The growth of mobile ad blocking apps spiked 300% in the last three months, but marketers can take some comfort: mobile isn’t desktop, and everything is different.
There certainly is reasonable cause for concern.
A full 25% of mobile users currently have ad blocking apps installed, as we discovered by surveying almost 4,000 smartphone owners in the U.S and Europe. And based on the current growth rate of mobile ad blocking app installs, it’s possible that almost 80% could have ad blocking apps installed by late 2017.
This growth, naturally, has both marketers and publishers concerned.
Marketers’ worry about ad blocking seemed to hit a fevered pitch early this year when IAB chief Randall Rothenberg called AdBlock Plus immoral, unethical, and mendacious. Ad blocking affects both advertisers and publishers, of course, and publications like Wired and Forbes have begun blocking people who use ad blockers. In a show of solidarity, 90% of Sweden’s top news publishers have banded together to do the same this summer. French publishers just announced they are following suit.
While ad blocking has been a significant challenge on desktop, with adoption rates pushing 30% in Western Europe and 10-20% in North America, mobile used to be a different story.
Google — which is essentially an advertising company — and Apple did not initially allow ad blocking software on their platforms. Google banned AdBlock Plus from Android in 2013 for interfering with other apps, and Apple simply didn’t allow other browsers on iOS.
That all changed when Apple launched iOS 9 in September of 2015 and enabled apps to plug into Safari, its mobile browser, and offer ad blocking services. Since then, at least 33 apps have sprung up on iOS to deliver exactly that.
That created interesting dilemmas for Google, which after flip-flopping a little, essentially allowed similar plug-in ad blocking apps in addition to ad blocking browsers, which it had already enabled. Today, we count 30 different ad blocking apps and browsers on Google Play.
But as we said earlier, everything is different on mobile.
Most ad blocking technology for mobile is only for the mobile web. And that is a key point for marketers and publishers to keep in mind … because we know that almost 90% of our time on mobile devices is spent in apps, and not on the mobile web.
In apps, blocking ads is much, much harder.
Clearly, however, time in apps is also often time on the mobile web, at the very same time. For example, you’re on Facebook, and see a link a friend has shared. You click the link, and unless it’s a Facebook Instant Article, you go out on the mobile web to the article or page, and read it. Sure you’re in an app, but you’re also on the mobile web. You haven’t opened a browser, however — either your phone’s default system browser or your newly downloaded ad blocking browser — you’re in Facebook’s embedded mobile browser.
The key distinction is that this browser cannot currently be set to block ads — and, in the case of Facebook for sure, never will be. Facebook and other social and news apps account for a huge percentage of mobile web visits from within mobile apps, and together act as a significant brake on the impact of mobile ad blocking. Google’s new Accelerated Mobile Pages will operate in a similar fashion.
There are, of course, ad blocking apps that are not just for the mobile web, but also for all apps as well. These are the ones that are truly dangerous from a publisher and an advertiser point of view. The only problem: they’re also dangerous from a user point of view. Blocking all ads in both mobile web and apps can be accomplished device-wide, but that requires installation of an app which redirects all data traffic through a proxy server, which can be a security risk, and which neither Apple nor Google allow via the App Store or Google Play, respectively.
The reality is that right now, mobile ad blocking is not as big a threat as desktop ad blocking. While that’s good from publishers’ and marketers’ points of view, the massive growth in downloads is a warning signal: consumers are not happy with the level of advertising they’re currently seeing.
Publishers need to adopt technologies like Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages. Advertisers need to find quality inventory that isn’t over-sold and over-crowded.
Together, they’ll provide a better user experience for mobile users. And that’s the best defence and offence against mobile ad blocking.