The Financial Times Decides to Get Creative With Ad-Blocker Blocking

U.K. Newspaper Also Releases an 'Advertising Charter'

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The Financial Times is hiding words in articles for some readers as part of an experiment in convincing visitors to allow ads on the site.
The Financial Times is hiding words in articles for some readers as part of an experiment in convincing visitors to allow ads on the site. Credit: Financial Times
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The Financial Times is certainly not the first media company to test out approaches to combating the rise of ad-blocking technology, but its new approach might be the most creative one yet.

On Wednesday, the newspaper began blanking out, for some users, a percentage of words in articles symbolizing 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 0.75% 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 company will evaulate the results after three or four weeks.

About 20% of Financial Times traffic comes with an ad blocker running, which Mr. Good said is in line with the newspaper's competitors. Hiding a percentage of words in articles conveys two messages, he said: There are consequences for using ad-blockers, and the Financial Times depends heavily on advertising to produce high-quality journalism.

(A spokeswoman noted, however, that the Financial Times since 2012 has generated less money from advertising than businesses such as subscriptions and content licensing.)

When ad-blocking users are denied content, it is incumbent on the Financial Times to explain the company's principles, Mr. Good said. As such, the newspaper on Wednesday released an advertising charter addressing the issues of trust, privacy, and user experience.

"The FT commits to ensuring that advertising never obscures our journalism, interferes with a reader's experience or disrupts the use of any of our platforms," the charter says.

The first prinicple of the "User Experience" section is that "reader experience will always take priority over advertising revenue." In the "Privacy" section, the newspaper commits, for example, to not retarget individual readers after they leave the site "on behalf of our advertising clients."

The New York Times, among other prominent media companies, is also testing approaches to ad-blocking. Many news companies that rely heavily on advertising are hoping that a simple request will be enough to convince ad-blocking readers to whitelist them, though some will likely be forced to get tougher if that doesn't do the trick. New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said at a conference last month that more than 40% of non-subscribers with ad blockers agreed to whitelist the site when presented with a "non-dismissable" request to do so.

"We've been clearly looking at what other publishers are doing," said Mr. Good. "In our mind, in line with the IAB and other organizations, what needs to happen is eduction around the role advertising plays, to consumers, and an appropriate response alongside that."

Craig Bannister, senior product manager for digital advertising at the Financial Times, said it has always adhered to the principles for online advertising set out last fall by the Interactive Advertising Bureau under the rubric LEAN, for light, encrypted, AdChoice-supported and non-invasive. The IAB plans to release a system to score publishers on LEAN ad practices later this year.

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CORRECTION: Based on information provided by the Financial Times, an earlier version of this article said the readers involved in the new test comprised 5% of the company's online traffic. The correct figure is .75% of its desktop traffic.