Digital innovation takes one step forward, but ads take two steps back

Internet usage on mobile is far outweighing that of desktop. No longer is the computer that sits alone in the office or at home the main portal for information exchange. Instead, digital innovation has pushed mobile as the leading platform, and as mobile internet users increase, so has the amount of mobile ad blockers. According to the latest PageFair report, 419 million people are now blocking ads on their smartphones – more than twice the amount as desktops.

As mobile ad blocker downloads continue trending upward, publishers and advertisers alike have taken a stern stance against this movement by denying users access to their content unless they disable their ad blockers. But why should they? Erecting content blockades, rather than addressing ad quality, forces the hands of users to download ad blockers in order to mitigate against this in the first place.

According to our research conducted alongside HubSpot, ads are now considered more prevalent (87%) and also more intrusive (91%) than they were two-to-three years ago. More concerning is that some of the most intrusive ads were found on the mobile platform in the form of full screen ads (73%) alongside other annoyances, including video ads (79%) and mobile game ads (49%). This indicates two things: firstly, ads have not kept up with other mobile innovations when it comes to pleasing the customer; and secondly (and most importantly), mobile has now shifted to become the new ad blocking arena for debate.

By realising the massive pool of potential customers on the mobile platform, publishers and advertisers have increased the number of ads in order to boost brand recognition. Yet, quite the opposite has been achieved with 84% of respondents arguing that intrusive ads were in fact leading to distrust of brands. With nearly two-thirds (64%) using ad blockers to block intrusive ads, another half of respondents (51%) believe ad blockers offered a way to regain control over their own user experience.

In the same way that desktop experiences were plagued by poor ads, it seems mobile may be suffering the same fate. A stark statistic from the survey only seems to further highlight this, as 65% of respondents found ads that “followed” them from their computer to their phones to be highly annoying, showing how intrusive ad formats have managed to transcend mere platform restrictions, hopping from the large screen to the small one with relative ease.

It’s imperative that those stakeholders within the debate – publishers, advertisers and ad blockers – don’t fall into the same trappings that have taken place within desktop advertising. Instead, the emergence of mobile advertising should be seen as an opportunity for a clean breakaway to focus on meeting the requirement of the most important party in this discussion – the users.

By understanding both mobile and customer habits, dialogue between the respected parties can be fostered.

Media-rich ads can often be a burden, not only on battery power, but also the speed and amount of data offered on mobile plans. Further statistics found that ad blockers were installed to better load page times (36%) especially on slower 3G/4G connections and reduce data usage at 22%. It seems that a lighter ad experience is much needed for mobile as many would be open to disabling their ad blockers if they were served fewer, non-intrusive ads (28%).

In the same way that understanding user habits is key, it is also worth noting that ad blockers don’t have to be the enemy. In fact, they are the only ones who can possibly reach the ad-blocking audience.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) who are non-ad block users consider ad blocking to have had a positive influence on the internet. Initiatives to reduce the amount of intrusive advertising and make it relevant for its audiences, such as acceptable ads, seems to have progressed discussion, but this must continue onto the mobile platform.

Ultimately, diplomacy rather than arms is required when it comes to the future of mobile advertising. The platforms for which the internet is accessed may be changing direction, yet with the number of intrusive ads creeping onto new platforms in the same way as existing ones, it will only push more downloads of ad-blocking software. As technology innovates, so is the need for ads to follow the same path and restore its credibility in offering mobile-friendly and relevant ads for users.

As with desktop, the mobile experience will be one enjoyed by users empowered by content blockers. That just means they’re picky, though, not lost.

Ben Williams is global operations director at Adblock Plus

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.