Facebook's ad-block strategy might alienate consumers, but platforms will replicate their plan anyway

Expect to see other publishers follow Facebook say industry experts.

Adblock Plus has made its opinion clear about Facebook’s decision to purge the network from ad-blockers, claiming that the social network’s plan to further blur the line between advertising and content will only alienate users. It’s a natural response given the impact that the move will likely have on Adblock Plus’ business. But it remains to be seen whether this will hurt or help advertising on the platform, and marketers have conflicting opinions.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced it will let users choose the ads they want to see, and at the same time, it will use tech to disguise ads on desktop, making it impossible for ad-blockers to distinguish between a user post and an ad.   

This leaves marketers at an impasse. On one hand, by preventing ad-blockers, Facebook will force users to see more ads. But there’s also a chance that Adblock could be right—Facebook’s 1.7 billion monthly active users might be turned off, resulting in fewer eyeballs.

"It’s hard to imagine Facebook or the brands that are being advertised on its site getting any sort of value for their ad dollar here," wrote Ben Williams, head of operations at Adlock Plus, in a blog post. "Publishers (like Facebook) alienate their audience and advertisers (the brands) allow their cherished brand name to be shoved down people’s throats. Yikes."

Data shows that a segment of the population is definitely sick of ads and might not appreciate the social media giant’s move. A recent study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that the majority of people surveyed use ad-blockers because they are tired of interruptions during their web browsing. According to the results of the survey, 26% of people use ad-blockers on desktop while 15% use them on mobile, generally males 18-to-34 years old.

Facebook, which makes almost all of its revenue from advertising (in the second quarter, the network brought in $6.44 billion), has a lot to gain from the potential of this new ad-blocker software.

"This may draw more ad dollars into Facebook since Facebook can now promise advertisers that their ads will be seen by a highly targeted audience," says Teddy Lynn, CCO at Ogilvy & Mather.

This also might repair Facebook’s tarnished reputation with media agencies and advertisers after the social network recently altered its News Feed and Instagram algorithms to prioritize user posts, which can reduce organic reach.

"This decision is setting up even more adversarial relationships between advertisers, consumers and publishers than already exists," says Lynn.

Nevertheless, Lynn believes this decision will turn off many consumers, making brands unwilling to advertise on the platform. "If they keep tweaking the algorithm in adversarial ways," Lynn says, "publishers and advertisers will work harder to find alternative platforms on which to reach their customers."

Ian Schafer, founder and chairman of Deep Focus, says, "If they have more pressure from advertisers to block ad blockers," he says, "their resulting user experiences may erode to the point that consumers choose other sources to get their content from."

Regardless of the potential to alienate consumers, experts say advertisers should expect other social networks and publishers to follow Facebook’s initiative in evading ad-blockers.

"Most publishers already feel competitive to Facebook," says Schafer, "even though they are in a different business (publishers vs. platform)."

"It is less risky to follow Facebook's lead than be the tip of the spear," says Lynn.

After all, ad-blockers have been a major problem for publishers trying to do business with agencies and brands. On average, publishers are losing 23% to 28% of revenue due to ad-blocking, according to Mark Bauman, founder and CEO of ReviveAds, a company that designed an extension that bypasses ad-blockers.

"For one of our clients, this means about $500,000 a month," says Bauman, "but for Facebook, that means about $50 million per month in lost revenue that they can revive."



Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free