Facebook goes on the offensive

Adblocking has been on the ever and up over the past 18 months. When a UK government minister described the best-known example Adblock Plus as “a racket”, its author Eyeo must have been patting itself on the back.

When you get great free marketing like that, you know you’ve hit the mainstream.

But a UK politician is one thing; Facebook is something else. The social media network has signaled its intentions by announcing two initiatives. Firstly, it’s going to offer more controls to its users over what advertising they see. And secondly, it’s going to show ads whether you have an adblocker installed or not.

Bad ads

A big growth driver behind adblockers has been the poor experience offered by online ads. Many of them use Flash, which in turn affects browser performance. Depressingly, the average banner ad has not changed since the early days of the web. Innovation has mostly been about interference – introducing expandables and pop-ups, for example.

Ultimately, the publisher is to blame for this situation. Antiquated CMS systems and lack of investment in developers has not helped. Nor has the business model whereby content is thrown on to a site and expected to fund it by annoying the reader.

To be fair, Facebook seems to agree with much of this. However, its answer is better targeting rather than improved user experience.

Controls and data

Facebook’s solution is to provide the user with more control over what they see. In effect, you are given a handy form to explain which ads you want to skip. Don’t buy cat litter? Fine, just tick this box.

By inference, of course, you are telling them what you do want to see. For a company that already owns a Googlesque amount of data on its users, it’s probably just a handy extra. But if you forgot to tick a box excluding yourself from ads for baby clothes, Facebook would have the option of passing on your details to companies that make them.

What is more interesting is Facebook’s decision to run ads on the desktop. There was little information on how it planned to do a Forbes or whether it has the ability to override the blockers. In the case of a walled garden like Facebook, one suspects the latter.

“As we offer people more powerful controls, we’ll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use adblocking software” – Facebook

Saving journalism

Facebook points out that ads fund journalism and other free services, among them Facebook itself. It is a fair point. Another is that Facebook can in effect stop adblockers. It is not just a website, but a web application with its own rules and standards. We have made this point before, but if anything is to stop the rise of adblocking it is applications.

Facebook goes on the offensive is part of Content24, the blog for London content marketing agency FirstWord.