Three Surrenders On Ad Blocking, But Mobile Marketing Industry Must Heed The Shot Across Its Bows

Three's decision to drop ad blocking at carrier level is a massive victory for the digital marketing, and more particularly, mobile marketing industry. However, it's not a time for vitriol but rather publishers, networks, agencies and advertisers need to reflect. Why would a mobile carrier see a potential major customer experience advantage in barring mobile ads? If its previous decision doesn't elicit such a response, even now that the threat has been removed, then the industry deserves ad blocking to flourish in all its forms.

Interestingly, the best part to come out of the announcement in London this week is that in the end, money talked. Three was concerned by annoying Google, and multiple brands, but claimed its technology gained widespread approval by users. It will now direct the efforts of its blocker, Shine, to develop a means of providing more relevant mobile advertising. That could go two ways, couldn't it? A blocker that only works on ads that take over the screen the moment you open a page, or stop a video automatically playing sound. Or it could even mean the technology turns around completely and asks users what they are interested in and then sells that data to networks. It could be a combination of the two, more informed and less intrusive advertising with Three playing the dual role of protector and data harvester. To me, that's the sweet spot that I'm surprised more mobile operators are not investigating. 

If this sounds like a softening of my "hang 'em all" attitude to ad blocking, it's for the very good reason that you would have to be an industry diehard not to see that mobile marketing has a real problem. On desktop, intrusive advertising is annoying, but at least you can generally see where the "X" is to close what's coming between you and the desired content. I have given up visiting some mobile sites because they render themselves completely unusable. The moment you land on a page, a pop-up takes over the screen, then as you scroll down the page, a tap to go lower invariably opens up some other ad unit, usually a video.

Tried and tested responsible news providers are generally good on mobile, but tabloids and any content i have been suggested to check out by a sponsored post on Facebook advert simply isn't worth clicking on. The experience really is that frustrating.

The move from Three to block ads at carrier level earlier this year may have been unwelcome, but it should have at least served as a wakeup call. If the industry doesn't insist advertising is not intrusive, through perhaps a certification or guidance scheme, then it will have no way of telling apart digital shoplifters -- who block because they can -- from ad avoiders, who block because they must.

Three's decision is not so much a victory as a warning shot -- a shot across the bows that the industry would do well to take heed of.

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