Publishers have been trying a variety of approaches to combat ad blocking, from the polite ask to the guilt trip to, occasionally, the hard line tack. Facebook, with its nearly 2 billion monthly active users, is on a whole different level than any one publisher. But it’s heavily reliant on advertising, so today Facebook announced it’s going to force people to see ads on its desktop site by changing the way it loads ads. (No begging for Facebook!) It simply says ads are “part of the experience.”
Other companies get around the rise of ad blocking by paying tech companies to unblock ads, so visitors are forced to see the ads whether they want to or not. Facebook said that instead of doing this, it’s designed its ad formats to address the reasons people block and also is giving people more control over the types of ads they see.
Here’s a look at the ripple effects of Facebook’s move:
Facebook’s now the de facto leader in fight against ad blocking
Facebook is a giant in digital advertising. By coming out directly and forcefully against ad blocking, Facebook is essentially assuming the mantle of fighting against its spread. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has been strident in its comments about ad blocking, but it has also advocated a nuanced approach to the issue by publishers, leaning heavily on the “education” component and “messaging” before cracking down. Facebook is skipping niceties and simply taking a blunt force approach of treating ad blocking as a technical problem to be solved with a technical change. It’s notable that Facebook is taking the step before ad blocking caught on in mobile, where it derives the lion’s share of its ad revenue. Translation: Facebook is taking ad blocking seriously. Its aggressive approach could embolden other publishers to stop pussyfooting around when it comes to ad blocking — of course, Facebook is so big that it enjoys prerogatives that individual publishers do not.
“It gives them a stronger leg to stand on when it comes to combatting ad blocking, because Facebook is such a large player in the market,” said Alanna Gombert, gm of the IAB Tech Lab.
Facebook’s preemptive strike on mobile
Pushing through more ads is good for Facebook and the advertisers who want to reach its users. Facebook admitted earlier this year that it’s seeing an adverse impact of ad blockers. The impact is mostly seen on desktop, which only accounts for a minority of its ad revenue, but the company conceded that if ad blocking picks up steam on mobile devices, its core ad business could be harmed. It also could score some points with users by giving them more control over the types of ads they see.
Users get ads, but with the illusion of choice
Facebook is giving users the choice to stop seeing certain categories of ads or ads from certain businesses — while still making it clear it’s in the driver’s seat.
“It’s a clear signal to users that advertising is part of the product and not something that can be removed by other means,” said Eric Gillin, executive director at Epicurious.com, which recently tested ad blocking messages to users.
It’s also not addressing the privacy issue, said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade group for premium publishers. Facebook cited research saying people don’t want to see ads that are irrelevant or disruptive. According to recent IAB research, the second-biggest reason people said they block ads was to avoid ads that track or follow them. “It could be a nice PR announcement, but long-term, I don’t know that it does anything to address the underlying cause of ad blocking,” Kint said.
Tech companies could see a windfall
Facebook is essentially taking a tech approach to ad blocking, which will likely trigger a counter-response by ad blocking companies. Eyeo, the company behind the leading ad block tool Adblock Plus, advocates for ending the “cat-and-mouse game” and working toward better experiences for users, but Ben Williams, spokesman for Eyeo, predicted the open-source community will look for workarounds if Facebook goes through with its plan on a large scale. An ironic upside: the move is good advertising for ad blocking. “All this attention from Facebook shows that ad blocking has finally made the big time,” Williams wrote in a blog post. “We’re ready for our close-up.”