Posted on April 8, 2021

How COVID shaped ad blocking

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March 11, 2021 marked a grim milestone: one year since the World Health organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Since then, our lives have changed in a myriad ways. Even putting the vital health- and healthcare-related issues aside, the past twelve months saw upheaval that touched every individual personally. Living rooms were turned into offices, classrooms, and yoga studios. Priorities were reshuffled, dogs were purchased, hair went un-cut.

And, of course, we’re all been very online.

We’re swapped movie theaters for streaming services (even more than in past years), concert venues for live-streams, and social activities basically now take place over a combination of video calls and social media.

Of course, thanks to massive and heroic vaccination efforts, things will change soon—but for now we’re living a highly digital existence.

So: how has all this time online shaped our attitudes towards ads? And have ad filterers in particular—the 95% of all ad blocking users who have an ad blocker installed but still consent to be served ads—changed their relationship to ad blockers?

We looked at data gleaned the GlobalWebIndex (GWI) keeps about internet behavior, examining in particular how answers to the question “Why do you use an ad blocker” changed between Q4 2019 and Q3 2020.

And what we found is interesting: there’s been a subtle shift away from issues of annoyance—specifically respondents choosing answers like “Ads are too intrusive” or “Too many ads are irrelevant.” But more people in general seem to choose answers that suggest changing priorities and principles, opting for answers such as “I try to avoid all ads wherever, whether on TV or online.”

There was also a noted shift away from responses that addressed browsing on the go, or away from an energy source. Answers like “To stop my device’s battery being drained” and “I want to stop my data allowance from being used up” both showed a marked decline in Q3 2020—unsurprisingl, given the fact that, for most people, a socket and Wi-Fi connection were never far away during the past year.

But in general, the differences between ad blocking motivation in Q4 2019 and Q3 2020 were less marked than one might imagine, given the tumultuous nature of the past year. Maybe this means that the post-vaccine re-opening we’re all eagerly anticipating will see us seamlessly re-integrating into something very close to the life we left behind last March.


If you’re interested in learning more about ad filterer motivations and psychology, make sure to check out our forthcoming study, Why Block Ads? Behind User Reasons and Motivations, a study that examines, well, the reasons and motivations behind ad blocking habits.

Why Block Ads? Behind User Reasons and Motivations will be published in April, but we’ll be teasing its release with posts just like this one. And if you’re interested, check out some of our previous ground-breaking studies.

Last November we released Ad Filterers Online: Purchasing Habits and Media Consumption In The USA, which shed light on the subject of how ad filterers spend time online…and how they spend their hard-earned dollars.

And back in January of 2020 we published our groundbreaking study, “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Ad Blocking Users,” which drew back the curtain on the youthful, affluent, and well-educated users that have ad blockers installed on their devices.