Recently, Yahoo disabled some of their users’ mail accounts if they had ad blocking software installed. No doubt hidden somewhere in their terms of use, Yahoo claims that its advertisers subsidise the mail service and keep it free for users.

So, is ad blocking software helpful or a hindrance? And should we allow advertisers access to our browsing space?

What is ad blocking software?

Services like Ad Blocking Plus deny third party advertisers access to your browser. So where a website wants to serve up ads in their website, the browser add-on prevents any downloading, any cookies and any information to be transferred to or from them. This is great for a viewers online experience. No “annoying” ads. But is this a good thing, or should we be more accepting?

Recently, Apple updated its mobile operating system to allow ad blocking software to run (although it didn’t allow its own ads to be blocked). Does this mean there is some wider acceptance that users have a better browsing or app-using experience when ads aren’t present, or is this simply about choice? Let’s take a look at both sides.

“Remove the ads, please”

  1. Ads are annoying. They flash and move around to get my attention. They are distracting and a disturbance in the content I’m consuming.
  2. Ads promote irrelevant products or services. They are therefore useless and I will never buy anything after seeing them.
  3. Ads promote websites I’ve already visited or products I’ve already seen. They follow me around the internet like a bad smell, and haunt me wherever I go. And they don’t protect my privacy on shared computers where others could see (or assume) products I’ve been viewing based on adverts currently displaying.
  4. Ads don’t protect my privacy. Using Facebook’s demographic targeting, an advertiser could hone down on me specifically. Using Google’s email user targeting, Google could show me adverts by third parties if those third parties know my email address.
  5. There are just too many adverts, and the internet should be about content.
  6. I’ve never clicked on one before. I’m not doing to click on one in future. So they don’t work on me.
  7. I’d rather pay for a service than have adverts. Like the BBC. More of that, please.

“Keep the ads, please”

  1. Not all ads are obtrusive. Some are embedded, and only display when I request more information (a link ad that takes me to a third party site, often found in review websites). Ad Blocking Plus allows these kinds of ads: They say that “Unobtrusive ads aren’t being blocked in order to support websites (configurable)”
  2. Ads are a way for companies and organisations to promote new products to a mass market. For brand exposure, this can be an important step that’s part of a multi-contact advertising experience. As consumers, we want to know about new products, new services and generally new “things”. Product knowledge is an important aspect of our buying decisions. Adverts therefore educate us.
  3. Ads that use “remarketing” techniques (promoting products I’ve viewed on one website, on other websites) is a great way to target an audience they know are interested in these products. Useless, irrelevant ads are now slowly being replaced by relevant, useful ads.
  4. Storing information about us as we browse the internet (what we click, when, which products, which services) helps advertisers learn about us, which means the information they provide is more meaningful, and helpful. I want to know what the latest gadget is because I’m interested in gadgets. Therefore advertisers are communicating with me in a way that I want. It’s targeted.
  5. Adverts subsidise the services I get for free – email, articles, online services – they’re all available to use for free because those same services gain revenue from advertisers. To keep those services free, we should embrace advertisers, and think of them as saving me money. It’s free. That’s good, thanks to the advertisers.
  6. Some adverts aren’t there to encourage click throughs. The objectives of some adverts are simply brand exposure. Some are to convey knowledge, or helpful information. Some adverts aren’t adverts at all, but help me to be safe (e.g. bank fraud or police messaging).
  7. Pay walls are slowly being introduced (many broadsheet newspapers, e.g. The Financial Times online already has a paid for subscription service). A micropayment service is also becoming available to serve pay-as-you-go style content (e.g. 1p per article). But is all content worth paying for? Maybe I don’t want to pay for content, because information should be free. People who supply it should find a source of income elsewhere, so that content can be aggregated around the web and equally available to everyone, not just the financially privileged.

Is there an in-between?

We’ve come to hate advertisers from a previous experience: interrupting our television viewing, taking over the front page of our newspapers, fooling us into thinking it’s credible content. Is this previous experience relevant, or obsolete, as we look at the current advertising climate? We go to trade shows, exhibitions and conferences. These are simply big sales events (from the exhibitors point of view), which implies we respond to promotion, when it’s specific to our interests and at a time when we’re receptive – but isn’t that online advertisers are doing now?

At Base Creative, we’re about producing brilliant, innovative and engaging digital experiences. For these experiences to be brilliant, I believe in personalising the users’ journey as much as possible. Ads form an important part of that journey, that either engage, re-engage or actively promote. Ads done right, are not intrusive or annoying. They help the user – better product knowledge, improved understanding of what to buy and where, and being available when we’re ready. In a free market economy, this is a huge driver.

Sure, some advertisers don’t follow the same good practice, but shutting all advertising out will ultimately mean decreased consumer knowledge and reduced access to content and information.

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