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Ad blocker shocker

VP Strategy

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The war against advertisers rages into mobile as ad blocking software is included in the latest Apple iOS9 update. What do pharma marketers need to know, and how can brands survive?

Ever since Tim Berners-Lee fired up the first website in August of 1991, we’ve taken for granted that content on the Web is universally accessible and free. That precedent was set early on when nobody understood the Internet, or its unprecedented potential to transform not only how content is shared, but how billions of people live, work, and are entertained.

War immediately broke out between publishers seeking to monetize, and audiences expecting everything for free. From the first Prodigy banners to rich media display ads, the dawn of DoubleClick to pop-up ads, pay-per-click and Google Adwords to online video and retargeted Facebook ads, a dynamic ecosystem has evolved, survival of the digitally fittest.


Audience vs Ads

That predator-prey relationship between content creator and consumer has taken many turns, the latest battlefield in mobile: Apple’s latest iOS9 update contains new content blocking extensions allowing users to merely flip a setting, download an app, and block not only mobile ads, but autoplay videos, other “forced” content, and even tracking scripts.

The 2015 Ad Blocking Report  from PageFair and Adobe is revelatory, indicating that the number of people using ad blocking software has grown by 41% year-over-year, with more than 45 million monthly active users in the US alone, and a whopping 200 million global users. The worldwide loss of revenue is estimated at $22 billion and growing:


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The reasons cited for using ad blockers is also interesting, and particularly relevant for healthcare, with half of respondents concerned about misuse of their personal data. Although the global rate of ad blocking for health is still relatively low at 5.4%, one in twenty ads are already being blocked, the trend increasing, especially given the privacy concerns:


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The implications for advertisers are obvious and increasingly significant, considering the growth curve of active ad blocker users, and the apparent eagerness of browsers and mobile OS platforms to embed the functionality. With more patients and HCPs on mobile, and the fight for pixels and eyeballs reaching a fever pitch, healthcare advertisers are on alert.


Blocking the Ad Blockers

Publishers are fighting back, using the latest software to detect ad blockers, and then force an interstitial message, or withholding content altogether. Startups like Sourcepoint and not surprisingly Pagefair enable newspapers like The Washington Post and others to “block the blockers,” and compel a call-to-action, such as registration:


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Other publishers have taken on a “softer” approach to the challenge. For example, Wired magazine offers up a friendly message, tapping into the loyalty of their readership to trigger a sense of responsibility, perhaps even guilt. After all, quality content doesn’t create itself, and just because it’s available through the Internet doesn’t make it actually free.


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Healthcare Implications and Solutions

As digital advertising is set to soon outpace television in spend, getting the right content to the right audience on the right device becomes paramount. But as communications software and its users become increasingly sophisticated and demanding, every advance made by marketers to garner attention is resisted with ad blocking innovation and creativity.


digital advertising


The solution for healthcare communicators rests squarely on staying true to our mission, that of providing accurate and authoritative content for all our audiences. Whether we’re distributing content related to disease education, treatment options, patient and practice management support, adherence or advocacy, content remains king, and context queen.

That perspective reimagines traditional media planning, strategically transforming the process into an integrated, full-channel approach focused on connecting brand goals to the needs and behaviors of the end-user. Today’s real-time, social, geo-targeted, transmedia engagement demands dynamic, targeted content—and ads that are equally relevant for the user.

Ad blockers arose and continue to gain popularity largely because online ads have become pervasive, obtrusive, irrelevant, and obnoxious. The solution goes beyond forcing users to register, or appealing to their sense of guilt or obligation—instead it demands creating quality content shared with audiences who need it and gain the most benefit from it.

To do exactly that, the arbitrary walls between content creation and distribution need to be destroyed. The days when editorial and media had nothing to do with each other are gone, replaced by creative sprints where healthcare brands begin with the end in mind, and acknowledge that the medium is the message, the message the medium.

Is your media team seamlessly connected to your content creators? Are you taking a strategic, user-centric approach to multichannel planning and buying? Are your experts aware of the ad blocker challenge, and the underlying content and distribution issues that fuel the fire? Tune in your experts, because you’re never too old to ad block & roll…

More About the Author

Michael Spitz

A digital health expert since before digital health was cool, Spitz has since developed omnichannel campaigns for top pharma and device brands, and helps drive agency innovation, digital transformation, and emerging channels. See him present at conferences, read his blogs, and follow him for the latest trends and opinions on Twitter @SpitzStrategy.

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