Now Playing: 'Ad Blocking, The Movie'

Originally posted on Forbes CMO Network

There is no greater guilty pleasure for me than the disaster movies that build these amazingly detailed sets – of Los Angeles and New York, primarily – and then have them ravaged by earthquakes, tsunamis, deep freezes and hurricanes (my apologies to those who lived through the Northridge Earthquake in 1989, the recent Japanese tsunami, Boston's winter in 2015 and survivors of Katrina, Sandy and other big storms). Remember, the movie version is always way worse and way more dramatic. Yet the hero, the heroine, and their adorable kids always survive. If only the world were at the same time so dangerous and so forgiving.

“Ad blocking: The Movie” starts now. Technically it has been in previews for a while through browsers, and a few attempts at the story have been made for a decade. But in 2015 Apple has, first for Safari by endorsing AdBlock Plus as a popular extension, and now for mobile as a native feature for the browser in iOS9. When I surf now with the extension installed, I see the number of ads block tick by in red at the top of my browser window. For comparison, I am still using my Chrome browser with ads (to support media sites). The winner in the volume of ads blocked on day one was Hubspot, which I visited for work. When I went to their home page the day I started using AdBlock, it blocked 311 items! They must have noticed something (maybe my tweet about it?) as they seem to have a much cleaner site than they did a week ago. See the two versions of TMZ.com from my computer this morning.

AdBlock on:

AdBlock off:

The real “towering infernos” of the ad blocking business, will be the:

  • Plethora of small independent publishers, for whom display ad revenue has been relatively easy money. These are content sites that serve niche interests from music and gossip to cycling.
  • Mobile sites and app download purveyors that use mobile ad networks as an ad sales approach. This will hurt their chances to be visible, and to generate seed revenue.
  • Mid and large sized publishers (like Nylon) that have not migrated to more strategic sales efforts that guarantee placement on the site.

How marketers can still fund media and get visibility

The protagonist in this story is the marketer that figures out how to succeed past the ravages (that may or may not come to pass) from The question has to bounce back to marketers and their media agencies, who now have to face the question of how to reach customers in an ad-blocked world on desktop and mobile sites. Their big bets, but in the aftermath of this looming disaster marketers will have to:

  • Focus on transparent paid formats. Ad blockers like AdBlock Plus will not be able to block every ad on every page. For those pages that sniff the ad blocker, publishers will explicitly offer viewers two choices: to add the site to their white list, or subscribe to avoid ads. Marketers will benefit from the active decision consumers make to accept ads, and have a more engaged audience to present native content based on a higher log-in rate.
  • Relook at tried and true formats. There are many channels and ad types that are immune to ad blocking, because they are presented in a customized way. Granted, consumers have ad-avoidance strategies for all types of marketing approaches, (like throwing out mail, tuning out product placements or heading to the refrigerator when TV goes to commercial), but at least direct mail and PR operate outside the automated ad blocking spectrum and have a greater chance of reaching their destination.
  • Create great “owned” media sites. In the “what’s old is new again column”, marketers who have a strong desire to build an editorial voice can turn their point of view into a media and commerce site to get their message out. This could be distributed – like Disney via Machinima -  or on a controlled property like the venerable J&J Baby Center, mattress company Casper “Pillow Talk” blog about sleep, Zipcar’s Ziptopia travel site, or CMO.comwhich is sponsored and managed by Adobe but independently written.
  • Reconsider the native value prop. I never was a fan of the merging of editorial and promotional content. But with the rise of ad blockers, I do still want ad-supported media to live on. Native content – clearly marked, well written, and unobtrusively placed, seems much more relevant when you take all the display ads out of the picture. And for a marketer to tell their story, in context and with great copy and storytelling, makes the native proposition more palatable vs. flashy ads that push content half-way down the page.

David Cooperstein has been observing trends in media for over 25 years as a practitioner, analyst, and disruptor. Find him on Twitter.

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