Mobile users are sick of ads, and it’s starting to show.
In the twelve months from January 2015 to January 2016, PageFair found mobile ad blocking grew 90 percent year over year from 198 million monthly active users of ad blocking mobile browsers to 376 million monthly users.
By the end of March 2016, PageFair said an estimated 419 million people, or nearly 22 percent of the world’s 1.9 billion smartphone users were blocking ads on the mobile web. While the use of mobile ad blocking browsers was highest in China, India and Indonesia, some 14 million users across Europe and North America were also using ad blocking browsers on a monthly basis.
And PageFair said that number is expected to continue to climb as more browsers add support for ad blockers and configuration becomes easier.
According to a study by Enders Analysis earlier this year, people who employ ad blockers do so for a number of reasons, including aversion to both the ads themselves and certain annoying ad formats.
But what mobile ad blockers are battling also includes some serious bloat.
“Data economy is now a live concern, with cost-conscious users getting by on 1GB or less of data per month,” Enders wrote in its report. “Online advertising, often involving video or rich media or multiple image and script loads, is costing users money in a more direct way than ever before.”
While many individuals have taken up the mantle of ad blocking for themselves, a number of carriers have also announced plans to shield customers from the effects of mobile advertising’s data leeching.
Back in November 2015, British mobile carrier EE and Caribbean and South Pacific carrier Digicel both announced plans to block ads for their customers at the network level. In February, European carrier Three also took up in favor of ad blocking with a plan to block ads for its customers in the United Kingdom and Italy. At the time, Three said “customers should not pay data charges to receive adverts.”
The result? As of August, AOL’s 2016 Publisher Outlook found 49 percent of publishers listed ad blockers as their number one mobile challenge.
“It’s an arms race between the ad blockers and the advertisers,” Recon Analytics’ Roger Entner said. “The ad blockers will eventually figure out how to block the ads. Ultimately, the best outcome would be better ads that are relevant and entertaining. The worst decision that was ever made was to put the digital advertising guys in charge of mobile. Some of the TV advertising is at least funny, interesting and memorable. Digital advertising is made by programmers who didn’t make the cut and it shows.”
While the pendulum seems to have swung in favor of ad blocking for the time being, it may be only a matter of time until advertisers either find a workaround or develop a format that is more palatable to users. Those in the industry, it seems, are well aware of the currently problems with mobile ads.
“The public is not inherently hostile to advertising,” Newspaper Association of America CEO David Chavern said in response to PageFair’s report. “There are magazines (like Vogue) and TV programs (like the Super Bowl), where people’s primary interest is the ads. What people hate are bad ads.”
Echoing Entner’s comments, Chavern said digital advertising is still too reminiscent of print and TV advertising and is long overdue for a makeover. If the formats don’t adapt to suit mobile audiences, Chavern said, news and other advertising-dependent sites will end up stuck in a subscription-only model that is detrimental on all sides.
“We have no ad vocabulary that is optimized to the digital environment experience,” Chavern said. “People love Vine videos — so why are there no 7 second ads? We also measure digital ads by a metric — ‘impressions’ — that has no real meaning or value. If we don’t fix these problems, and we allow ad blockers to take over, then we will be left with small, subscription models that will exclude large portions of the public. Not being able to afford HBO is one thing. Not being able to afford quality news would be a much more serious problem.”
But there is some innovation — for better or worse — happening in the mobile advertising space.
Since October, Sprint and Australian startup Unlockd have been offering Boost Mobile customers the chance to reduce their mobile bills by $5 each month by agreeing to view an average of 25 to 30 ads or other pieces of content on their lock screens.
Additionally, Verizon is reportedly taking aim at its customers’ home screens, offering to install apps for advertisers at a cost of $1 to $2 for each device install.
And more may be on the way.
Earlier this year, AOL’s global head of mobile Chad Gallagher told Wireless Week the carrier was looking for a way to spruce up its ad offerings through targeting akin to that used by Google and Facebook. According to Gallagher, AOL was seeking to deliver personalized advertising experiences based on preferences, location and even what type of network a subscriber was on.