Google Mobile Android

Ads are coming to Android lock screens in the US: the industry reacts


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

July 6, 2022 | 6 min read

It’s a trend that’s already gained steam in Asian markets. Now, US Android users could soon be staring at lock screens populated by ads. What would such a reality mean for brands? And would users stand for it? Industry experts offer their two cents.

Android on table

Android users may soon see their lock screens taken over by ads. Will they stand for it? / Unsplash

Android users will soon see their mobile home screens inundated with ads, according to reports. Glance, an India-based mobile ad company owned by InMobi, plans to roll out its lock screen platform to Android devices in the US this summer.

An agreement has not been made public by either Google or Glance. According to a TechCrunch report, the ad platform has been in discussion with various wireless carriers for some time and it hopes to launch on a range of mobile devices within the next two months.

What would this look like for users? When an Android user turns on their screen when the device is locked, they’ll be met with a slew of new content; they might see video content and recent news stories — alongside ads. When the device is unlocked, the dynamic display will disappear.

Glance is already pre-installed on devices around the world, acting as an extension of the Android operating system in many markets. For example, Glance is baked into Pragati OS, an Android operating system created by Google in partnership with Indian telecommunications company Jio.

An enticing prospect for brands

For advertisers, the prospect of lock screen ads is attractive. “Lock screens are seen hundreds of times a day and free from any visual noise, they are primed to be high-impact and high-engagement ad placements if done the right way, which Glance seems to be willing to do,” says Julien Verdier, the general manager of advertising at social engagement platform OpenWeb and cofounder of adtech firm AdYouLike. “Mobile home screen-based advertising is a concept that has been around forever with small startups trying to capitalize on this unique piece of real estate, but it never took off. Glance seems to be onto something and has relationships with brands and agencies to make it successful.”

Verdier adds that the key will be delivering the performance that advertisers have come to expect. For publishers, that means targeting ads effectively and ensuring high viewability, click-through and conversion rates.

Others echo Verdier’s enthusiasm — and caveats for success. “Opening up new channels to engage users with relevant content can have a high impact for advertisers, as long as it’s relevant and activated in a user-friendly manner,” says Craig Hughes, vice president of corporate development and strategic partnerships at Outbrain, an ad-powered recommendation platform. He notes that device manufacturers have long been seeking ways to innovate content discovery and ad experiences for users while also creating new ad revenue opportunities for brands. “This is an exciting opportunity to reach new users, especially as advertisers look to diversify their spending as we enter into the heavy advertising season.”

According to Verdier, advertisers aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from home screen ads. He suggests that if targeting is executed well, home screen ads might add value to users and even prove “as convincing as Instagram ads,” which he points out have become “very well-accepted by users — even if they appear in a very personal context [amid content about] friends and family.”

But it's not all rosy

Other industry players are more skeptical, pointing out the risks at stake. As Paul Roberts, chief executive officer at adtech company Kubient, puts it, “This has the potential to backfire.” The main issue, he argues, is that consumers are already weary from digital market saturation. “Consumers already feel bombarded by digital advertising and have shown concern with things like digital tracking. For example, 96% of users have opted out of iOS tracking [via Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework], which is a big sign there is a reluctance for more ads.”

User sentiment will be a hurdle to success, says Lashanne Phang, the senior director of mobile at digital advertising platform PubMatic. "Glance has mainly operated in Asia where the user tolerance level for seeing an ad on a lock screen is much higher. In the US market, lock screen ads are new, and the user tolerance level might be a concern. Last year Samsung decided to remove ad-serving from their stock apps after getting negative feedback from customers because the experience was below their expectations.”

Neither Phang nor Roberts, however, go so far as to suggest that there’s no path forward for home screen ads in the US market. Rather, they both argue that user compensation or a reward framework — in exchange for enduring lock screen ad placements — is a critical requirement for success.

Korea’s HoneyScreen — which offers users cash rewards for viewing lock screen ads — serves as a potential model, says Phang. “To be successful, selecting markets or user segments that would be most receptive to seeing ads and interacting with ads on their lockscreen is important — like gamers, who are used to interacting with reward-based ads.”

Phang muses that perhaps a paid subscription-based, ad-free option — à la the Netflix model — could be a consideration down the line if user tolerance for lock screen ads is low. Others, including Verdier, however, have expressed doubts about the likelihood of this possibility (“I don’t see users paying to get rid of it; users don’t want to pay, brands want to pay to reach the right users at the right time with the right ads,” he says).

For now, Verdier predicts, advertising will continue to seek out new homes if it means that users get free access to the open web and that brands can fund their growth. “The bottom line is that advertising is the lifeblood of the open internet … and digital advertising is soon to be a trillion-dollar category, so it’s definitely worth the try of lock screen ads."

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