Dry those eyes, ad blockers are unlikely to kill the internet

In fact, they might halve everyone's marketing budget

Don Draper is Sad

There's worry out there that the spread of ad blockers will kill off the internet. Or at least, the idea that people are paid to create stuff for it but that people aren't charged to look at it. You know, like, umm, El Reg.

This has all come up as Apple has allowed the technology in iOS9, and people started to offer the software that performs the trick. The worry's been such that one bloke even withdrew his offering, muttering that perhaps he didn't want to bankrupt the providers of all of his favourite reading.

However, I'm not entirely sure that that's the right way to think about it. And I'm most certainly not going to discuss it with our own ad slingers here before offering a reason why. So this is uninformed speculation: the type you like the best.

The point being that Lord Lever once said: “I know that half my marketing budget is wasted, I just don't know which half." That allied with the point that ads themselves aren't just means of persuasion. They're information too.

OK, sure, the one showing the bloke surrounded by beautiful women as he drinks his beer is indeed branding. To persuade us that if we drink that beer we'll be surrounded by the ample bosoms of nice-looking females rather than the more likely outcome of growing our own moobs.

But that's not true of all advertising. Some of it, a great deal of it in fact, really is information about what's available out there. A reasonable estimate is that at any one time in a big city these days there's some one billion items on offer. And someone, somewhere, needs to be telling us what they are.

So, we know that much advertising is wasted, also that at least some of it is informative. So, in that world, what's the effect of people blocking their ever seeing any of the ads?

Well, that's pretty much by definition going to be used by the people upon whom the advertising is wasted, isn't it? They're not interested in the informative ads and no one, other than the designers of ads themselves (possibly not even them, but only the buyers of their product), really thinks that the branding stuff does very much of anything.

So, people who don't even get served ads by blocking the very possibility are those upon which the ads would have been wasted anyway.

Leaving the advertising to be seen by those who are looking for information: exactly the people the advertisers actually want to reach in the first place.

So it's not entirely obvious that adblocking does lead to a particular problem with the standard business model: the readers are the product being sold to the advertisers.

Blockers are simply signalling that they're not the ones who would be interested in, or influenced by, advertising anyway. So, everyone, as they market themselves out, saves the effort of bothering to advertise to them.

Obviously, there's a problem if everyone does this. That means that no one at all is interested in advertising. But given that advertising does change sales numbers, that cannot actually be true.

However, what if some substantial number adopt the technology? Doesn't that mean much smaller budgets for sites and thus freelance writers starving in gutters (sniff, sniff, spare a couple of coppers Guv'!)?

At which point I'm really not sure. Because I think that advertising is something of an arms race. There's an amount that it's worth spending in order to gain a sale.

And that doesn't change whether you're advertising to many or few people. Thus, if it's worth spending, say, £10 to make the sale of a tablet, then whether that £10 is spread over 2,000 or 1,000 people doesn't matter very much.

Because, of course, we know that half our advertising is wasted, but the people with adblockers are by their very action telling us that they were the people it was being wasted upon. Thus we still want to spend that £10 on advertising to the 1,000 who aren't using the software.

I admit that I'm not entirely sure about all of this but that is the way, until someone puts me straight, the way that I read it. Ad blocking's not a major problem until everyone uses it, simply because the people who will use it are the people upon whom the advertising was wasted in the first place. ®

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