Ad blocking and advertising bans

Advertising ASBOs? When consumers say NO to ads

Ever wished that you could be a fly on the wall and find out what other people were saying about you? Be careful what you wish for. As Apple facilitates new ad blocking apps, the uptake has been huge, making advertisers feel, well, a little unloved.

Ad blocking apps have shot straight to the top of the App Store charts, and with prices ranging from 79p to £2.99, many phone users clearly think they’ve got a bargain. Without the ads, they can enjoy faster page loading and have one less big brother spying on their browsing patterns. When ads are seen as a nuisance, advertisers should start to worry, even before consumers get the ability to bite back.

It’s not just technology that is bringing about this consumer rebellion. Cities around the world are experimenting with a ban on outdoor poster advertising. Brazil’s Sao Paulo was the pioneer with its Clean City Law of 2007, claiming advertising as a form of ‘visual pollution’ (ouch – for those who create advertising, that hurts). Chennai, Grenoble and a handful of US states have taken a similar stance and even Paris has been implementing a reduction in the number of poster sites. Closer to home, a petition was started in Bristol for the city to go ad-free, and could be the sign of things to come.

Bristol was also the place where a pensioner threw herself to her death after being inundated with charity marketing materials. Shady practices had led to her personal details being widely circulated amongst charities, and the overwhelming flood of pleading letters led to her tragic death. In a telling footnote, the letters continued to arrive even after her demise. Whilst this may be an extreme example, it is clear that there is a line in commercial communications that shouldn’t be crossed.

The internet has forever changed the contract between advertisers and consumers. The megaphone doesn’t work any more, especially when there’s an online community sharing reviews and recommendations. Advertisers have to win the permission of consumers first before they can start the conversation. And when they do it well, it becomes a win:win for everyone.

In the golden days of TV advertising, people would often say that they enjoyed the ads more than the programmes. Some consumers readily sign up to the contract that says they can enjoy a service or an app for free, as long as commercial messages are tolerated. For some, it is a great deal. But that deal looks less sweet when the ads become disproportionate, or fail to be useful, relevant or entertaining.

In a world where app ads are blocked, billboards are banned and old ladies are literally jumping off bridges to escape direct mail, advertisers may just have had it their way for too long. Advertisers have always had to engage audiences and contribute value, but now, quite simply, they have to do it better if they want to keep their place in the commercial landscape.