Marketers Wait Before Tackling Adblock

NEW YORK Marketers mostly shrugged off a threat from Adblock Plus, a tool recently added to the Firefox browser that lets users delete banner ads and disable Flash and rich-media messages.

The software, described by some as a “TiVo for the Web,” is designed to make Web browsing a purer user experience, said Wladimir Palant, who developed the program as an update to a version released five years ago.

“Adblock is definitely important because there are still too many ads, ones that make sounds and others that are animated, float in the middle of the screen obscuring text and do just about anything else to grab your attention,” he said.

Firefox also hosts TubeStop, which blocks ad overlays on YouTube videos, and another program that replaces banner ads with public domain artwork.

Despite the potential attraction of ad-free surfing, marketers appeared nonplussed, arguing that Adblock Plus won’t change the online marketing industry, mainly because it’s on a niche browser. They also point to the fact that similar programs on larger browsers have not yet revolutionized the business model.

“This particular program is just one part of a larger trend that’s a fact of life for marketers,” said Ilya Vedrashko, an emerging-media strategist at Hill Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston. Vedrashko said browsers such as Internet Explorer, which he says controls 64 percent of browser usage (versus 17.5 percent for Firefox), also have ad blocking tools. “I wouldn’t overestimate the importance of the business impact of this application.”

Vedrashko argued on his blog last week that such technology is actually good for marketers because it forces them to make better ads. John Paulson, president at digital marketing agency G2 Interactive, New York, agreed. “From an industry standpoint, I don’t think any of this is stuff we should be afraid of because it just puts the onus on the image creators to put out messages of value to the user,” he said. But Jenny Howell, manager of interactive marketing for American Honda Motor, was less sanguine: “Although penetration of Adblock is still quite low, conceptually, programs like Adblock are, of course, frightening to an online marketer.”

Still, Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, New York, said his organization plans to reach out to technology providers to persuade them to discourage the use of ad-blocking software.