We need to start taking mobile ad-blocking seriously

Recent IAB research on the impact of ad-blocking has underlined the growing popularity of this behaviour in a market like the UK, writes Jason Mander, director of research and insights at GlobalWebIndex.

Ad-blocking: mostly on desktop, but only a matter of time before it goes mainstream on mobile
Ad-blocking: mostly on desktop, but only a matter of time before it goes mainstream on mobile

But within GlobalWebIndex’s worldwide research program, it’s clear that this is a trend impacting all markets as well as one which is spreading across devices.

Much of the current research on ad-blocking tends to focus on the popularity of desktop browser extensions in western countries.

In contrast, GWI’s 34-market research has shown that mobile ad-blocking is much more widespread than assumed and has the potential to go mainstream. In fact, at a global level, it’s now one in four internet users who are regularly blocking ads on their mobiles.

Mobile is key to younger audiences

From an industry perspective, the arrival of ad-blocking capabilities on mobile platforms has been a worrying and wholly unwelcome development.

After all, ads ultimately fund much of the free content that people are accustomed to enjoying across the internet and, year-on-year, our data shows that the amount of time being spent online on mobiles continues to rocket.

In fact, 2015 was the first year where the typical internet user was online on their smartphone for an average of more than two hours per day. That the equivalent figure back in 2012 was just 1.25 hours per day underlines how quickly mobiles are coming to dominate internet behaviours.

Understanding the growth of these figures is key to comprehending the current impact of mobile ad-blocking and its future potential.

So, daily mobile internet usage is much higher among 16 to 24 year olds, who are now spending almost half their daily internet time online via mobiles. And so it’s no surprise that we are seeing the highest rates of mobile ad-blocking among this group.

Ad-blocking is nearly mainstream in mobile-first markets

Similarly, the central importance of the smartphone to the digital lives of internet users in APAC has a clear impact on mobile ad-blocking rates here.

Mobile ad-blocking may be as yet a niche behaviour in Europe and North America but in Asia it is close to reaching mainstream status.

The vast popularity of mobile browsers with integrated ad-blocking functionality, most notably Alibaba-owned UC Browser, must be remembered here. It will be if (or perhaps when) such mobile browsers gain popularity in western markets that we can expect to see the real impact of mobile ad-blocking.

The motivations that users cite for their ad-blocking point towards the likelihood of mobile ad-blocking breaking into the mainstream.

Although there are significant minorities that deploy ad-blockers for privacy reasons, the reality is that the vast majority are blocking ads because they find them annoying, intrusive and detrimental to their online experience.

Seen in this context, it’s hardly surprising that there’s a direct correlation between time spent online via a mobile and the likelihood of engaging with mobile ad-blocking.

It’s not dire yet

Although this trend is clear cause for concern for online marketers, there’s little doubt that ‘traditional’ forms of online advertising will continue to command by far the biggest spend and attention for some time to come.

After all, even if the size of the ad-blocking audience grows, it’s still a majority of online consumers who are not doing it at the moment. And even among those who are using these tools already, it’s not necessarily that they’re blocking every ad on every site via every device they use.

Ad-blocking can be a selective affair, especially when it’s possible to white-list acceptable forms of messaging. On mobiles, consumers can also be funnelled towards mobile apps, which are as yet largely unaffected by adblockers.

It’s also worth noting that younger groups are the most likely to attach importance to online sources of discovery; in particular, it’s among the 16-24 age group where online sources are typically closest to reaching parity with offline ones.

Even so, as advertising-weary consumers take steps to prevent their web experience from being interrupted, we’ll undoubtedly see more emphasis on less overt forms of advertising where the consumer experience moves far beyond simply hearing about a brand or its latest product. ‘Native’ content stands to be one obvious beneficiary of this, especially among the content-hungry younger age groups.

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