How publishers and platforms are dealing with the continuing rise of adblockers in Asia Pacific

APAC is home to 54% of all smartphone users globally, with 93% of these smartphones having ad blocking browser usage. Photo: PHD

As the region with the highest population in the world, Asia Pacific is one of the key markets for marketers to reach out to consumers living within its borders. It is also a region where mobile commerce, gaming and video show tremendous growth every year.

So, it is definitely a cause of concern for marketers, publishers and platforms when more than 90% of consumers in APAC have indicated that they are extremely keen to download adblockers, a sign that they are growing increasingly tired of unwanted advertisement pop-ups, which contributes to the slow speed of loading webpages.

Even though adblocking figures have stabilised in other regions, the figures are not going down any time soon in APAC. According to Shane Dewar, head of ad operations in APAC at Essence, the region is home to 54% of all smartphone users globally, with 93% of these smartphones having ad blocking browser usage.

This means that 28% of mobile users in APAC have an ad blocking browser installed on their smartphone and the lion's share of this is driven by the usage of the Alibaba-owned UC Browser in Asia’s emerging markets.

Explaining this phenomenon, Rohit Dadwal, managing director for APAC at Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), suggests that mobile adblocking download rates appear to be particularly high in emerging markets in APAC such as Thailand, Indonesia, China and India because data infrastructure in these countries are less developed, which means that as ads become more interactive, page-load time and consumption of data, in turn, will increase.

Consumers may therefore be downloading adblockers to reduce data drain from Internet ads, explains Dadwal. “Publishers and platforms, together with brands, need to understand why consumers use adblockers, collaborate and make a concerted effort to create sustainable value for users. This includes developing well-targeted ads, and ensuring ads are compatible with the mobile and data requirements of various APAC markets.”

Concurring with Dadwal was Dushyant Sapre, regional director of global supply and business development in APAC at Criteo, who adds that consumers in APAC are installing adblockers because they want a better advertising experience, as the smartphone advertising experience has been compromised by some players running intrusive, consumer-unfriendly ad formats, leading to users trying to find a way to access content safely.

‘Adblockers represent a threat to advertisers that are unwilling or unable to react to the expectations of the modern shopper when it comes to personalized, relevant advertising,” he explains. “The ‘spray and pray’ approach has had its day, with a vast array of data available, brands are now looking for ways to target the right customers, at the right time with relevant content.”

One publisher that is constantly looking for new ways to allow brands and marketers to better target their customers with the right content on its platform is CNN, as it is ‘zealous’ about developing good formats that have creative advertising content and the ability to engage people, according to Rob Bradley, vice president of digital commercial strategy and revenue at ‎CNN International Commercial.

Bradley adds that the Time Warner-owned company is committed to this with its mix of targeting, selection of ad formats, native placements, and branded content because content is what will drive the users to consume it. Therefore, CNN focuses on offering quality content to its audiences across all devices which sits alongside appropriate advertising.

“We utilise CNNAIM to allow our partners to target the most appropriate message to that audience which also offers a better user experience,” explains Bradley. “Mobile is a huge growth area for us and there has been an industry wide growth in the rise of ad blocking on mobile devices.”

“Taking into account that mobile data can be costly for users along with our responsibility to offer quality mobile first advertising, we are working with mobile advertising specialists such as Celtra to ensure an optimal user experience when consuming our content on mobile,” he adds.

Over at Criteo, the personalised retargeting company uses its programmatic buying technology platform, the Criteo Direct Bidder, to allow publishers to have a seamless and streamlined solution to maximise the monetisation of all their display and native inventory across desktop and mobile, as well as ad-blocked impressions, according to Sapre.

“We have always kept the needs of the consumer at the forefront by distilling actionable insights through the analysis over 600TB of online data each day and over $500 billion of online transactions a year,” he explains. “This enables us to help our customers to provide shoppers with a personalised and relevant ad experience, while ensuring both retailers and publishers make money.”

For publishers and platforms who have yet to find similar solutions like CNN and Criteo, they risk losing over $27bn by 2020, warns Dadwal of MMA, in reference to a report by Juniper Research. An anti-adblock startup called PageFair, also estimates that the adblocking cost to publishers and platforms today exceed $40 billion.

“Breaking down the kinds of losses faced, adblocking doesn’t just come at the cost of lowered viewability and click-through. It often forces publishers and platforms to relook their business strategy to rely less on ads and counter adblocking technology,” he says.

This might involve putting up a paywall for content accessed by adblockers, to rewarding them for clicking on ads via free mobile game credits or mobile data, for instance, explains Dadwal, adding that completely cutting off adblock users’ access to content is another approach some publishers have taken.

“Having grown accustomed to readily available, free content, this move by the publishers means that APAC consumers are less willing to fork out dollars for content, and would rather disable their adblockers,” says Dadwal. “In reality, even though adblockers are being installed, many consumers are not actively using it, particularly when the use of adblockers comes with a price tag.”

“At the end of the day, the best way to circumvent potential profit losses is to engage and retain consumers through quality content and targeted advertising, such that consumers wouldn’t feel annoyed by ads and turn to adblockers,” he adds.

On MMA’s part, it is working collaboratively with over 800 agencies, advertisers, technology and service providers to lead the development of mobile standards, develop and advocate best practices, and publish research reports and case studies on topics including tackling adblocking and programmatic advertising, according to Dadwal.

“The best way to drive down adblocking usage is through well-targeted ads; this means advertisers need to know where exactly their consumers are throughout the entire funnel, not just the point of conversion,” he says, noting that effective measurement powers strong advertising practices, which is why MMA a huge advocate of multi-touch attribution (MTA).

Dadwal explains that drawing on user-level data analytics, MTA allocates proportional credit to a granular list of marketing touchpoints across all channels, by linking different devices owned by the same user through a unified user ID. Equipped with a holistic understanding of user-level insights, this allows advertisers to better determine ROI on ad spend across all channels and devices, tweak and improve campaigns in real-time.

“On this front, we’ve kick-started our Marketing Attribution Think Tank to streamline measurement metrics, equip marketers with a strong foundation to apply MTA solutions, and lead the development of MTA as a global standard for measurement,” he says. “We also believe that creativity encourages stickiness and plays a crucial role in the fight against adblocking, which is why we encourage brands to develop high quality and innovative mobile campaigns that deliver real value to consumers.”

Looking ahead, Google and Apple have said that future versions of Chrome and Safari will include adblocking software. Starting in 2018, Chrome will be blocking ads that do not meet the Better Ads Standards and ads that are deemed annoying will also be blocked from appearing.

However, the two software giants seem willing to throw a lifeline to publishers and platforms. For example, Google has said it will allow publishers to ask readers with adblockers to make micropayments in exchange for seeing their sites’ content.

Dadwal explains that this because Google and Apple are facing a tricky situation where on one hand, they aim to create a smoother browsing experience for users, they are also keen to protect the needs of publishers and platforms. “Requesting users to disable their adblockers or pay for content is a soft, balanced approach that could prove effective. Users are generally more receptive to an outright request for them to turn off adblockers, and such an approach could also help educate consumers on the need for ads and implications of adblocking. These ads are the bread and butter for many publishers and platforms, and are precisely why users can get their daily news fix or continue streaming their favourite TV shows.”

Google and Apple walk along a tightrope at the end of the day, trying to balance the interests of publishers and advertisers, and consumers alike, adds Dadwal. “While they could allow publishers and platforms to offer readers with adblockers a range of options to access content, at the end of the day, content remains the crux of the situation. Publishers and advertisers need to take ownership of the kinds of ads they serve, and focus on building sustainable value for readers so they won’t feel a need to download adblockers in the first place.”

Ultimately, the best way forward for publishers and platforms in APAC is to stop blasting consumers with intrusive and irrelevant online ads, and engage web users with very personalised and targeted messages with the wealth of marketing intelligence and user data available today, says Criteo’s Sapre.

Companies that are willing to disrupt the status quo of digital advertising by delivering consumer-centric experiences will survive and thrive in a world where consumers hold all the power, he adds, pointing out that as online advertising continues to improve and deliver value to consumers, there will no longer be a need to block them.

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