It wasn’t just the news of Trump and Brexit that dominated headlines in 2016 – adblocking also remained high on the news agenda after experiencing a roller-coaster year. Murmurs among the industry claimed that 2016 would represent a possible adblocking Armageddon, while the IAB’s CEO and President, Randall Rothenberg spewed the words of Adblock Plus (ABP) as “extortionists, internet killers, an unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes”.
But that wasn’t all. In August, an epic back-and-forth battle between ABP and Facebook kicked-off as we successfully circumvented each new update made by the social media giant to uphold the users’ rights of blocking ads on the desktop version of the site. And if that wasn’t enough, in late November we once again proved that adblocking is 100 per cent legal after a sixth court win, this time over German publisher, Spiegel Online.
With 2017 in full swing, all eyes will once again be darted at ad blockers. And as we prepare for the year ahead, there will be two very interesting trends likely to dominate the adblocking agenda: the mobile platform serving as the new battleground for adblocking, and also the triumph of ‘partial adblocking’.
New adblocking battleground
While claims from IAB in July last year suggested adblocking on desktop had plateaued, the same could not be said about mobile. According to PageFair’s Mobile Adblocking Report, at least 419 million people are blocking ads on smartphones, overtaking that of desktop by almost double. Further support from eMarketer, found that 72 per cent of all US digital ad spend is being used on mobile, reaching a substantial $65.87bn by 2019. If you factor this on a global scale, especially with growing internet accessibility on smartphone devices, then there is no doubt that the industry will continue to experience rising budgets in mobile ad spend.
Yet, while publishers and advertisers alike have begun tapping into the potential audiences that their ads can reach, they have often overlooked one critical factor – the poor quality of ads that have plagued the mobile platform up until now. Our recent research conducted alongside HubSpot found that 87 per cent of people consider ads to be more prevalent and more intrusive than they were two-to-three years ago, with some of the worst culprits appearing on mobile including full-screen, video and mobile game ads.
Though aside from the number of intrusive ads, the research also suggested that if mobile really is the next battleground, then along with it will come a number of challenges not yet experienced on the likes of the desktop platform. Media-rich ads displayed on mobile have often been limited by not only battery performance but also by network data plans. Insights from our research found that ad blockers were installed to better load page times (36 per cent) especially on slower 3G/4G connections and reduce data usage at 22 per cent. But perhaps most interesting of all is that over a quarter (28 per cent) of users would actually be open to disabling their ad blockers if they were served fewer, non-intrusive ads (28 per cent), meaning an appreciation of an ad-light experience is needed.
For advertisers and publishers alike, this represents a stark call-to-action for industry to keep up with the momentum of mobile and address the quality of ads. If users are open to disabling their ad blockers for more suitable ads, then it can at least stem the rising numbers of mobile adblockers in the year ahead.
Partial adblocking gains momentum
Interestingly, if users are open to disabling adblockers on mobile, it further suggests a growing consumer acceptance of partial adblocking. Users are becoming more aware of the importance that ads offer in supporting a “free internet” and that total adblocking is simply not sustainable for this effort. Rather than viewing adblockers as a complete shutdown of ads, adblockers instead serve as a critical empowerment – evidence of this came from our own research, which saw 51 per cent of respondents using ad blocking software to regain control over their own user experience.
Our Acceptable Ads initiative was created to factor in user feedback about the quality of ads and thereby arrive at standard for user acceptability. So much so, that just under 10 per cent are choosing to opt-out on acceptable ads, meaning that ads are still providing a valuable asset for the internet ecosystem and are well received by users. Furthermore, other ad blockers have signed on to the sort of partial ad blocking championed by Acceptable Ads. In fact, the standards for Acceptable Ads will be handed over to an independent committee by March of this year, further demonstrating the longterm potential of this trend. Finally, our research also further backs this claim with 77 per cent of respondents stating that they would prefer to filter rather than block everything, and 83 per cent responding that they’d like to block just the obnoxious ads.
Despite these promising stats, if vast amounts of money continue to be plugged into growing platforms such as mobile without an awareness of intrusive ads and initiatives such as Acceptable Ads, users will be driven to total ad blocking – affecting both brand reputation and diminished advertising budgets. Getting this right will set a precedent for the year ahead and help users regain control of their internet experiences.
Ben Williams, Head of Operations and Communications, Adblock Plus
Image Credit: Pinone Pantone / Shutterstock