Networks Could End Era Of Mobile Display Spray And Pray

Three's deal to block mobile advertising isn't just eye-catching because it's the first network to sign up to carrier-wide ad blocking. It's worthy of attention because although Three is the UK's smallest network, its parent company is in the process of seeking regulatory approval to take over O2 and become the country's largest network. What the ad-blocking deal will eventually look like is yet to be seen and the deal is still up for approval, but we could be in a position where the largest mobile operator has taken control over what advertising is allowed to be carried over its airwaves.

That means consumers will be able to choose a network that offers ad blocking or one that does not -- and if that proves to be a decisive offering, then you can imagine how quickly the other networks will move to offer ad blocking at carrier level. Put simply, ad blocking is on the verge of moving away from a browser bolt on to being part of the system before a byte of information even reaches a phone. 

There are two things to note here and neither of them has anything to do with protecting data usage allowances, as Three is claiming. From the network point of view, this is moving away from being a dumb pipe and becoming part of the action. The deal between Three and Shine could well be used to allow end users to pick from whom they want to see ads, like a regular ad blocker, but it could just as easily be used to get a slice of the action from the likes of Google and Facebook. Want a pass to get through our blocker? Here's what percentage of revenue we'll want.

The second huge outtake for mobile marketers is that this should leave them seriously questioning any reliance on display and considering instead what they need to do with native and social to get in the flow of what mobile users are actively seeking out rather than peering out from the edges of the screen in ad units that are being increasingly blocked. If you're thinking of reaching Millennials on mobile display, you can almost forget it. Research study after research study has shown that blocking rates are highest among Millennials, particularly males. When the ability to block ads comes as part of a network's overall service, then you can imagine how many will actually volunteer to receive ads. 

So the writing is very clearly on the wall for mobile marketers. Most brands will have mobile display as a part of their campaign mix but the trouble here is that not only will an increasing number choose to block ads, but a brand will never quite know until it is too late how many people they have managed to reach. The big impact of ad blocking isn't just that some brands may risk losing part of their budget through ads that are blocked -- but even if their tech is up to only counting viewable, served ads, there is a risk that blocked viewers will be compensated for subsequently with a credit for future campaigns. That is not a great deal of use when your current campaign has failed to gain any traction.

Nobody is suggesting that display is dead, but it will certainly not make the transition to the small, mobile screen unscathed. The solution surely has to be exploring social media and messaging sites such as Snapchat for opportunities to post campaign notifications and promoted posts that truly hold some value for the recipient. Likewise, native advertising has to be the answer to getting a message in front of mobile users in an entertaining and informative way. 

Put very simply, mobile marketers who are already seeking ways of engaging -- rather than interrupting -- mobile users have little to fear other than being proven they were right all along and relying too much on mobile display is not a safe strategy. Those who are still using spray and pray tactics to splash messages around the mobile internet need to seriously start mending their ways, though.

Once the networks get involved in ad blocking, adoption rates will soar, and if the networks do cut deals with a big media company or two, that inventory is bound to soar in value.

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