6 Reasons Why Mobile Ad-Blocking Is A Non-Starter for MNOs

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Mobile Ad-Blocking in the Network? Six reasons it’s a non-starter for MNOs
Andrew Darling

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Mobile operator Three announced just before MWC in Barcelona that it plans to deploy ad-blocking technology network-wide, meaning users can opt-in to block ads on mobile Web and in-app, using technology from Israeli company Shine, which Three is an investor in.

The mobile operator is introducing the technology in the U.K. and Italy in the next few months ahead of a wider rollout to its 87 million global users. Tom Malleschitz, chief marketing officer at Three U.K., said that the goal is to give customers more “control, choice and transparency” over the ads they see.

The PR talks a good game about privacy and control, but is divorced from reality in several important ways. There are many reasons why trying to fix these issues in the network will never work:

  • First, 50-90 percent of smartphone use, and probably 90-95 percent of tablet use is over WiFi – and almost exclusively WiFi not provided by mobile network operators. Therefore, consumers will still get ads on their phones most of the time.
  • Second, the fastest-growing part of mobile advertising is in-app. And while some in-app traffic might be block-able, the “native” ads such as Facebook’s in-timeline ads won’t be. Facebook blends them in at the server, and encrypts it all. That’s not going to change, apart from becoming ever more-sophisticated.
  • Third, people who really want ad-blocking are likely to do it themselves, either with an app or browser-capability, or perhaps even in the OS. That way they can block ads on WiFi too.
  • Fourth, any network-level solution is held hostage to future modifications in Android and iOS which offer work-around options for advertisers. That might not be a bad thing, in that it could cut down on some of the worst pop-up offenders or most-egregious “cookie monsters”, but it won’t reduce the overall amount of ads.
  • Fifth, advertising and B2C engagement is changing anyway. Some of it is moving to apps, and some is moving to ads/interactions in messaging platforms e.g. ‘conversational commerce.’
  • Sixth, it risks all manner of embarrassing or legally-questionable side-effects. There will be false positives (blocking things that aren’t ads) and false negatives (failing to blocks ads at all). What happens when Operator A blocks an ad from Operator B, and the competition authorities take a dim view? Or blocks a government ad for submitting tax returns on time, or a charity’s disaster appeal? Put your PR and legal teams on danger-money….

The bottom line is that screaming headlines in stories about “the risk to Internet companies’ business models” are basically nonsense.

Yes, there are some possible upsides here. We could see a proportion of the nastiest pop-up ads being squashed, which is a good thing in most users’ eyes. But will that just shift mobile advertising to other inventory types or channels? And maybe for some very low-end users, in markets with low-end data plans and a preponderance of web vs. app traffic, it could make a worthwhile difference.

But for everyone else, I think it’s hugely overhyped. It’s unlikely to stop more than single-digit percentage of overall data traffic per user.

There’s a huge set of “gotchas” for the idea that mobile network operators can make a meaningful difference, given WiFi and in-app ads. Yes, it makes for fun controversial headlines and might allow telcos to stick another metaphorical finger up at net-neutrality. But it’s a sideshow, not something that will give Google and the rest of the mobile advertising any major industry sleepless nights.

Helping brands to win back audience trust

Instead, the industry must focus on delivering greater value for consumers by ensuring content is perfectly matched to their needs, and mobile data provides marketers with exactly the right insight to do so. Offering a detailed overview of consumer habits and activities, mobile data can be used to deliver effective, personalised content to consumers at the most opportune time and place — making it a key weapon in the battle against ad blocking.

Targeting based on accurate data

Mobile data is already facilitating better audience understanding and becoming coveted currency across the digital marketing industry as a result.

Consumers do not appear to object to advertising, with 71% of ad block users open to being served ads that meet acceptable criteria or are whitelisted. It is ads considered to be visual clutter, due to poor quality and irrelevance (cited by 64% of users), that drive consumers to block ads on mobile.

Delivering personalised content in real-time

Effective use of mobile data, particularly mobile location data, can help address this issue. With accurate data as a foundation, marketers can improve the efficiency, accuracy, and relevance of campaigns — delivering tailored content for the right individual, at the most appropriate time.

Speed is essential to capture consumer attention in the fast-paced digital world, yet marketers must engage their audience at the right time, which is not necessarily as soon as they look at their smartphone. By understanding the movements of consumers, mobile location data can highlight the best times to serve marketing messages, without being interruptive.

For brand marketers, this insight could drastically reduce the wastage of ads received at times when they are unlikely to be effective and boost engagement with ads delivered at exactly the right moment. For instance, mobile location data that shows consumers frequently topping up their shop mid-week could be extremely useful to food and drinks brands keen to optimise sales of seasonal produce in the run-up to Christmas.

Knowledge of the location of a consumer, their inclination to purchase, and their habitual activity can inform relevant, engaging marketing that transcends channels and devices. Mobile location data that shows a commuter regularly uses their smartphone on the way home and switches to their tablet once they arrive will provide a brand with the necessary knowledge to serve tailored cross-device messages that complement each other and reach the recipient at the optimal time.

With adblocking narrative likely to continue gaining headlines throughout 2016, marketers need to reflect on how, in the year ahead, the ad blocking battle can be won. By leveraging the growing pool of mobile data, brands can utilise actionable consumer insights to tailor campaigns across channels and ensure consumers are delivered compelling, relevant and timely content that they won’t want to block.

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Andrew Darling is Communications Director at Blis. He is responsible for Blis’ global communications and PR activities, as well as marketing operations in APAC. Andrew is a seasoned tech marketing and communications expert, Chair of the IAB SG Mobile Committee and former Telecoms, Media and Technology journalist.
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