Gen Z And Mobile Are A Developing Ad-Blocking Nightmare

Interesting to see eMarketer yesterday referring to ad blocking as being accepted by many publishers as "the new norm." The site is, as usual, bang on the money. However, I would be a little more alarmed than its editorial suggests. There are two reasons why -- Gen Z and mobile.

It's good to see that UK ad blocking is largely flattening out at around 22% of internet users. It puts Britain on the right side of the US's 25% score and way down on Germany's ad-blocking rate of 32%. So that all sounds good. There's even the reassuring figure that the vast majority of blocking is limited to the desktop. 

That all sounds fine, but beneath these figures, there is a worrisome trend. Just four years ago, only 16% of ad blocking in the UK took place on mobile, That figure has now more than doubled to 38%. Yes, that's right -- the proportion of ad blocking on mobile phones had doubled in four years. And remind me, which is the channel we now go to before all others in the "mobile first" media landscape.

There is a potential explanation from 18- to-24-year-old demographic, where millennials begin giving way to Gen Z, depending on how you're defining those age groups. 

Look at this age group and we see something very startling. According to eMarketer, 43% will be blocking ads this year.

Let's just take a step back. Mobile ad blocking has doubled, as a proportion of overall ad blocking, in the last four years and Gen Z is very nearly twice as likely as an average British internet user to block ads. 

Now, while I get that the whole ad blocking is stabilising argument, because 22% seems to be a plateau, I would say we have two massive issues in the proverbial post here. Gen Z consumers are mobile digital natives, and they are twice as likely to block internet ads as their parents. 

This is a generation that has (mostly) grown up without a newspaper being routinely passed around the family breakfast table, expecting instead to get free news and content through their mobile browser. It is also a generation for whom YouTubers and social media celebs are just as valid as any tv personality and for whom subscribing to Netflix (or piggybacking a parent's account) is as natural as shopping via Instagram suggestions. 

These are channels where the ads are either in the message, via an influencer, or endured in a small pre-roll that can usually be skipped. 

Gen Z is mobile, and they are not attuned to content being sponsored by ads. I'm not so sure I would have a stiff upper lip "don't panic" attitude to this.

For me, this is a massive issue for digital display. Nearly half the generation who are now in tertiary education or beginning their first job are blocking ads, raising the prospect that to reach young people, in particular, brands will have to be part of the message, rather than the flashing box around it.

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