PARIS: When French publishers ran a week-long campaign against ad blocking last month, those taking a tougher stance had more success in changing user behaviour – an experiment that may prove instructive for publishers in other markets.

"We wanted a collective movement with many publishers, but we decided we couldn't have only one solution for us all," said Bertrand Gié, head of digital at Le Figaro and vice president of Le Geste, the French publishing trade body that spearheaded the challenge.

"It turned out to be a very intelligent decision because all of us tried different things, and we can see what worked," he added.

And what worked best was the approach taken by sports daily L'Equipe, which simply blocked all content unless ad blockers disabled the software or whitelisted the site; 40% did so.

That was double the proportion achieved at Le Figaro, which allowed users to continue to the articles which were blurred out. This tactic meant that, unlike L'Equipe, Le Figaro did not lose its position in search rankings.

But, as Digiday noted, L'Equipe's focus on sports means that it has "a clear value add" which is always likely to be more successful when asking people to whitelist a site.

Le Figaro is now set to trial alternative options, including incentivisation: those blockers whitelisting the will be offered a week's access to premium subscription content.

One of the least aggressive tactics produced the poorest results in the test. Le Monde explained how its site was funded by advertising, which needed to be served to users in order to pay for the journalism they were reading; only 13% of users added Le Monde to their whitelist.

While the results varied depending on the particular approach taken, all publishers were pleased with the tests and are unlikely to stop there.

"Ninety percent of our income is advertising," said Gié. "We have to try everything to fight this problem."

That includes improving the user experience by removing intrusive ads from their sites.

Data sourced from Digiday