April Fool joke, isn’t it?

    • jmar42

      It would be nice if it was Aprils fools but, not the case. Secure Ad from Oxford Biochron determines if your ads were viewed by bots and/or blocked…

      • Nigel Wade

        It was posted April 1st, come on ‘Ian Trusive’ and acronyms FARTS and ANNOI?

        • Craig Buckler

          Perhaps “Frail Loop” is an anagram, too?

          And will we ever see an ad-blocker on Lynx – a text-only browser which doesn’t run JavaScript?

          Strangely, no one seems bothered by the proposal to send website content by fax before it’s deleted from your server?!

          • Ralph Mason

            Yeah, I’ve been trying to get that fax transfer set up for days now. Very frustrated. Any tips?

  • M S i N Lund

    “WE notice they you seem to block our blinky, beeepy, eye-watering attempts to shit right in your face. Pleas stop that if you want to read our ’10 reasons why you need a second iPhone’ ”

    *sound of car door slamming, and engine revving*

  • Ah, Craig, you’ve done it again.

    • Craig Buckler

      Who, me? I don’t know what you mean, Ricky!…

      • I refer to your sensitive yet perspicacious analysis of a dire situation, of course. And your way with acronyms.

  • GeoBake

    Nope, the best line is in the footnote: “Access request charges do not include taxes, insurance, interest or other quixotically-applied fees.”, but you should include the copyright notice from the [telecom provider] site from which you copied it!

  • Matthew Vaughan

    Wow thant’s going to be the fastest way to get people to never visit their sites again ever. Lol. I feel sorry for any publishers who fall for that.

  • Ralph Mason

    Rather than use ad blockers, I have a browser extension that just toggles JS on and off. I use it mainly for browser testing rather than general browsing—but I’ll use it occasionally if ads, popups and so on get too obtrusive on a site. Of course, on the sites injecting their content as described above, I only get ads. But actually, in many cases the ads are better than the content anyway, and I find I’m being drawn back to the sites whose ads I like. I can now go to my favorite news site and never have to read any bad news at all. It’s great! The ads are all positive and upbeat, so it’s been a refreshing change.

  • RFE .

    My dad recently got a virus on his PC. A really bad one something like “Zee-ka” in pronunciation from using MS Edge browser with no adblock. Its the first time in ages he had a virus because he only recently upgraded from 7 with adblock installed by me for Chrome which he used. It’s over. Sorry. The internet is not a safe place without adblocker. I remember the XP days where you could get like 100 viruses in just a single day. Granted its better now because of certain decisions and security improvements but the big reason viruses are more rarer, aside from that we use different OS like Android and IOS, is that Ad Block has been protecting us whilst getting rid off intrusive ads. Intrusive ads were/are the majority of websites on the web. It sucks for those that are legit but from a cold harsh reality its time to face an undeniable fact: ads do not produce wealth. They just nag us to buy products which people probably aren’t going to buy anyway.

  • kisai

    And that is how you lost your business, because you are not fighting ad-blockers, you are fighting users that make the conscious effort to get a tool to block your ads BECAUSE THEY WANT TO, for whatever reasons we want to.

    Even better, people can stop reading idiotic and retarded sites, and use internet for the actual purpose that was created, sharing info, not selling it.

  • Chilly8

    However, when the Iquierer started blocking ad blocks, one slick user there found a way which works on many sites that ban ad blockers. If they are using jquery, like the INQ, just find the URL where adblock detection script is located, and block it, either in your ad blocker, or at the router level, the script will not load, and your ad blocker will not be detected. Be aware that this only works for jquery.