The rise of ad block is fuelling lots of experimentation in marketing. Aly Nurmohamed, VP, Global Publisher Strategy at Criteo looks at how blockers are pushing the industry forward.
For a day in September last year, ad blocking apps topped the Apple app store charts.
It was just after the general release of Apple’s iOS 9 software, which first enabled ‘content blocking’. Many headlines at that time foretold of doom and gloom for the digital advertising industry – the sky would surely fall on our heads now.
Indeed, the IAB fell on its sword, declaring in a mea culpa article that the industry had brought this misery on itself, chasing profit over user experience.
Losing sight of the user is certainly at the heart of the ad blocking issue. Our internet consumption is now predominantly on mobile devices, and these devices are intensely personal spaces. Aside from the few apps required by the device maker (how many people really use the Apple Health app or Android’s Scribble…?) We choose the layout, set up and content that exists on our phones and tablets; these devices are a part of us, they represent our tastes and our favourite things in a way that the humble desktop never could. Everything we choose to have on a smartphone is there because it has a personal value to us.
That mentality extends to the content we view on those devices. The most commonly downloaded apps – Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter – are all about our interests, friends, and connections.
Too much advertising ignored that fact and ploughed on as though your phone or computer were no different to Piccadilly Circus – a place to try out frightening new colour combinations and as many flashing lights as possible in an attempt to catch your attention.
Unsurprisingly, many consumers have grown tired with such an approach. Ad blocking is a symptom of poorly targeted, badly made advertising which belongs in another location, perhaps another era.
A year after ad blocking topped the app charts, where are we?
In February this year, the IAB put UK adblock usage at around 22%, just 4% growth since the launch of iOS9. The ‘adblockalyspe’ hasn’t happened, but it has kick-started change for the better. It has reignited a focus on the user and what they will find acceptable.
Those adblock users surveyed by the IAB wanted less interference, fewer ads and more relevance. The initial response from the industry has been to redouble efforts around native advertising which is forecast to grow at 17% per year through to 2021.
This growth is fuelling lots of experimentation. The digital advertising industry has never before had such intelligence at its disposal about consumer browsing behaviour, their likes and dislikes, and the application of this insight will be central to improving both the user experience and engagement rates. But this visibility comes with responsibility. Consumers are happy to grant brands access to their most personal data but only if the advertisers keep up their end of the bargain and use it to deliver online experiences which are relevant and bespoke.
From the ad tech perspective, the focus is on delivering greater personalised experiences at scale which offer a sense of discovery and utility. There will be no room for ‘spray and pray’ ad campaigns very soon. If native does spell the end of the intrusive, badly written pop-up ad, it won’t be too soon.
This shift is also creating exciting publisher focused opportunities, such as Netflix’s editorial partnership with the Wall Street Journal ahead of the launch of the series Narcos, or the Guardian working with Canon to create new in-flow insert formats.
Ultimately, adblocking will push the industry forward. It forces the creation of ads that have value – whether through personalisation, discovery or entertainment. And that brings it into line with what we use the web for. That will be good for everyone.
By Aly Nurmohamed
VP, Global Publisher Strategy