This ad blocking software is getting users to pay for it to advertise

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

As marketing stunts go, this one is impressive. AdBlock is a free piece of software you can add to your web browser to, well, block ads. Its creator, Michael Gundlach, says it is used by 20 million people. But he wants more.

And—in a twist—Gundlach apparently believes the best way to tell people about a product is still to advertise it. Or to do something noteworthy enough for journalists to write about it. Gundlach has done both. His idea was to launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund an ad campaign.

It seems to be working. The campaign opened to the public at large on Aug 26, and shot past the first goal of $25,000 in a couple of days. That initial sum of money will be used get the campaign started online. At the time of writing, with 24 days to go, the campaign has hit over $47,000. (It went up by $400 just as this piece was being written.)

That’s approaching the $50,000 goal that Gundlach says will buy a billboard at Times Square. Those don’t come cheap. Assuming a $25,000 budget for the billboard, AdBlock will probably get a small property for a fleeting amount of time. The third goal, for which the target is $150,000, is a full-page ad in the New York Times. That could cost less than $100,000 if AdBlock is willing to haggle a bit and be flexible about when it appears.

The final goal is advertising taken to the extreme. “If people collectively contribute $4.2 million, we can get the word out to an absolutely huge audience during the Super Bowl, and make a difference in a whole lot of people’s lives,” says Gundlach, who also disagrees that there is any irony to be found in his campaign.

But why would other people pay to grow Gundlach’s business? “I’ve been thanked by blind people who can read the web better without the distraction of advertisements; epileptic users who have fewer seizures when using AdBlock; ADHD students who can focus better on their work with AdBlock’s help; parents and pastors who love how much safer the web is for children when AdBlock is enabled,” Gundlach suggests.

More likely is that donators don’t see it as a business. Noble sentiment is at the heart of AdBlock’s campaign. Watch the video above and it’s all about “making a difference” and “changing the world.” Indeed, the software is free but users can choose to pay.

“I haven’t looked at the numbers lately, but historically it’s been less than 1% [who] decide to voluntarily support it,” Gundlach says. Assuming a bare minimum of 200,000 people who each paid $10 (the lowest amount one can tip without manually entering a smaller number), that’s not a bad return on investment for Gundlach, who quit his job to run AdBlock.  Several million more users who sign up thanks to an entirely free (for AdBlock) ad campaign and a few who donate as well would certainly make a difference—both to AdBlock’s bottom line and to the many other firms and companies that rely on advertising for their supper.