One look at the “Quick Facts” of PageFair’s 2015 ad blocking report should send shivers down any digital marketer’s spine. Phrases like “ad blocking estimated to cost publishers $22B in 2015” and “ad blocking grew 41% globally over the past 12 months” are awfully hard to ignore. But there’s a lot going on behind the shock-and-awe numbers that should put some folks in more (and less!) discomfort than others.
Let’s peel back a few layers from a mobile advertising perspective: how it works, who’s at risk, and where the issue is headed.
How does ad blocking work?
Ad blockers (AdBlock Plus, for one) work with publishers (e.g. the Washington Post) by saying, in effect, Hey, work with us and we’ll block your ads for users who visit your site within our ad-blocker browser. Since we know that you’ll lose revenue by not showing ads to these guys, we’ll do a revenue share to help make up for it.
Ad blocking often requires the user to download their specific app (mobile) or extension (desktop), which is actually a lot of effort on the part of the consumer. Think about it: how many of us actually turn off ad tracking on our iPhones (where it’s easy) or Androids? Most consumers, brands, and agencies aren’t too well versed in the specifics, which is both a good and bad thing – it means adoption isn’t widespread yet, but it also means there’s a lot of room for discovery.
How much should mobile advertisers worry right now?
Well, at this moment, the issue is mostly a desktop one; as Business Insider notes, just 1.6% of ad-block traffic on the PageFair network was from mobile devices. It’s also mostly a browser play that affects Apple, Facebook, and Twitter less since they’re so reliant on apps and their own native feeds. (Recently, Apple announced that it will allow ad blocking in iOS 9, in part to improve the user experience with significantly faster page loads, but this is only in browser apps, not within apps. And native ads can’t be blocked since they’re baked into the page itself.)
A word of caution, though: if you’re advertising largely on Google’s mobile browsers, you should worry, since the focus of many ad blockers is focused on that ecosystem more than on apps or iOS (in fact, Apple’s announcement was widely seen as a competitive maneuver aimed at Google). Because ad blockers often take the form of apps that act like browsers , Google’s on alert for a bunch of reasons – one big one being that users are called away from Chrome or Android’s native browser. Even if the process of downloading a native app takes some effort and hasn’t been widely put to use for ad blocking, Google’s scale and the potential impact on its core business means that the Mountain View folks need to address the issue immediately before either the users or process (or both) get more sophisticated.
(It should also be said that all of the above also goes for Yahoo and other ad-tech platforms though the scale is obviously smaller.)
What’s coming next?
Mark our words: there will be a privacy backlash here, but it won’t be on companies building the ad blockers. Consumers will associate ads and browsing with companies like Google or Apple, not AdBlock Plus, so even if the ad blockers are the ones getting new access to user data, the big dogs will get the blame.
More significantly, this could be a really big deal in developing countries, which are far more reliant on the open/mobile web than on apps, tend to be more Android-heavy, and are more open to non-U.S.-based platforms like Opera or Firefox. In short, these browsers could proliferate very quickly in developing countries, for which mobile is largely the first, last, and only go-to point of internet access.