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B2B Programmatic vs. Ad Blockers: Who’s Winning?

Active desktop ad blocker usage has quadrupled globally since 2013, with around 220 million users employing ad-blocking technology today. Consequently, 32 percent of all page views worldwide are now impacted by ad blocking. At the same time, though, programmatic advertising (the automated purchase and sale of digital ads in real time) has been growing by double digits for several years and is expected to grow again by 31 percent in 2017. That’s faster than experts predict for any other digital media type, and it’s happening despite projections of a steep price increase in 2017.

So while brands are investing more and more aggressively in programmatic digital advertising, consumers appear to be working harder than ever to keep themselves from seeing those ads. That’s a pretty big disconnect. (I can see Captain Picard face-palming in my mind’s eye, even as I type.)

How Concerned Should B2B Marketers Be?

Despite ever-increasing spending on programmatic advertising, B2B marketers are in fact well aware of the growing divide between brands and consumers when it comes to the adoption of ad blockers. A new Dun & Bradstreet and Adweek Brandshare study on B2B programmatic found B2B marketers are more concerned about ad blocking than click fraud, viewability and bot traffic.

Source: “B2B Programmatic Becomes a Reality: Outlook 2017” by Adweek Brandshare and Dun & Bradstreet

Is this an appropriate level of concern? Yes, unfortunately, I think it is. It might even warrant greater concern than that. If we want to head off a fresh wave of ad blocker adoptions in the near future, we need to take immediate steps to improve our programmatic efforts. To do this, we need to understand what motivates people to use ad blockers in the first place.

Here are some of the main reasons why people use ad blockers:

  • Users find most forms of digital ads to be intrusive and frustrating—far more so than traditional television or print ads.
  • The more intrusive or frustrating ad experiences are (like requiring the user to find a well-hidden “X” to remove a pop-up), the more likely a user is to employ ad blockers.
  • Filtering ads to let the “good” ones through is possible but cumbersome with blockers that allow whitelisting options. It’s easier to just block them all.
  • Users think many online ads don’t look professional and/or insult their intelligence.
  • There are just too darned many ads. Users can hardly see the content anymore through the thicket of ads they’re bombarded with almost everywhere they go online.
  • Users often feel tricked into clicking ads, which angers them.
  • Ads create security concerns.
  • Ads adversely affect load time, bandwidth usage and battery life.

Simply put, ad blockers allow users to regain some control over their online experience, a completely understandable desire.

What You Can Do to Help Stem the Tide of Ad Blocking

Here’s the thing, though. Many B2B buyers actually DO want to see ads! Leaders really do want to know about new products and services making a difference in their roles and industries.

There needs to be a new social contract among marketers and advertisers, both B2C and B2B, that we will all endeavor to engage in high-quality, individualized and carefully targeted advertising served up judiciously via the publications and channels our customers and prospects prefer.

They’ll even share ads with others if they find them entertaining or particularly informative. People just want the ads they’re served to be individualized and relevant, timely and actionable, channel-appropriate and bandwidth-sensitive, professional and attractive…maybe even educational or amusing if you can manage that as well. It’s not too much to ask, is it?

The truth is, it doesn’t matter if the request is unreasonable or not. It’s what brands and ad networks have to deliver, starting yesterday, or buyers will keep downloading ad blockers on all their devices and you’ll keep losing eyeballs.


Here are some steps you can take to help stem the tide:

  • Use your customer data to help you find your target audience(s), design ads that your target audience(s) will find appealing and compelling, and determine which ad networks and publications already have (or are most likely to attract) that audience.
  • Use a combination of behavioral, predictive and anticipatory modeling (as your capabilities allow) for even more precise targeting and to enhance the likelihood of viewers taking action.
  • Avoid cheap, poorly targeted ad networks that will serve your ads up indiscriminately to anyone, anywhere, and charge you per impression rather than per action. The networks that are data-driven and more precisely targeted will cost more, but the clicks you get will be far more valuable and much more likely to convert.
  • Look for ad space inventory from publishers that behavioral data shows your customers and prospects frequent, like popular trade publications, influencer blogs or industry news sites.
  • Choose ad networks that have sophisticated programmatic algorithms that will let you target your ads precisely based on criteria you define, such as high-value accounts, device type, proximity, etc. Ask how fresh their audience and data segments are before signing on.

And, of course, monitor your analytics closely and adjust your strategy accordingly. If analysis indicates that your ads are being blocked by a significant percentage of users, look into ways programmatic advertisers are trying to adapt, like paying to be among whitelisted “acceptable” ads on high-value web sites, ramping up production of lightly branded, informational or entertaining content that users are likely to share with others, or exploring ways to get visitors to accept ads or pay for the privilege of ad-free browsing.

Brands have been able to deal with ad blocking through such experimental methods with varying degrees of success. Your best first step is to do your organization’s part to make the programmatic advertising experience as pleasant and relevant as possible. Strive to repair buyers’ trust with your brand so that fewer users will be motivated to block all the ads they can block on every device they can find.

There needs to be a new social contract among marketers and advertisers, both B2C and B2B, that we will all endeavor to engage in high-quality, individualized and carefully targeted advertising served up judiciously via the publications and channels our customers and prospects prefer.

You won’t be alone in your efforts. Companies are coming together to form “The Coalition for Better Ads” in direct response to ad blockers and to address the primary driver for their uptake: people’s frustration with the quality of their interactions with online ads. The Coalition, comprised of advertising trade associations, advertisers, publishers and agency groups, aims to create global standards for online advertising and act as a watchdog to help rid the web of bad ads. Movements like this, combined with individual advertisers’ acceptance of responsibility for creating and delivering ads that have genuine relevance and value, will help reduce consumers’ desire to block ads.

Responsible brands can do this today, with or without a watchdog. There’s really no excuse for annoying people with bad ads for even one more day. Nor is there any excuse for not realizing when ads are annoying, frustrating or simply don’t compel action. With interconnected customer data and advanced analytics, B2B marketers have the ability to create and deliver ads and content customers might actually thank us for instead of running to the app store to find the latest and greatest ad blocker. Now wouldn’t that be lovely?

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