Mobile, Native And Social Will Help Brands Avoid Google vs. EU Telco Battle

Hang onto your hats, there's a huge fight coming our way. No, it's got nothing to do with any potential rematch between Mayweather and Pacquiao -- but rather one mobile operator and Google. One operator, which claims to have millions of subscribers in Europe, has told the Financial Times that it is planning to use ad-blocking technology by the end of the year. The move would put it on a collision course with all major publishers and advertising networks, but in particular, it would appear that Google is the number one target.

The technology in question comes from the Israeli start-up Shine. One of its shareholders is Horizon Ventures, an investment fund in which Li Ka-shing, Asia's richest person, has an interest. It just so happens he also has a controlling interesting in Hutchison Whampoa, which operates 3, the mobile phone network which is in the process of buying O2. If I were looking for the identity of the mobile operator in question, those links would probably weigh heavily on my mind. 

There are a couple of huge implications here. First of all, the FT's article is unequivocal that the mobile operator in question wants a cut of Google's revenue. It has said that the technology is already loaded in its data centres and that it will likely push the button by the end of the year and so it is not an empty threat. Unnamed, but quoted, executives claim they are considering a "bomb" approach where ads are not permanently blocked but just withheld for an hour or two a day until Google comes to the negotiating table.

The whole issue has been running for many years. Telecom network operators are furious at having to spend billions to roll out fixed and mobile infrastructures only for the fixed and mobile broadband connections to be used up by commercial giants who make billions without putting a penny into a fibre cabinet or phone mast. It's a resentment that has grown over the years and for which Google is the main target and now, with ad-blocking technology, the operators have a way of hitting it hard. Trouble is, net neutrality rules dictate all content is dealt with in the same way and so it is hard to see how only Google's ads would be impacted. Presumably the blocking technology would have to be used for all content. If it were just one operator for an hour or two per day, that would be bearable, but if more joined the fight and for longer periods, that could be devastating to publishers and mobile advertising networks without Google's deep pockets. 

Google's reaction would be an interesting one because it actually offers an ad block as a free extension to its Chrome browser so would it look two-faced to complain of a network operator blocking adverts in much the same way as it allows its Web users to?

That remains to be seen. There is, of course, the potential for this to be a public battle that will be dealt with privately in some way to ensure that Google -- and perhaps other giants of the Internet -- come to a financial arrangement for their ads to slip through or for the technology to remain switched off.

The other major implication of this, of course, is that it makes native and social seem more fail-safe channels because ad-blocking technology does not strip out sponsored articles, videos and paid-for posts in a content feed.

In fact, the irony for me is that whether or not the potential scrap between a mobile operator and Google materialises, it underscores how mobile advertising is not really about the tiny banners and buttons that would be stripped out. It's about getting within the content itself through compelling native content.

So, don't get me wrong, it's potentially a huge issue -- but one that itself points out the solution. Mobile marketers should focus less on display and more on native, search and paid social. It's as simple as that.

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