Next month, Three, still smarting from EU regulators blocking it from taking over O2, will start a week-long trial of the Shine ad-blocking system it recently announced a partnership with. The mobile phone network has gone so far as to say that four pounds in every ten spent by its customers goes to advertising. Quite how advertising can equate to nearly half of all mobile traffic is for them to back up. It sounds incredibly high, doesn't it?
Anyway, in the middle of next month, customers will be able to sign up to have ads blocked at carrier level and the advertising world will await the response. If significant numbers sign up and the experience is positive for users, then it's hard to imagine they will want to go back. If Three customers do not miss the ads and really do find that their data allowance goes further, then it's likely the trial will be rolled out, and it's also likely people on other networks will have their heads turned by ad-blocking extensions that claim to keep mobile content cleaner, faster and less data-intense.
Mark these words. There is only one way this goes. If you are a brand marketer or an advertising agency executive, ask yourself this: do you really think anyone is going to lament their decision and wonder where all the ads have gone? It's unlikely, isn't it. So, the only way forward is a two-pronged approach.
The first part is to get mobile ads seen, and this task is publisher-centric. Responsible publishers must ensure that a minimum number of non-intrusive spots are offered and those using ad-blocking are asked to "white list" the site or disable their technology altogether to see content that has been financed on the basis of advertising support.
The second -- the one that lies more squarely in marketers' hands -- is to look beyond digital. The growth in video, native and social evident in the latest IAB figures shows that spend was up around 50% in 2015 compared to 2014 on these channels, whereas display was up 25% (albeit, of a vastly higher number). So the message is getting through that advertiser messages have to be expressed in the content window rather than in the tiny boxes surrounding it.
This column was originally published in the London Blog on May 26, 2016.