Online marketers everywhere work to find out what makes consumers tick while they're browsing the Internet. Digital advertising hinges on predictable behaviors and systems - heat mapping, search engine listings, and social media ads that target impulse buys. But what happens when these systems stop complying and prevent online marketing efforts from reaching consumers?
These ideas have been bubbling online, with the politics surrounding net neutrality, Facebook, and Ello stirring up discussion. The digital world, as a community, continues to search for the best way to balance privacy and marketing. Let's talk a look at some of the most recent examples of advertising pushback online.
Related: Will Ads Ruin Instagram?
Anti-advertising browser extensions
Your browser parses web coding for you, transforming lines of HTML and CSS into the graphic and text representations we're used to seeing online. Your browser also loads advertisements, which hang over articles until you hit the "skip" button. Or they lurk in borders and backgrounds, waiting for those unsuspecting, and often accidental clicks.
Would you stop advertisements before they even load in your browser, if you could? That's precisely what tools like AdBlock for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox does.
AdBlock is particularly appealing because it gives you a small widget to view blocked ad metrics. It's the reverse of what any online marketer wants to see. AdBlock tallies the number of ads that have failed to load since you've installed the extension and on the page you're currently viewing. That sounds great or like a scourge, depending on which side you're on. Digital publications that rely on advertising impressions to generate revenue can suffer greatly if their readers use these extensions. According to Geekzone publisher Maurico Freitas, his website lost over a fourth of their impressions because of ad-blocking efforts.
You might remember the sudden buzz surrounding Ello during early autumn, as thousands of users seemed to make a mass exodus to this minimalistic social media platform. Ello stands in stark contract to Facebook, espousing an anti-advertising message throughout their Ello Manifesto, which states, " We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life. You are not a product."
Related: Why Ello Suddenly Went Viral
This bold declaration, along with the subsequent influx of Ello users, might indicate how much public trust has been eroded by traditional social networks. Facebook has been under fire in the past for manipulating news feeds for a psychological study and for using detailed profile information to target users for specific ads.
Unfortunately, as marketing technologies become even more sophisticated, cybercriminals can leverage the same system to spread malware. CNN describes how seemingly innocuous ads that we see on popular websites have been injected with secret malware. Some of the weapons consumers use against ads, such as ad-blocking browser extensions, can also protect your computer from "malvertisements."
In the wake of these threats, it's likely that ad-blocking software adoption rates will rise. However, it's still a double-edge sword for the online community, because it can prevent legitimate publications from gaining revenue from impressions.
In order to survive, online business models have to change to meet the needs of consumers. As consumers continue to push back against website and social media ads by installing ad-blocking software or using ad-free platforms, businesses will need to reconsider how they connect with audiences and generate revenue.