PR and ad-blocking – don’t do it

Most public relations professionals now acknowledge the importance of paid media, alongside earned, shared and owned – PESO. But for earned media to work there has to be a healthy media to ‘earn’ coverage in.

That’s one reason I’m uncomfortable about the ethics and practical effects of using ad-blocking software. According to eMarketer 22% of internet users in the UK will use an ad-blocker at least once a month. That’s 12.2 million people who won’t see adverts on websites. It’s a similar story in many other countries, in fact the rate of ad-blocking in the UK is lower than in many other countries.

The problem is that the current business model of many publishers depends on advertising. That’s how publishers can pay professional journalists to create amazing content to inform and amuse you. The deal is that publishers provide you with great content and you look (and maybe even click) at the adverts on their websites. By blocking those adverts you are effectively stealing the content.

The second ethical issue about ad-blocking is that society needs a healthy media to help hold those in power to account. If publishers can’t afford to hire investigative journalists they can’t publish hard-hitting news stories.

I do sympathise with people who want to block adverts and I have an ad-blocker on my main web browser, but it’s usually turned off. People block adverts for all sorts of reasons – because they are too intrusive, privacy concerns, saving mobile data, to make pages load faster, to make sites readable etc.

But the reason I occasionally resort to ad-blocking is most adverts are… just a bit rubbish. I’m reading the website because it either informs and educates me, or it entertains me. I wouldn’t necessarily object to adverts if they did these things. But they rarely do.

For all the talk of using data to intelligently serve adverts, I still mainly get served adverts for stuff I don’t want, that don’t inform or entertain me.

A typical example at the moment I’m being served ads for project management software, which is fair enough as I’ve been researching them. I’ve done searches and visited lots of websites. Problem is because of ‘retargeting’ I’m getting bombarded by ads for ones I’ve looked at and rejected. There hasn’t been a single one for a new tool. Now that I’d click on.

The other problem is ads that are too intrusive. Take this example from the Yorkshire Post. It’s so intrusive I can’t even see what the lead story is without scrolling. Ironically, it actually is a relevant and informative ad, but would have been just as relevant and informative if it didn’t annoy me by blocking the news.

Personally I’m a big fan of micro-payments as pioneered by Dutch company Blendle. You pay for every story you click on and if you’ve been a victim of clickbait then you get a no quibble refund. I’m a big critic of subscription models as I need to read a small number of stories from each site. There isn’t a single one where there is so much of it I need to read that it’s worth paying a subscription for.

My plea to publishers is please let me pay for quality journalism, but don’t force me to subscribe to stuff I don’t want. In the ‘good old days’ I could just buy whichever newspaper had the story in that day. Why can’t I do that online?

I’d urge corporate communications and public relations professionals to remember their duty to wider society and the media industry and not to use ad-blockers. I’d urge both sides of the advertising industry to stop being so rubbish and to create better adverts that enhance, rather than detract, from the user experience.