Performance Marketing

What is an Ad-Light Experience and How Can Publishers Use It?

Becky Doles


Content blocking was one of the top marketing buzzwords of 2015. And the troubles top brands have run into while executing ad-light content blocking means we’ll keep talking about it in 2016.

But first, what is content blocking? Basically a substitute for ad blocking, content blocking allows anyone on any OS to install ad-blocking software. Besides simply blocking what is perceived as irrelevant and annoying advertising, content blockers also help make web browsing more secure.

The ability to easily block advertising content, of course, presents challenges for publishers and advertisers in 2016. Ads pay for content that is supposed to attract visitors who see and interact with ads. Blocked advertising means less revenue to pay for content, which in turn means potentially less visitors, creating a serious issue for publishers and advertisers alike.

Ad-Light: Coaxing Readers to Turn Off Ad Blocking

To deal with the challenge of content blocking, some publishers have turned to an ad-light experience, essentially coaxing visitors to turn off their ad-blocking software in exchange for access to high-quality content. It’s an innovative and honest approach, but, as Forbes has shown over the past few months, it is not without some extreme risks for publishers.

In December 2015, when visitors with ad-blocking extensions visited Forbes, they were met with a splash screen asking them to turn off their ad blockers in exchange for an ad-light experience.

ad light experience by Forbes:

Image credit: Digiday

Forbes‘ ad-light experience generally featured more relevant ads that ditched the typically annoying autoplay video and animation that have made content blockers so popular in the first place. The problem? After visitors had been encouraged to turn off their content blocking software, Forbes immediately (and inadvertently) served them malware.

To be clear, the situation wasn’t exactly Forbes‘ fault—responsibility lies with the ad network that served up the results to Forbes’ visitors. 

Poor User Experience: The Biggest Challenge for Implementing Ad-Light 

The challenge publishers and marketers face is that ads pay for the content that attracts consumers to publishers’ sites in the first place. If consumers block ads, it may lead to less published content overall. And a considerable amount of revenue is being blocked. A report commissioned by Adobe estimated that ad blockers on desktop computers were on track to cost publishers $22 billion worldwide in 2015.

For some publishers, an ad-light approach means simply getting around the ad blockers themselves. Adblock Plus, one of the most popular content blockers, actually allows verified advertisers and networks to display advertising—effectively unblocking their ads—for a price.

In this case, being verified means your network and your ads must be free of malware. The issue is that in 2015 a prominent verification service allowed malware-infected ads to be displayed on a number of prominent publishers’ sites that had adopted an ad-light approach.

For visitors and potential customers, the purpose of using content blocking to avoid seeing annoying and irrelevant ads, or to protect themselves from dangerous malware—has been validated.

So what can publishers and advertisers do?

3 Tips for Getting the Ad-Light Experience Right

1. Keep Advertising Relevant

Advertisers and publishers should always be focused on giving an experience they can relate to and ads showing things they like. It’s common sense that the consumer is more likely to engage with an ad that addresses their need or offers valuable information. That also means a better ROI for advertisers and publishers.

2. Promise Quality and Safety

As some publishers have learned, asking visitors to disable their content blockers can lead to unsafe and disastrous results. Do whatever you can to make sure the ads you’re serving are safe. Best practices include using preventative malware detection software and maintaining a good relationship with your advertising partners.

3. Explore Native Advertising

If all else fails, consider native advertising, which closely resembles or appears to be highly relevant to the content in which it’s shown. Native advertising is great because it can be implemented in many forms across apps and devices. The key to native advertising is to make sure that it’s not intrusive and is transparent for pick out readers who’ll be turned off if they realize the content has been sponsored without explicitly stating so.

If considering whether to set up an ad-light experience, publishers and advertisers should remember that content blocking may (for now, at least) be only a trending hot topic, but the lessons for networks and publishers around security and relevancy remain important for success this year.

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Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.