The growth in popularity of ad blocking software is causing sleepless nights among online publishers. But, as they toss and turn at night, they should take comfort in knowing there is a potential resolution that could benefit both advertisers and consumers: we like seeing things online that are relevant to us at that moment in time.

Imagine being able to select the types of ads you are shown so that you only see those you are interested in. You could, for instance, decide you only want to see ads about sports, fashion or culture.

Could this be a ‘win-win’ for the industry, by encouraging us to stop using ad blockers, and by giving us an engaging and useful advertising experience based on the things we like to see and do? We know people are prepared to turn ad blockers off under the right circumstances and it could be that giving users more control over the ads they see would ensure advertising engages with the intended audience and ad blocking usage slows (and eventually declines).

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However, online publishers would do well to remember that there is such a thing as too much personalisation. Consumers are acutely aware of when online targeting goes from ‘cool’ to ‘creepy’.

While people want a personalised online experience, they dislike ads that are disruptive, however personalised they may be. The most common reason for blocking ads is because they are annoying (69%), followed by “getting in the way of what I’m trying to do” (57%) or “irrelevant” (56%).

Across ages and geographies, consumers tell us they want more control over ads online, and agree that increased control will improve their online experience. For instance, eight in ten people (79%) agree that they should be able to opt out of seeing ads on specific topics (e.g. Football or Politics) if they want to. Providing additional controls to people can be a way of providing them with a positive, personalised experience, whilst also building trust.

Some social media platforms have recently introduced tools to help people control their experience of online ads.  They have improved how ads are shown and created new ad formats that complement, rather than detract from, people’s experience online. These changes were based on insight that demonstrated the importance of needing ad controls.

These new controls mean that users can easily block the ads they truly dislike – gambling and dating ads top that list – without the need to block every ad.

One challenge in helping us see only what we are interested in is that some publishers and advertisers do already offer limited ad personalisation options, but, most of us are unaware of them! Given that 74% of Britons who say they are willing to pay for a product or service that keeps their details private have not increased the privacy settings on their internet browser,1Ipsos Global Trends Survey. Base 1,00 adults in Great Britain, online, 1-15 October 2013, data is weighted. it begs the question of whether they are likely to take the time to set ad preferences.

“Take back control” was THE slogan of 2016. In advertising, as in politics, that is what publishers and advertisers need to give us.

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