Facebook Blocking the Ad Blockers: The Industry Reacts

Last week Facebook propelled itself to the centre of the never-ending ad block debate. The social network announced its decision to circumvent ad block technology by making ads indistinguishable from user-generated content, in a bid to protect desktop ad revenues. With Facebook’s 1.7 billion users, it is the largest publisher to date to take such a tough stance against ad blockers; and the move has certainly sparked debate. ExchangeWire spoke to some industry leaders to find out their opinions and what they think it could mean for digital advertising.

Putting ad blocking in the spotlight

“One thing Facebook have succeeded in doing is getting the rest of the publishing world standing to attention; and the question on everyone’s lips is, how will publishers respond? Smaller publishers – especially ones that users would consider commodities with reasonable substitutes – are unlikely to antagonise users further by following suit. Larger publishers may take a wait-and-see approach, but most likely won’t wait too long, as ad blocking may impact their own ad revenues. But in our industry one thing is certain: the game of ‘blocking and tackling’ will always continue, as already new solutions have been created to counter Facebook’s solution.”

Venkat Krishnan, Senior Vice President, Product, YuMe

Greater consideration needed for consumer preferences

“Facebook’s announcement marks one of the boldest moves in the ad-blocking space since Apple declared it would integrate ad blocking software into iOS 9. Given Facebook’s market dominance and massive reach – as well as agencies’ reliance on the social network to meet campaign targets – it will be interesting to see how key industry players respond and react. It will be particularly testing for GroupM’s latest policy, given their recent decision to block re-inserted ads in the presence of ad-block detection software.

“It’s been less than a week and we’ve already seen the ad-block community design a bypass that has since been overcome by Facebook. While I expect Facebook engineers will continue to engage in this cat-and-mouse game for a few more rounds, it is questionable whether the battle will ever be won. With significant resources behind the social network, it is uniquely positioned to explore an alternative legal solution that has, so far, been ineffective for others should they choose to abandon or augment the technology approach.

“Facebook’s move to enforce advertising as the only method of content compensation disregards the wider need for a transparent and open environment where consumers are free to express choice over preferred compensation methods. While their decision may not necessarily pave the correct way forward for the industry, the high-profile player has shone a much-needed spotlight on the issue of content compensation versus consumer choice. Ultimately, greater debate and cooperation is needed to create an online content ecosystem that can be sustainably funded, with greater consideration for consumer need.”

Ben Barokas, Co-founder & CEO, Sourcepoint

Playing into the hands of ad blockers

“Facebook’s decision to bypass ad blockers on desktop is playing straight into the hands of the ad-blocking software providers. Instead of working with the IAB LEAN guidelines, and serving ads that meet audience expectations in terms of creative quality and user experience, the decision to disguise ads to blockers is a cop-out. While it may boost Facebook revenue, it’s an own goal for the industry as a whole – opening the door for ad blockers to steer the debate and take the moral high ground.

“Forcing ads on users who have chosen to block them not only fails to add anything positive to the debate, but also fails to address the fundamental issues that form the cornerstone of the pro-ad-blocking narrative. As an industry, we need to work together to produce exciting, beautiful advertising that’s non-intrusive and better compliments the editorial experience. We’re not yet at the point of no return in the industry when it comes to ad blocking; but continuing in the manner of Facebook could push more users down the path of ad blockers, and, eventually, result in the end of quality non-paid-for content.”

Jamie Evans-Parker, Founder & CEO, wayve

The publisher dilemma

“The rise of ad blocking in the UK hasn’t yet reached the ‘adblockalyptic’ levels at first feared; but it still presents a major problem for publishers, with latest research showing nearly a quarter (22%) of British adults are using ad blockers. Facebook’s use of technology to circumvent the ad blockers isn’t an industry first – many publishers are investigating similar solutions – but the sheer size of Facebook makes their stand on ad blocking far more powerful. It will allow users to specify individual ad preferences, which can be expanded off-network to third-party publishers using Facebook Audience Network and Atlas. One of the key consequences of the move is smaller publishers – already on the back-foot in the ad blocking debate – now face the unwelcome prospect of choosing to have their ads openly blocked in market or served inside the walled garden of a global platform they view with growing concern. Without the leverage Facebook can boast, publishers may find themselves having to use the social platform as their main source of inventory monetisation.”

Alex Rahaman, VP Programmatic, Sizmek

Tapping into the power of native

“When it comes to advertising, the issue all publishers face is striking a balance between delivering performance for advertisers, without disrupting and irritating the reader.

“We have seen that native advertising has become a fundamental force in providing valuable, engaging content to users that is fully integrated and contextually relevant. As social media’s influence over purchasing decisions gains momentum, publishers like Facebook must embrace native ad formats that enhance the user experience rather than detract from it, to continue to boost marketing revenues and prevent their consumers turning to ad blockers.

“A native approach is especially important on small mobile screens – which account for the majority of Facebook’s visits – as there is less real estate with which to work.”

Ben Cooper, Managing Director, Europe, HookLogic

A sign of things to come?

While perhaps not a direct consequence of Facebook’s decision to override ad-blocking software, in the same week, P&G declared it will scale back on Facebook’s targeted ads, focusing instead on the wider reach offered by TV.

“At the heart of P&G’s decision to reduce investment in Facebook targeted ads is a statement made by CMO Marc Pritchard, where he said the company is looking for the best way to get both reach and precision. Today’s linear TV offers just that.

“P&G is just one of many brands coming back to TV advertising, because it’s still the most efficient form of reach, but advancements in big data and machine learning have also turned it into an optimised marketing channel, which incorporates precision never before available. With today’s linear TV, brands still get that reach, but also the ability to target people in the places and times they’re most likely to respond. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more companies, like P&G, re-evaluating their ad strategies for 2017.”

Kevin O’Reilly, CTO, TVSquared