Three presses forward with its ad blocking strategy

Three has lifted the lid on its plans to block ads served across its network with technical trials kicking off next month, and despite industry concerns to the contrary, the mobile operator claims it’s a scheme towards driving customer loyalty rather than a push into the advertising game.

The mobile operator, which was last month denied in its attempt to take over rival O2, has revealed the next step in its attempt to “revolutionise the mobile advertising experience” by trialling Shine Technologies ad-blocking technology on its network from next month.It announced the tie-up in February and spun it as a brand play to attract consumers with the promise of a better ad experience.

For its part, the telecommunications business has issued a statement claiming that the experiment is based on three tenets (see below), with the mobile operator claiming that post the trial it will work with the industry to effect some much-needed change in the way ads are delivered on mobile devices.

The trial will "test" the ability of the technology to "filter out advertising that damages our customers’ mobile browsing experience without impacting their network experience," Three said.

1. That customers should not pay data charges to receive adverts. These costs should be borne by the advertiser.

2. That customers’ privacy and security must be fully protected. Some advertisers use mobile ads to extract and exploit data about customers without their knowledge or consent.

3. That customers should be entitled to receive advertising that is relevant and interesting to them, and not to have their data experience in mobile degraded by excessive, intrusive, unwanted or irrelevant adverts.

Claiming “the current mobile advertising model is broken”, the pair first announced the initiative in February, with a Three spokesperson telling The Drum that internal studies have shown that anywhere between 20-to-40 per cent of its subscribers’ mobile data allowance is consumed by the delivery of mobile ads.

Three will be contacting customers to ask them to agree to take part in the 24-hour trial which is scheduled to take place during the week commencing June 13. Customers who choose to take part can sign up via the Three website.

Tom Malleschitz, Three UK's chief marketing officer, said: “This is the next step in our journey to make mobile ads better for our customers. The current ad model is broken. It frustrates customers, eats up their data allowance and can jeopardise their privacy. Something needs to change.

“We can only achieve change by working with all stakeholders in the advertising industry – customers, advertising networks and publishers – to create a new form of advertising that is better for all parties.”

As mentioned, the deal was first announced in the first quarter of the year, with many in the industry speculating that this was Three’s attempt to muscle-in on advertising spend, much of which is moving toward mobile.

However, a Three spokesperson denied these claims to The Drum, and further added: “The key driver for this is to increase customer loyalty. With some of our low end customers we are seeing up to four in every 10 pounds’ worth of data is eaten up by ads.”

As mentioned, the deal was first announced in the first quarter of the year, with many in the industry speculating that this was Three’s attempts to muscle-in on advertising spend, much of which is moving towards mobile.

However, a Three spokesperson denied these claims to The Drum, and further added: “The key driver for this is to increase customer loyalty. With some of our low end customers we are seeing up to four in every 10 pounds’ worth of data is eaten up by ads.”

Advertising industry sources consulted by The Drum about the latest developments have been mixed, with some expressing a degree of empathy with Three’s stance, while others have questioned the technical feasibility of mobile operators’ ability to block ads. Although, all agree that blocking ads cart blanche is not the solution to the perceived problem.

Paul Gubbins, a mobile advertising specialist, and UK managing director of ad tech outfit PubMatic, said that while consumers are fatigued with bad advertising on mobile devices, plus additionally annoyed by the “taxes on their data plans”, blocking mobile advertising is not the answer.

He added: “We, as an industry, need to return to delivering the kind of advertising experience that consumers deserve. We need to return to the real purpose of great advertising, to tell a story to the consumer on behalf of a brand that is contextually relevant, entertaining and engaging. Doubly important when connecting with someone on a device as personal as their mobile phone.”

Instead, Gubbins implored the mobile advertising industry to appraise their current practice. He added: “Those who ignore the importance of technology and data in helping to serve relevant ads to consumers or refuse to remember the storytelling roots of advertising will be left in the dust.

“When the experience for the consumer is great, the invasion of the ad blockers, whether user initiated or implemented at the telco gateway, as in this proposed case, should die out."

Meanwhile, Ciaran O’Kane, an ad tech industry thought leader and chief executive of research house ExchangeWire, pointed out that there are question marks over telcos’ abilities to block ads.

He commented: “We believe that ad blocking is just not the answer.”

O’Kane further pointed out that questions remain over mobile operators’ ability to block ads at a network level, especially since many UK mobile operators share cell masts to boost their network coverage.

The Drum contacted Three’s ad blocking partner for comment, but it was unable to respond before time of publication.

More to follow

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