Commentary

Do Huge Ad-Blocking Numbers Matter In A Mobile World?

Sometimes you need something to be put into huge figures to get an idea of how massive an issue it is -- and that's exactly what Adobe and PageFair have done today with The 2015 Ad Blocking Report. Then sometimes, just sometimes, you have to think about where an industry is going and ask, will all this matter in a couple of years anyway? The rise of the mobile, for me, means that ad blocking will be an issue we worried about in the old days of the desktop before we moved to a channel that isn't suited for display in the first place.

But first, the research. The takeaway for the UK is the claim that one in five now block ads and that costs British publishers GBP2.3bn a year. If that sounds like a big figure, the numbers start to really pile up globally with $10bn lost last year, $20bn due to never be seen this year, rising to $40bn next year. Those numbers are almost certainly subject to some debate as who knows what the ad space would have sold for on the open market had they been available. However, what doesn't rely on a presumed cost per thousand are the startling figures the pair quote for the rate or rise in ad blocking -- up 35% in Europe and 41% globally in just a year. 

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I recently looked into the issue and its impact on brands and publishers alike. The observation was that both are having to actively move in to native advertising and paid social to be seen by an online population that is increasingly using software or browser extensions to dodge adverts but still receive content for free.

The big challenge is usually seen as helping display make the leap in to the mobile world. With recent IAB UK figures suggesting that ad blocking increases in younger age groups, culminating in one in three male millennials blocking ads, the fear has been that the mobile would become increasingly difficult to reach. Add to that the news that iOS9 is believed to bring ad blocking to its version of Safari and it all seems pretty bad news.

My counter point, though, is this. Do you really think the desktop world of display is a good fit for mobile anyway? Is cramming a large screen in to a small screen with all those banner and skyscrapers and button rendered as small as your little finger nail really going to work?

If you think display as we know it is suited to mobile, then you have a real reason to be very afraid. However, if you accept the change in screen size and the bursts of attention the mobile receives are not ideally suited to interruption that borders on intrusion, then the impact of ad blocking is far less severe.

Brands, and their agencies, need to think how they transition to a world where traffic will mostly come from mobile and consider what channels this opens up. The obvious ones, in addition to email, are native content -- where a sponsored article is part of the editorial mix and cannot be blocked. The same goes for paid social. If you want to be in the timeline, rather than peeking out from the sides, paying up will get the visibility you need without any blocking. No doubt opportunities will become more obvious too in messaging apps and Instagram. The less obvious opportunities could well come from competition and polls and general partnering with content providers to add a branded value-added element which is welcomed as part of the mix and not attempting to 'pop up' in front of it.

So, like many people, when I saw Adobe's report I was pretty shocked by the big numbers. However, when you ponder the long-term implications, a move to mobile is effectively a move away from display, compared to the big screen days of the desktop. So what may seem like a dire warning could actually prove to be more of a hint for what brands and agencies need to be looking at now to prepare for tomorrow. 

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