How Squarespace Side-stepped Adblock (and How You Can too)

by Mike Tyler | March 2, 2015

We’re in hell right now, ladies and gentlemen. Believe me. And, we can stay here, get the shit kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light.

Where this speech is from? No googling.

Answer: it’s from the 1999 football-themed drama Any Given Sunday, where Sharks coach Tony D’Mato attempts to motivate his team before the climatic final game. He hits the nail on the head. We’re in hell right now. For advertisers, this is surely the devil.

Adblock is a browser plugin that blocks the majority of advertising seen on websites and videos.

If you watched the 2015 Superbowl you might have noticed this awesome commercial from the do-it-yourself website service Squarespace. Impressive work for what was only a couple of years ago a fledgling startup — one whose demographic largely understands how to use Adblock.

With the above in mind, let’s look at the next line in the speech:

We can climb outta hell… one inch at a time. Now I can’t do it for ya, I’m too old.

Coach is right here. The old—model in this case—isn’t working for many advertisers, and they losing the game of inches. Your video isn’t much good if it can largely be negated with the installation of a browser plugin. With around 20% of internet users using Adblock, that’s a lot of inches.

Faced with the challenge above, Squarespace went back to the drawing board, and what they came up with was brilliant. Let’s take a look at the playbook they used on their path to the championship game.

The Hand-off

Squarespace advertises on a lot podcasts. I know because I listen to a lot of them.

I have noticed that they often take a native advertising approach: it’s not just a sponsorship nod; it’s a native advertisement. The host will talk openly about what they like about the service, and weave some relevancy into the presentation. Some hosts even tell the viewers to skip forward if they don’t need a website!

I love this because it shows that Squarespace is mature enough to accept that if someone doesn’t want to see the advertisement, then why bother forcing them to? This type of thinking is the future because aggressive insistence from certain brands is why people use these plugins in the first place.

Most of these same podcasts are going to be acutely aware of the Adblock issue because the percentage of people using the plugin will be a lot higher for their traffic—hobbyist developers and entrepreneurs. So there is mutual benefit to choosing the native advertising route: the host gets some freedom in which to act as a brand ambassador, and the advertiser actually gets their video seen by people who have otherwise automated saying ‘no’ through the use of a plugin.

Following our football analogy, Adblock is that linebacker blitzing at top speed toward you, and native advertising is the hand-off to star of the show, standing wide-open beside you. Everyone came to see the star anyway.


Photo by Keith Johnston on Unsplash

A Game of Inches?

Industry researchers have measured that between 2010 and 2012, there has been a 65% increase in the number of monthly American podcast listeners. 65% is a lot of inches. Squarespace was and continues to be a dominant player in this channel.

Advertising, like football, is a game of inches, but when you are cutting into percentiles like 20% (people using Adblock) leveraging channels experiencing 65% growth over a two year period, those inches quickly start to look like yards.

Squarespace makes this all look easy. This can be really hard for some to swallow.

But here is the thing: there is so much abundance and opportunity right now for marketers and advertisers in these emerging channels that if you are letting a single browser plugin dictate your success, you need to go back to the drawing board immediately.

Yet so many refuse to implement the changes demanded of this new advertising paradigm.

I have seen many publishers & content creators complain about how the users need to adapt to their (advertising network) preferences in order to keep them in business. But this is all backward thinking, and it misses the point of what to do with all this data. Users don’t need to maintain the old advertising model; you need to innovate and find your own path to success within the new model.

I’m tired of the excuses. It’s clear that Adblock isn’t going away. It’s popularity suggests that maybe the old way of doing things was not all that great in the first place.

Huddle Up

If you want to grow your business like Squarespace, and have a cool Jeff Bridges Superbowl commercial, you had better be willing to fight for all the inches you can. You had better be willing to create advertisements that your customers want to view, and you had better be willing to properly nature brand ambassadors that your customers have proven a loyalty toward. Finally, if you have fallen into a certain hole, you had better have some kind of a data-driven plan to fight your way back to the light.

This is the new game. Everyone likes something, and everyone is consuming content more than ever before. Tony D’Mato wouldn’t accept any excuses, and neither should you if you want to win instead of just compete.

All right now huddle it up. We have a game to play.

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