The recent news that Apple is set to allow ad-blocking software on the latest version of its mobile operating system has got the ad world up in arms. The internet has been awash with arguments from both sides, each making valid, insightful points. All of which contradict.

What’s agreed, however, is that ad blocking as a practice will only get more widespread. But is ad blocking really a bad thing – surely it’s a positive to get rid of annoying, unwanted display ads?

Alas, it’s not that straightforward.

Audiences don’t want ads all over the content they’re reading, popping up at every second, edging into every visible corner of their web. In many cases they also don’t want to pay for content though.

Publishers – for the most part – share those audiences’ reservations about filling pages with adverts. But to address the demand for free content, they need to maintain a source of income. That’s the advertising.

Audiences don’t want ads all over the content they’re reading

So the likelihood is that ad blocking will have a big effect – the concern is legitimate. In fact, Adobe and PageFair have been running an annual report on its ramifications for the past few years.

The findings in the 2015 report are stark, depending on your leanings:

  • Ad blocking is estimated to have cost publishers nearly $22 billion in 2015
  • Ad blocking grew by 41% in the last 12 months
  • In the UK, ad blocking grew by 82% in the 12 months leading up to June 2015 – there are now 12 million active users of ad blocking software in this country alone

Those are huge numbers, and there are clear reasons to acknowledge that this tide won’t be turned – the game is changing. But there are positives, too, most notably for those brands and companies running proper, multi-channel digital content marketing strategies…

No more lazy, catchall ads

Let’s face it, no one likes seeing a pop up over a page. And those that serve no real purpose, have no relevancy to their host page, are not targeted and are only looking for ‘mistake clicks’ are the absolute worst. Nothing will ruin your audience’s experience quicker.

This is part of the reason ad blockers are taking off: to banish these types of online litter. Some people have suggested this will bring a new wave of smart, more creative advertising – that if ‘lazy’ pop-up-type ads go and advertisers focus on creating better, more targeted ads, readers will worry less about blocking them. Although it does raise the question: how will audiences know the ads are less annoying if they’re still blocking them?

In short, it could ask advertisers to be more creative, to pay more attention to the ads they’re producing, and thinking about where they direct them. All of which are things that – if you weren’t doing in the first place – are imperative to achieving your marketing goals, anyway.

Less distraction, better focus

A study (The Digital News Report) by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 29% of internet users in the US avoid certain sites because of the ads. If you’re taking the time to craft well-written, targeted content, you don’t want it to be tarnished by the fact it’s on an ad-heavy page.

With better ad blocking, and perhaps the demise of lazy display advertising, there will be less of it around to distract audiences. This leaves the page open for your content that, if it’s good, will be the starting point for users to begin their journey on your site and start engaging with your brand.

What won’t be blocked is good, useful, relevant content

Content marketing could be the real winner

It’s worth remembering that what we’re primarily talking about here is display advertising – the banners, the pre-YouTube ads and the pop-ups. The publishers relying on the model of delivering free content funded by ads are the ones that will be most under pressure, and we could could see a rise in more paywall-enforced sites to counter this loss.

What won’t be blocked is good, useful, relevant content. Content that you’re producing and amplifying on your own channels, that you’re taking time and care to produce, target and distribute.

The Reuters Digital News Report closes by stating that, with ad blocking becoming the norm, many publishers are already leaving the traditional display model behind in favour of sponsored content and publishing brand content in consumer spaces. This will undoubtedly rise, but so will the continued drive for brands to become publishers themselves, and to put more time and budget into affective amplification, whether that’s organic or paid for.

Yes, the rise of ad blocking will mean big changes – for audiences and for publishers – but for content marketing, it could be a good thing. When the internet culls the banner ads, the pop ups and the auto-play videos, what’s left behind will be cleaner platforms that showcase the best brand content that’s part of a coherent, targeted communications strategy.

Display advertising isn’t dead. It’s survived hundreds of years and faced larger foes than ad blocking software. But while it struggles to find its feet in a rapidly changing marketplace, it’s clever content that will stand tall and deliver confident, effective brand messages.