Ronan Dunne, CEO of O2, has been the most vocal of the network operators to remind that intrusive ads get in the way and will force people to block advertising. It's a particularly timely warning given that Three, whose parent company is trying to buy O2, has announced a mobile ad-blocking deal. I'm not sure if it's just me wondering, though -- what on earth can the people who provide the pipes of data to our mobile devices do about the advertising that appears on them? It's not mobile operators that take over a mobile screen and get in the way of playing a game or reading an article. They can all agree as much as they like -- it's not them but the publishers who can make a difference.
Put simply, the mobile ads that annoy generally don't come from top advertisers using smart executives to plan where their brand name appears. The most annoying I come across are in free apps that obviously have to offer advertising to survive, but when those ads are front and centre, it's a little annoying. Some sites do the same but mainly, in my experience, it's in-app advertising that gets in the way the most. Again, the trouble here is very obvious. The big, reputable companies and the trading desks they work with generally don't buy the worst type of intrusive ads. They just don't want their name seen under the wrong context.
So effectively, World Mobile Congress's most powerful and most influential people, who we will see quoted over the next few days, can do virtually nothing to prevent intrusive mobile ads that are undoubtedly already fuelling a rise in ad-blocking rates. I am on O2, Ronan Dunne's network, and I can't say they've ever popped up an annoying ad or unwanted notification on my screen for the very good reason that it's not what they do. This would make you wonder, then, what the great and the good of the industry can do about the problem at an annual shindig in Barcelona.
The answer is -- very little. If you want to stop intrusive ads you have to go to the publishers and get them to stop. It's as simple as that. You might also try going to the networks that spray unwanted, intrusive ads around the mobile Web -- but to be honest, good luck with that.
No, it's the publishers who need to be targeted, not the mobile operators -- and not digital agencies that are as horrified as the next person by what low-rent apps and sites will do to make ends meet because ultimately, if reflects on the entire industry. When someone blocks ads, the chances are that it will be across the board, even though it was a stupid minority of publishers that caused a problem.
So the IAB is mentioned a lot here. How about publishers bearing a 'Responsible Advertiser' badge awarded by the IAB in return for sticking to the organisation's definition of intrusive adverts and barring them from their sites and apps. That could be a differentiator in an app chart that would encourage downloads. In fact, it could even be a check box to ensure only responsible publishers are returned in an app search query.
I ask you this. What will do more to dissuade mobile ad blocking -- wise words from the CEOs, or a means by which reputable publishers can differentiate themselves and encourage best practice? It's a no-brainer in my opinion.