Ad blocking

Having worked in both TV and advertising, I’m intrigued by how easy it is these days for people to block ads online and what it might mean for the near future of online advertising.

Press the red button now

I recently learned an interesting fact about the popular Adblock plugin for Chrome; it doesn’t just block banner ads as I assumed, it also blocks pre- and mid-roll video advertising on sites like 4oD, ITV Player and YouTube. Similar plugins, including Adblock Plus, work in the same way. While this is possibly old news to you, I had not used any ad blocking browser plugins for a while and it came as quite a shock to me just how easy (and how pleasant) they have become to install and use.

Ad blocking was previously only done by those with the patience to install and maintain fiddly add-on software, but it’s no longer the preserve of the tech elite; the latest breed of browser plugins is more than easy enough for even the most casual web user to set up.

Such users are currently a (growing) minority. Adblock describes itself as “the most popular extension for Chrome” and there might, very roughly, be around 10-15% of browsers running some sort of ad blocking software these days. It’s about to get even easier, too. The AdTrap project on Kickstarter is a hardware ad blocker that blocks all adverts for all the wifi connected devices in your home. “Zero software to install, zero configuration”.

What will happen when ad blocking goes properly mainstream? We’ve already seen a gradual arms race with ads becoming increasingly clever about avoiding being blocked, with some content creators preventing their content being seen by people who block ads, sometimes even blocking entire browsers just to be on the safe side. Will this ultimately doomed attempt at control continue to escalate?

I hope not, and there are some glimmers of hope. A few companies have instead tried to gently encourage their users to support their advertising model, or offer alternative models. Reddit offers a page, showing Adblock Plus users how to how to create an exception for Reddit, and thanking their users for not blocking their ads. OK Cupid straight out asked their ad blocking users to donate money directly: “you donate $5 to us once, & we remove all ads from the site forever’.

I think that useful tools need to be sufficiently fine-grained to allow people to chose to opt in to (or out of) specific adverts and specific sites. Since most people will probably never change the default settings then getting the balance right is obviously important. It may have been controversial with some of its users, but Adblock Plus’s move to allow “acceptable” ads was an interesting step towards supporting less intrusive advertising, giving users more control, and finding sensible defaults. “Some users are even asking for a way to enable Adblock Plus on some websites only.” Both Adblock and Adblock Plus now allow users to turn on ads for a specific site, or to blacklist only certain ads.

Ad block plugins for Chrome

It’s understandable for site owners to become a bit anxious about this stuff. Ars Technica says it’s “devastating to the sites you love” while James Cridland equates it to theft, and says “I do find it difficult to understand why running AdBlock or the like is not frowned upon by otherwise honest people.”

Personally, I’m not convinced that ad blocking is theft, or that it’s in any way immoral. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. Site owners can put ads around their content to make money, just as – whatever you think of the choices they make – users can decide whether to see the ads or block them.

My grandfather used to mute the TV whenever adverts came on. Was that morally wrong? What if everyone did the same thing? Whether you’re a content producer or an advertiser you should think about what your users want, and how much easier today’s technology is making it for them to avoid your advertising. Simply describing them as immoral might not be the best way to change their behaviour.

Greenpeace + VW – an integrated rebellion

A fascinating new campaign from Greenpeace launched this morning, subverting the popular (and award winning) VW The Force ad. Never a dull moment around Silicon Roundabout...also stormtro... on Twitpic

I first noticed it because Twitter was abuzz this morning with news of Greenpeace’s hijack of a poster at Old Street’s ‘Silicon’ roundabout.

Some people on the ground, including some friends, initially seemed to think the Stormtroopers on the ground were a stunt for a new VW poster. At least until they noticed what was really going on. (Talking to some creative friends, there’s a consensus that the line on the poster could have been a lot clearer. Confusion, where it happens, seems to me to be mainly from people who glimpsed the poster in person.)

What’s actually happening is that Greenpeace are highlighting this report (download the PDF here). But doing so in a creative, and impressively integrated way.

“Develop your skills as a Jedi to help further the rebellion.”

Even more interesting than the poster takeover is the VW Dark Side web site. An impressive and slick site which rewards people for campaigning. Users start as a ‘Youngling’, campaigners can progress to be ‘Baby Ewok’ and work their way towards Jedi hood, earning points for spreading the campaign message. There’s a FAQ in Yoda speak and lots more nice touches to discover too.

And even more interesting than that is the way Greenpeace have subverted VW’s now famous brand association with Star Wars and come up with an integrated campaign. It feels big, significant, and well orchestrated. I’m sure they get a lot of services donated, but the production values are sky high; it feels expensive.

Greenpeace are co-optings the David vs Goliath / Jedi vs Empire story (overlooked by VW in their own use of the cute Darth Vader), casting VW as the evil empire and calling for people to join a rebellion. I think it’s enormously clever and I wonder how long before VW responds.

Read more: Marketing Week, Campaign magazine, Londonist, TNT Magazine.

Hello/Goodbye: Cow, Pirate, Cyclist



Madvertzines: Ads vs Content

I don’t read dead-tree newspapers or magazines very often, but I do seem to have a subscription to the dead tree version of Wired, which reliably arrives in my work mail dip once per month.

I don’t remember subscribing (I believe it was a gift) and I don’t see a price on the front cover. Digging around on the Wired site, I see US residents can get a 12 month subscription for as little as $10, while an international subscription would be $40 for Canada or $70 for the rest of the world. I’m surprised it’s so expensive, given the number of pages given over to adverts.

In November 2007’s edition (issue 15.11), of the first 42 pages, 31 pages were advertisements. In fact, out of all 274 pages of the magazine, there were 148 pages of adverts. That’s 55% of the available space. And that generously excludes sections like this, this, this or this, each of which is either a product comparison or review.

A quick flick through September’s edition of Wired, shows that 101 out of 198 pages, or 51%, were advertisements. Slightly better, but still more than half. (October’s seems to be at work. I’ll add the count for that one when I next see it, unless someone beats me to it). I can’t help wondering what I’d need to pay for that 49% of the magazine if it had not been subsidised by adverts.

Early morning...

[Photo credit: Louise LeGresley]

Mentioning this to my wife, she tells me I should take a look at women’s magazines some time (particularly fashion magazines like Vogue, which she describes as “sickeningly what-have-I-spent-my-money-on ridiculous”). Well, I think I will.

What are the best, and the worst, magazines for advert:content ratios? Do you have any magazines nearby for which you’d like to share page counts and cover price?

IET Mountbatten Lecture 2007 – that’s me that is (and that’s Darren’s lovely photo)

When the organisers asked me what photo I’d like to be used in the printed adverts for the Mountbatten lecture, I instantly thought of this one by Darren. I’ve used it in presentations for a while now (for example, here and here) and from the first moment I saw it it struck me as a great illustration of social, participatory stuff. Unsurprisingly, it ends up looking really good in print, and Darren’s pleased that he’s finally been published by the IET (kind of).

IET Mountbatten Lecture 2007 - that's me that is (and that's Darren's lovely photo)

This is page 46 of the October edition of the IET‘s Engineering in Technology magazine and in case you can’t read it the text the advert is for this lecture which I’m giving in November. The 30th IET Mountbatten Memorial Lecture, no less. It’s on Upcoming too, but to reserve a seat you’ll still have to book via the IET website or call +44 (0)1438 765 657. The talky bit (about 50 minutes of me blathering plus maybe 20 or 30 minutes for questions) is free, and is followed by an optional, and reasonably priced, dinner. There. I’m not going to sell it any more than that.

Now I just have to finish preparing the talk. It needs to be quite high level, but include stuff about the importance of social media for work as well as education and learning through virtual worlds. Plus I want to show a wife wide selection of virtual worlds (I’m thinking: EVE Online, Kaneva, Second Life,, Qwaq, …) maybe live but more likely as pre-canned video clips. As is often the case, my biggest problem is not finding stuff to include but rather picking what to leave out.

The Harvester Connection

Some would say that going to school with Pete Docherty and Duncan-from-Blue should be enough of a claim to fame for anyone, but get this…

“Have you ever been to a Harvester before?”


The guy in the right wearing glasses in this Harvester advert? (1:20 into this collection of old British TV ads) That’s my second cousin, e.g. my Dad’s cousin, Stephen. I’m sure there was another version of the advert in which he held up a pair of onion rings as glasses, but I can’t find the video evidence for this anywhere.

I have vague memories from childhood that Stephen appeared in a commercial for Bounty (the coconut chocolate bar, not the absorbent kitchen roll), and I seem to remember tales of him having to stay in bed on the days he couldn’t afford to eat. Whether Stephen himself ever told me such horror stories or my parents supplied them I am not sure. In either case, I assume they were designed to dissuade me from pursuing a career as an actor.

I know Stephen was also in the TV adaptation of the Chronicles of Narnia as the King Giant in The Silver Chair episode, and in ‘The House of Elliott’ (remember that, British types?) as Fox. His profile in IMDb helpfully tells me that he also appeared in single episodes The Bill and Allo Allo and that I should now watch All Quiet on the Western Front and Rough Cut to see if I can spot him.

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