With the dawn of the Internet came endless information . . . and endlessly annoying ads. This begat ad blockers that changed digital marketing strategies forever. First appearing in the 1990s, ad-blocking software solves one problem—pop-ups and invasive marketing—while creating another for brands seeking consumer attention on the internet.

Annoying, malicious and disruptive ads are the largest factors for installing an ad blocker, according to a recent survey by Hubspot. As the saying goes, “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel,” and now consumers see the very idea of ads like an offering from the Wicked Witch.

Emarketer predicts that by 2018, 30 percent of all American internet users will block ads. According to Kantar Millward Brown, 51 percent of Gen Z consumers already do.

Creative Solutions

Despite consumers’ lingering distaste for ads in general, many brands continue to market with great success online. In fact—according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing—76 percent of marketers think ad blocking will be positive for the industry because it encourages greater creativity.

One example of how marketers think outside the pop-up is through branded content. Content that is separate from a display, video or pop-up ad is just that—content—and thus cannot be blocked by software. More importantly, documentaries, podcasts, web series and more trade the hard sell for informative or inspiring entertainment that aligns with a particular brand message.

Eighty-eight percent of consumers say that personally relevant branded content positively influences how they feel about the brand, according to a 2016 joint study by OneSpot and Marketing Insider Group. More than two-thirds of consumers say that branded content is at its best when it educates or informs them.

IBM partnered with The New York Times to promote the film Hidden Figures through an augmented reality app. Outthink Hidden is an AR experience that overlays virtual statues of the film’s real-life NASA scientists in select city locations.

“The overall program itself was to increase diversity in STEM,” Ann Rubin, IBM’s vice president of branded content and global creative told AListDaily. “It’s part of the core of our company’s culture and values. We want to continue to encourage how important inclusion and diversity is to a company’s success.”

Dove encourages women to recognize their own beauty with its “Real Beauty” campaign—a series of short videos that explore the strength of a woman’s inner beauty without mentioning any products. The first film, “You’re More Beautiful Than You Think,” has been viewed over 168 million times since it debuted in 2013.


Sponsored content and influencer marketing are two other ways in which brands reach a targeted audience on their own terms. These partnerships help creators build their brand, and while fans are already tuned in, marketers enjoy a shared audience. According to a study by Bloglovin, 41 percent of marketers said they have seen more success in influencer campaigns than in more traditional advertising efforts.

Battling The Ad Blocker Blues

Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) is strongly against ad blockers and blames their rising adoption on the current marketing-media ecosystem.

“We are mistreating our most valuable asset—our consumers,” wrote IAB. “We can talk all we want about the ad-centered ‘value exchange’ between consumers and media. But until we commit to the cause of ever-improving user experiences, advertisers and media will be at risk.”

Bad ads aren’t the only ones to blame, says IAB. The firm alleges that ad blocking is an extortionist scheme that seeks to divert advertising spend from publishers to technology companies. Major ad blocking companies charge publishers to be whitelisted, for example.

Google—the world’s largest source for advertising—is issuing a Chrome browser update in January with an ad blocker built right in. As a founding member of the Coalition for Better Ads, Google is tackling what research deems to be the most annoying types of advertising on the internet.

For publisher websites that fail to meet Google’s new standards, the company is testing a “Funding Choices” feature that gives visitors the choice to either enable ads or block them all for a fee. Proceeds from this transaction would be split between Google and the publisher.

“We believe these changes will ensure all content creators, big and small, can continue to have a sustainable way to fund their work with online advertising,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google vice president of ads and commerce with the announcement.

Bottom line? If you can’t beat the ad blockers, engage consumers in an authentic way—unless you’re Google, in which case you can become your own ad blocker and cut out the middleman.