Does the IAB’s first ad-blocking study provide the “missing stat?”
The report offers some new insights into what it will take to keep people away from ad blockers.
Earlier this month, I posted a story that pointed out there’s a key missing stat in all the data about ad blocking:
Where is the data showing that, if ads were more relevant or less annoying or less privacy-invading or loaded quicker, most if not all users of ad blockers would stop using them, or would delete the one they have, or would not download one?
I haven’t seen that stat. Neither has mobile marketer Tune’s mobile economist, John Koetsier, who has studied whether there are enough users to support mobile content through payments instead of ads. (Spoiler alert: There aren’t.) Nor has Alanna Gombert, SVP of the Interactive Advertising Bureau [IAB] and General Manager of its Tech Lab.
This week, the IAB released its first consumer-focused ad study, which they told me offers that missing data.
The study, “Ad Blocking: Who Blocks Ads, Why, and How to Win Them Back,” does show several interesting results. Conducted by marketing research firm C3Research, it surveyed about 1,300 computer users and 200 mobile users over six months in the US, including those with and without ad blockers.
Of those, 103 blocking and non-blocking users were chosen for an eye-tracking lab study that consisted of two-hour sessions to browse selected sites, rate each site and ads on the sites, and participate in a survey and interview.
As it turns out, not everyone who reports they’re using an ad blocker actually is. About 40 percent of the sampled users think they have an ad blocker, when in fact they only have a pop-up blocker in their anti-virus software or browser.
The actual breakdown, according to the study: 26 percent actually have blockers, 37 percent of users haven’t used blockers, 20 percent are ex-ad blockers, and 17 percent are thinking about getting an ad blocker. In other words, at the moment, about three-quarters don’t currently use blockers.
The segment of reformed, ex-ad blockers adds a key new ingredient, because it gives some insight into what will propel someone to drop their blocker. The biggest reason they chose to uninstall their blocker:
- “Ad blocker prevented me from viewing content.”
- “Kept seeing messages to turn off ad blocker to see content.”
So, for that crowd, it appears publishers’ messages to withhold content from ad-blocking users is a strong motivator.
On the other hand, 17 percent who are not currently blocking ads are thinking about joining that crowd, primarily because of ads that block content, like interstitials, as well as their fear of getting a virus from an ad.
In addition to ads that block content, the most annoying ads for would-be blockers are long video ads before short videos, and ads that follow down the page as you scroll.
The assumption here, of course, is that preventing these kinds of annoying ads and removing viruses would prevent non-blocking users from becoming blockers, although the report doesn’t specifically ask that question of potential blockers: would you decide against using an ad blocker if you didn’t have to worry about viruses and these kinds of ads?
The report, then, provides some indication of what will keep non-blockers from becoming blockers, as well as what helped blockers become former blockers. The remaining question: what will drive current ad blockers to stop using or to delete their blockers?
That’s a less definitive answer in the report. IAB’s Gombert noted in an email to me:
As part of the study, consumers that use ad blockers on their computers were presented with some concepts that the industry has been exploring in terms of improving user experience. They were asked to grade the likelihood that they would turn off their ad blockers if the industry adopted these different ideas (LEAN, Fast Forward Controls, Ad Ratings, and more).
For potential users of ad blockers, all of the scenarios trended toward being “extremely likely” to deter blocker use (See above).
But, for those who are dedicated users of ad blockers — which IAB calls “Loyal Blockers” — all of the scenarios to propel abandonment of blockers tended toward the “Extremely Unlikely” side of the graph.
In other words, there are no clear solutions to separate hardcore blockers from their blocking software.
However, IAB takes an optimistic view about the appeal of their LEAN ad standards:
Looking at both “potential unblockers” (the two-thirds of computer users with ad blockers that are most likely to consider turning them off under the right circumstances) versus those that the study deems “loyal blockers” (who would not consider turning off a blocker under most scenarios), the concept of LEAN and the adoption of the principles took the lead. It was selected as the option most likely to stop both “potential unblockers” (whose responses are represented by the gray lines on the chart) and the “loyal blockers” (represented by the blue lines on the chart), when asked to rate each concept on a five point scale from “extremely likely” to “extremely unlikely.”
Although the sample size for many of the report’s questions is low, sometimes numbering in the low hundreds, this report does more or less supply the “missing stat.” But its key purpose, as IAB’s Gombert told me, is to serve as one of several data sources to inform the refinement of her organization’s LEAN ad standards.