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The “backfire effect” is mostly a myth, a broad look at the research suggests
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July 21, 2016, 11:01 a.m.
LINK: adage.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   July 21, 2016

On Wednesday, The Financial Times began testing blocking a tiny percentage of registered readers on desktop who have adblockers turned on, reports Jeremy Barr over at Ad Age. Instead of displaying a non-dismissable message to subscribe or a plea to turn off adblockers, the Financial Times is removing entire words from articles. The experiment is a real-life extension of the whimsical tactic of “disemvoweling,” put in place years ago on Boing Boing and Gawker Media sites and suggested not long ago by Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos as a way to extract a little money from interested readers.

According to Ad Age, the blocked words symbolize, roughly, “the percentage of the company’s revenue that comes from advertising.”

The proportion of words blocked isn’t scientific, and the Financial Times doesn’t break out the exact chunk of revenue that comes from ads, said global advertising sales director Dominic Good. “It’s more illustrative than specific,” he said.

The test group comprises registered desktop computer visitors who don’t pay for a subscription, about .075% of the company’s desktop traffic. Some ad-blocking members of this group won’t see any new messaging, some will be asked to whitelist the website’s ads but can still read regardless, some will see articles with many words blanked out if they won’t whitelist the site, and some will be blocked outright if they don’t whitelist the site.

The Financial Times is just the latest of many news organizations to begin campaigns against adblocking, which some forecasts suggest could cost the industry $12 billion in digital advertising revenue by 2020. The New York Times had been testing it, and is using some of what it’s learned to inform a potential “ad-free” digital Times subscription. About 20 publishers in Sweden are teaming up next month to collectively block adblockers, in an IAB Sweden-led initiative. And I’ve even encountered multiple “whitelist us” notices on Ad Age.

The Financial Times is in a relatively good place, making more money from readers than advertisers, and taking in more revenue from digital than print. With its adblocking tests, it’s also released an “advertising charter,” outlining its commitment to better advertising, which includes clearly labeling sponsored content, protecting readers’ privacy, and making sure ads are unobtrusive overall.

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