It’s fair to say that adverts are not everyone’s cup of tea. Whether they’re interrupting your favourite TV programme or invading your online browsing, they can range from mildly irritating to downright infuriating. While there’s not much that can be done to tackle ads on traditional media platforms, online advertising is under threat from the rise of ad-blocking software. What’s becoming increasingly clear, however, is that there is a huge discrepancy between the use of ad-blockers on desktop PCs and mobile devices.
Frustration with bad ads
A recent report by data insight providers GlobalWebIndex discovered that ad-frustration is widespread. Participants mentioned a broad spectrum of issues with online advertising, ranging from privacy concerns to dwindling battery life, but the damage that they cause to the user experience was most commonly cited.
Half (49 per cent) of ad-blockers raised issue with too many ads being annoying and irrelevant, while 40 per cent described them as intrusive. With the reputation of advertising falling so low, it is hardly surprising that one in three recent ad-blockers state that they try to avoid ads wherever possible, be it online or otherwise.
Clearly the frustration with online advertising is commonplace, but it is certainly not uniform. Looking at audience profiling data across ad-blockers, it is clear that younger users are more willing to take control of their online experience, particularly those in the 25-34 age group, and males are also more inclined to deploy ad-blockers than females. However, perhaps the most surprising variation in the online ad-blocking landscape concerns different devices.
Mobile lags behind desktop PCs
The report makes it clear that despite our reliance on smartphones growing, ad-blocking in 2017 remains predominantly a desktop and laptop PC phenomenon. Only 22 per cent of individuals that currently use ad-blocking software block advertisements on their mobile phones.
However, this is not because online users are content to see ads on the smaller screen. Frustration with mobile advertising remains an issue, but there are other factors limiting the rise of mobile ad-blocking.
The primary reason for the relatively low usage of ad-blocking software on mobile devices is a lack of awareness. Only 48 per cent of internet device owners are aware that it is possible to block ads on mobiles and this figure falls further when looking at older age ranges. What’s more, mobile ad-blockers appear to be suffering from a brand recognition issue.
Just one in two individuals who had used a mobile ad-blocker in the past month were able to recall the name of the software that they used. This makes it difficult for mobile ad-blocking to spread via word of mouth and adds to the general sense of confusion surrounding the technology.
Furthermore, the fact that some mobile web browsers do not support ad-blockers is another barrier to widespread adoption. Across the Android operating system, for example, the default browser, Google Chrome, does not support third-party ad-blocking extensions. With 35 per cent of smartphone owners in the study stating that they have never considered using a browser outside of the default one, it is clear that mobile ad-blockers face an uphill task.
An untapped market
Despite the many challenges facing the mobile ad-blocker market, it remains a significant opportunity for businesses, not least of all because there is a receptive audience. Nearly three quarters (70 per cent) of the survey’s respondents recognised that mobile ad-blockers prevent intrusive ads, and more than half understand the online privacy benefits.
Given that this figure is true for individuals that already use mobile ad-blockers and those that do not, but are aware of them, it becomes clear that there is a great deal of potential being left untapped across the mobile ad-blocker market.
For mobile ad-blocking to catch up, however, a few challenges must be overcome. Firstly, consumer awareness needs to be improved, particularly as only 12 per cent of online device owners feel that it is easier to find ad-blockers on mobile devices than on desktops or laptops.
In addition, ad-blocking software needs to ensure that it creates the right brand image. A professional look and name will not only help users to share their positive experience, it will also convince them that the software is less likely to be a drain on battery life or data plans.
The future of advertising
The enthusiasm for ad-blocking software across all devices that is clearly evident in GlobalWebIndex and Adblock Plus’ report raises some serious questions for the advertising industry generally. Although a fifth of smartphone owners claim that they are open to seeing respectful ads on their mobiles, many more online users do not recognise or accept the important role that advertising plays in funding online content.
In fact, half of the smartphone users that were surveyed stated that they would like to block all adverts on their mobile device. Online content makers are at a cross-roads.
How do they use advertising to monetise their websites without driving consumers away?
Subscription fees are one way of circumventing ad-revenue altogether, but it is unlikely to be an option for all online platforms. Instead, publishers must focus on improving the quality of their adverts and ensuring that they do not negatively impact the user experience. Ad-blocking software also has a role to play in this.
They can help to weed out websites that host intrusive and annoying ads, but they must also be aware that by damaging advertising revenue they threaten the content distribution platform that is at the heart of much of the internet. As ad-blocking becomes more prevalent, particularly across mobile platforms, navigating this balancing act between user experience and revenue generation will be the key challenge.