I have to come clean. I’m a digital marketer and I use an ad blocking plugin. I actively promote digital advertising for clients and partners while protecting myself from seeing those ads. That said, I fully stand behind digital advertising – specifically PPC, paid search and other programmatic options – as one of the most effective and profitable methods for driving real, measurable business results.

Why I Use An Ad Blocker

But before I get to that, let me explain my situation. On my personal computer I use Adblock Plus to hide as many ads as possible while I am browsing the web. Why? Because the user experience is better. It just is. Not only is it more enjoyable and less distracting to browse without ads, but pages load much faster. There is less data to be downloaded, which is especially significant for mobile devices as the major wireless carriers are increasingly monetizing the use of data. The importance of quick-loading pages for mobile is highlighted by what Google is doing with their Accelerated Mobile Pages project and Facebook is doing with Instant Articles. Clearly a lightweight mobile experience is what the end user wants.

Then why not block ads, right? Well, as a digital marketer, it’s not that easy…

At Breakaway our partners rely on me to drive traffic, leads and conversions. So, on my work computer I don’t use an ad blocker. For 11+ hours a day on Monday-Friday – which represents the majority of my waking week – I am exposed to all the ads that people want to serve me. And I like it. I treat every encounter with an ad as a learning experience, whether it is a lesson in what to do, or what not to do. Both are important.

Obtrusive Advertisements and Ad Blockers

Wow, Quartz, that’s an impressively massive, amazingly obtrusive ad.

There is another thing to be addressed here: the publishers. The people who rely on the advertising income to operate their websites, blogs or periodicals. Blocking ads makes it more difficult for publishers to earn the revenue they need to keep their sites online and pay their employees, but I can’t help but feel as though most content providers have prioritized ads at the expense of the user experience. When ads prohibit me from consuming content, who is really to blame for my use of ad blockers?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that advertisements are pretty much always going to be distracting in some way. But I believe there is a right way and a wrong way to display advertisements. Take a look at this screenshot of an article from Business Insiders, which, in my opinion, is one of the worst offenders:


Wow, BI, that’s a lot of ads.

Look at how many ads are in that screenshot. Crazy, right? Not to mention those suspect ads that are disguised as additional articles in the “Recommended from the Web” section. Hard to fault people for wanting to block ads when this sight is all-too-common.

If you talk to publishers and ad networks one of the most common things you will hear is that this is a self-perpetuating problem, and they aren’t wrong. As more and more users start blocking, avoiding, or becoming numb to ads, publishers that rely on advertising revenue are forced to find new ways to get their advertisements in front of consumers.

Then how can I still feel good about programmatic and other digital marketing?

Despite Ad-Blockers, Digital Marketing Still Produces

The fact of the matter is, ad blockers haven’t noticeably reduced performance. Although more and more people are blocking ads and the user experience without ads is far superior, programmatic advertising through AdWords, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others still works. At Breakaway we manage immensely successful campaigns for our clients that continue to move the needle. In some cases, we’re seeing ROAS in the range of $4.50-$5.50. Not bad, right? It’s really hard to argue with numbers like that. Anecdotally, I also feel as though the people who are using ad blockers were extremely unlikely to interact with an ad in the first place. I can’t even remember the last time that I clicked on an ad unit outside of a work-related interest. Can you?

It is clear that digital advertising is going through a major disruption, and in my opinion, this is for the best. Initiatives like Ad Block Plus’ Acceptable Ads program actually allow some advertisements to be displayed to people using the plugin. The program outlines clear criteria to ensure that any advertisements not blocked by the plugin do not significantly interfere with the user experience. This is a major step in the right direction because while publishers may not always have to rely on ad revenue to continue producing quality content, that is the reality for the near future. Until then, when browsing for personal reasons I am going to continue to seek the most enjoyable, frictionless browsing experience through the use of ad blockers.

What do you think about the use of ad blockers, especially by digital marketers? Hit me up on Twitter – @mathewbernstein – and let me know what you think.