If an ad is blocked and no one sees it, is it truly an ad?
That question may have been answered with a resounding "no" as ad-blocking technology moves into mobile. Apple recently announced that iOS 9, the newest version of its operating system, will allow users to block ads on the mobile version of its Web browser, Safari. While desktop adblocking is nothing new, mobile is a whole new ballgame.
The Apple ad-blocking news is part of an ongoing cycle with "ad pervasiveness," says Reid Stone, chief strategist and founding partner of New Orleans-based marketing and publicity firm HEROfarm.
"Every few years, ads prove to be an effective and lucrative moneymaker for advertisers until they get out of control," Stone explains. "In which case, someone invents an adblocker. It happened a few years ago with [desktop] Web browser extensions. Those who got tired of slow loading speeds—and potentially spyware—could do a little research, download an adblocker and make their own Web experience a little easier. Advertisers got wise and found other means of getting their messages across."
How Businesses May Pivot
Moving into mobile may have been part of that "get wise" pivot, and with good reason: Mobile accounts for 60 percent of all digital media time spent and is far more effective than desktop in increasing brand awareness, favorability, likelihood of recommendation and purchase intent, according to comScore. But Apple's plans to let users download and use adblock technology can present a new hiccup in the ad cycle. Consumers may be happy to hear that they can reduce mobile ads' clutter and speed-sapping presence, but publishers (who may use ads to monetize their websites) and advertisers (who may rely on mobile ads as another touchpoint for potential consumers) could see it differently.
"The difference now will be if Apple officially makes ad-blocking part of their Safari app and if they call attention to it with a pop-up box or push message," Stone says. (Right now, users would have to use third-parties to block ads; it would not be automatically enabled.) "If marketers assume the worst and this does happen, then it will be on advertisers to get creative yet again."
And on business owners to find ways to work around it as well. It has pushed some businesses to consider or double down on native advertising, sponsored content that takes on the look and feel of a website's non-sponsored content.
"Even though advertisers or marketers have learned the websites their customers frequent, they may need to dig deeper into their behavior to determine which articles or authors are now the best fit—a sniper's approach versus a birdshot approach," Stone says. "Just as with the desktop browser, we may see a jump back to old-school tactics such as embedded links within articles. Sponsoring advertorial content, where the marketer actually writes the article, is becoming more mainstream as well. And let's not forget dedicated ads, which are built into the page as an image versus delivered from a server.
"Of course," Stone continues, "the best tactic is still legitimate public relations, creating news that is actually worth coverage from journalists. It's not always easy and you may find it best to hire an agency, but it pays dividends. Be relevant to your community, and the exposure will take care of itself."