Myths and Realities of Ad Blocking Users

People love to hate ad blocking users. The conventional understanding of the psychology of ad blocking users goes a little bit like this: People that block ads don’t care about the balance that upholds the free web—they just hate ads and refuse to see them. But the reality surrounding the approximately one billion ad blocking users worldwide—their motivations for installing ad blockers, their relationship with and thoughts about tech and the internet, and their affinity for digital content—is much more nuanced.

According to GlobalWebIndex (GWI), whose trove of data examines many facets and particularities of internet behavior, ad blocking users are unfairly demonized. This demographic exhibits behavior that shows an awareness that the value exchange is a crucial component of a healthy, free web ecosystem.

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Who Are Ad Blocking Users, Anyway?

To fully explore the relationship that ad blocking users have with the internet, it’s important to start with explaining just who these users are.

The 47% of internet users around the globe that block ads tend to be on the younger side: 83% of ad blocking users are under the age of 45, with a full 31% under the age of 25. (Source) They’re also highly educated. As stated in the 2017 PageFair report, 45% of US ad blocking users have a bachelor’s degree, compared to a rate of 30% among average American citizens. (Source)

These young professionals trend towards digital fluency and nativity and show an appreciation for and understanding of the value of media, which is apparent when they’re questioned about their motivation for blocking ads.

Why Block Ads?

In a Guardian piece title “Why we use ad blockers: we need to have more control over what we’re exposed to,” ad blocking users’ motivation is ascribed to complicated issues, ranging from “limiting impulse buying” to “vertigo due to strobe-lit pop-ups.”

But our research led us to understand that the main underlying reason is, in general, much simpler. 49.2% of ad blocking users polled answered the question “Why do you use an ad blocker?” with “There are too many ads on the internet.” In other words, ad blocking is a question of sheer quantity. Ads in moderation are tolerable; an unending stream of ads isn’t.

The data also suggests that, if the sheer quantity of online ads doesn’t prompt a user to install an ad blocker, low-quality ads might. 47% of ad blocking users cite the fact “Ads are annoying or irrelevant” as factoring into their decision to block ads.

These findings suggest that ad blocking users aren’t motivated by a hatred of all advertisements. They’re motivated by the search for a respectful browsing experience free from invasive and intrusive ads.

The New Era of Ad Blocking

This theory is bolstered by the emergence of a subcategory of ad blocking users called “selective ad blocking users.” Defined as users who have an ad blocker installed but discover brands and products via online ads, or have clicked on an online ad in the past month.

Rather than reject all ads, they opt to see ads that are relevant and unobtrusive—otherwise known as “Acceptable Ads,” defined as fitting the criteria put forth by the independent Acceptable Ads Committee. These approximately 200 million individuals participate in a new kind of ad blocking called ad filtering.

It’s a browsing experience free from glittery pop-ups and ads that take up the whole page, but it still supports the free web.

Proud Purchasers of Digital Content

This practice aligns with another defining trait of ad blocking users: contrary to popular belief, they exhibit an awareness of the fact that value exchange is a crucial component of a healthy, free web ecosystem. This is especially evident when you look at the patterns of purchasing digital content. Ad blocking users and selective ad blocking users are spending at a much greater rate than non- ad blocking users.

During the last month, 8.7% of ad blocking users have paid for a subscription to an online version of a magazine, compared to only 5.2% of non- ad blocking users. At the same time, 10.3% of ad blocking users paid for a digital news service, compared with just 7.1% of non- ad blocking users. (Source)

And selective ad blocking users purchased digital content at an even greater rate. 12% purchased an online magazine subscription, and 13.4% paid for a digital news service. (Source)

An Ally of The Free Web

Ad blocking users have been unfairly dismissed as a demographic happy to receive content without participating in the value exchange. But this prejudice needs to be put to bed.

When you examine the numbers, ad blocking users are revealed to be not only young and educated but overwhelmingly supportive of the free web. It’s time to reconsider this demographic: not as one that people love to hate, but hate to love. It’s about time that the AdTech community treats this demographic with respect rather than despising them.

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