As the world braces for Apple’s iOS 9 update, the search/digital/mobile marketing community remains divided between those who feel ad-blocking extensions will forever change marketing as we know it and those who think ad blocking simply isn’t going to go mainstream and will therefore not likely have much impact. And, of course, there are countless shades of gray in between.
Matt Roberts, CSO of enterprise SEO platform Linkdex, which sponsors Momentology, is decidedly in the latter camp.
John Straw, senior advisor at McKinsey and Company and a Linkdex co-founder, is in the former.
“This is the biggest disruption to marketing since Google came into the market with AdWords 10 years ago,” Straw said.
Who is ultimately correct remains to be seen, but, in the meantime, Momentology asked 12 mobile marketing experts for their takes on the potential impact of content-blocking extensions in iOS 9.
Here are their 12 insights.
The Potential Impact of Ad Blocking
1. It Could Significantly Reduce The Mobile Ad Channel Overall
With iPhone’s existing market penetration – which reports say stands at about 30 percent in the U.S. in Q2, Straw noted that if ad blocking becomes prevalent in the coming years, it could significantly reduce the mobile ad channel, which, per his figures, is forecast to hit $100 billion by 2020.
2. It Could Force Google To Sell More Ads On Android Devices
Straw uses the example of consumers with iPhones using Safari to search for “car insurance.” The addition of content-blocking extensions means Google ads will disappear, which will hurt Google extensively.
“Google in mobile is expecting to make a lot of money, so Google will be forced to maintain revenue by selling more ads on Android,” Straw said. “That means people who don’t like ads will move from Android to iPhone, which reduces the value of Android users to advertisers, [so much so that they could then be perceived as] cheapskates or poorer people that can’t afford the premium iPhone experience.”
This will not only reduce Android revenue, it will also force consumers onto the Apple platform because they want a clutter-free environment, which means Google ads are suddenly worth less than Apple’s, Straw said.
3. It Could Drive Publishers To Apple News
Readers of the New York Times, for example, can block ads. That means a major revenue source for the New York Times is also blocked.
“So there is a really big problem and Apple has solved it with Apple News, so they say to the New York Times, ‘We can get your news into the hands of our users, and, by the way, we can sell ads on that, but we want a slice of it,’” Straw said. “Apple has constricted Google from the ad market and lassoed 20 percent of the remaining market. It’s…genius.”
In fact, Jim Ganzer, director of media strategy at ad agency Adcom Group, said publishers have the most to lose.
“Ad blocking limits their ability to monetize content,” he said. “Advertisers are less of a concern. Media professionals will find a way to reach and engage audiences. Publishers stand to lose millions.”
4. It Could Drive Better Integration Between Publishers & Advertisers
Another potential impact is that publishing/media companies and online/mobile advertisers will have to be smarter about working together, said Benjamin Aronson, director of digital and social at marketing agency Adams Knight.
“For all the user-generated content and citizen journalism that exists out there, people still desperately want their high-quality, network-quality content. The question moving forward will be how slow will they be to adapt to this changing landscape?” Aronson said. “Can they figure out new ways to natively integrate ads into real content and can they develop and monetize an approach that keeps them in the black?”
5. It Could Increase The Value Of Organic Search
These changes make SEO even more important for brands, particularly for those that target younger consumers, Straw said.
“If ads are blocked, ads won’t be able to reach younger generations [using iPhones], which is a really, really big problem,” Straw said. “There are huge, absolutely massive implications for that. You can’t do generational marketing.”
As a result, Straw said this means SEO becomes even more important because those brands have to instead get natural search positions as they have no brand exposure at all to their primary target group.
“I don’t know how companies will solve that problem without doing SEO really, really well,” he added. “So SEO in mobile is going to be a lot more important.”
6. It Could Result In Analytics Blocking
Safari’s content-blocking extensions can extend beyond ads and pop-ups, which is precisely why this practice is called content-blocking, noted Emily Grossman, mobile marketing specialist at mobile marketing tools and consulting firm MobileMoxie.
7. It Could Result In Better User Experiences Overall
Blocking scripts can increase page load times in mobile Safari, which Grossman said is great news for Safari users and even more for Apple.
James Murphy, vice president of programmatic at ad tech firm RhythmOne, echoed this statement, saying a big reason consumers want to block ads is load times.
“[The industry has] become aggressive in creating units that take a long time to load and the user experience is not as friendly,” Murphy said. “People will look to block things that bother them…so if we are seeing things blocked, we can figure out a way to iterate the other way to make it a more friendly experience for the user.”
8. It Could Make Apple Search More Powerful
“If users can get content quickly on mobile Safari, they may be even less likely to shop around for an alternative browser,” Grossman said. “The more Apple can keep iOS users defaulting to Safari, the more powerful Spotlight Suggest/Apple Search becomes.”
9. It Could Result In Better Targeting
Apple’s move could also push the industry, buying platforms included, to target consumers better because advertisers want to display ads to end users that are served and delivered, Murphy said.
“We need to counter as technology experts to make sure these ads are fully rendering and if [consumers] are navigating away, maybe there is a targeting issue,” he said. “This will force buying platforms to become smarter. This is going to force those technology enhancements.”
James Briggs, CEO of mobile ad firm Briabe Mobile, agrees mobile ad-blocking technology means advertisers will have to work harder to ensure their ad spend is actually reaching their target consumers.
10. It Could Result In Better Content/Engagement
Ad blocking simply means advertisers must make more of a concentrated effort to create ads that are more relevant and useful to consumers, said Diego Meller, CEO of mobile app marketing platform Jampp.
John Lim, CEO of mobile marketing agency Life In Mobile, agrees this forces the industry to more carefully consider both targeting and engagement.
“The evolution of the modern, mobile consumer has already surpassed the tactics of most mobile advertisers. Consumers are smarter now than they have ever been and can not only detect when they are being marketed to, but also find it an incredible nuisance,” Lim said.
“While the iOS 9 ad-blocking feature has freed the consumer of aggressive advertising and marketing tactics, it finally forces the industry to become smarter in how they target and engage their consumers. Now, more than ever, marketing and advertising companies will need to think before they blast out advertisements to mobile users or may even have to give up the practice altogether,” he said.
Further, Lim said companies that utilize tactics like post-click optimization and gamification will “sprint” ahead of the competition.
“By marketing and advertising to the human behind the device, and not just to the device itself, advertisers can hope to effectively and meaningfully engage with their consumers to increase their desired ROI,” Lim added.
For his part, Adam Salamon, COO of mobile rewards program Perk, said he thinks advertising will have a fully opt-in model in the future.
“But the only way users will opt in is if they get something that has tangible value in return, as happy advertisers + happy publishers + happy users = a mobile ecosystem where everyone wins,” he said. “It’s something we in the mobile advertising industry should completely support. The best news is that advertisers and publishers also have the ability to win by providing an ad experience that truly rewards users.”
Aronson said brands also need to figure out how to better integrate advertising into content more organically, like through native placements and brand partnerships.
“This does not mean self-serving branded content, like ‘How to make a better burger using Heinz Ketchup,’ this means providing real, high-value content that aligns with your brand and your brand’s audience, [like Red Bull does],” he said. “This is even more important with our Gen Y and Gen Z audiences, who are much more tech savvy, and thereby much more likely to be heavy ad-blocking users in the future.”
11. It Could Help Eliminate Malvertising
Brian Copening, executive vice president at digital marketing firm 10x Digital, also points out that content-blocking will help eliminate malvertising, which will, in turn, allow consumers to focus on higher quality content, ad-based and otherwise.
“The industry as a whole will benefit,” he said. “This will make it even more important that a company’s website provides high-quality cornerstone content that allows their users to interact with their brand in a meaningful way while online.”
12. It Could Result In Better Delivery
Ari Brandt, CEO of in-game advertising platform MediaBrix, echoed this sentiment, saying Apple’s announcement will spur the industry to think about mobile delivery.
“Who thought interstitial ads that take over an entire mobile screen were ever a good idea? The industry needs to innovate, instead of rushing to deliver messages without any regard for the user,” he said.
Will Consumers Actually Install Ad-Blocking Extensions?
But before any of these potential outcomes can become a reality, users will have to actually download the extensions. Debate rages, too, over their mainstream potential.
That’s because content-blocking is not a feature that will come pre-installed on iPhones.
What’s more, ads will only be blocked on the mobile browser Safari while much of the app marketing ecosystem works on in-app inventory, which means app users will still see ads, Meller notes.
And Farhad Divecha, managing director at SEO and PPC agency AccuraCast, notes, this would be a much bigger disruption if apps were affected, or if, say, Google were to introduce ad-blockers on Android.
For his part, Quincy Smith of conversion rate optimization firm Uplift, said ad blockers will not likely be adopted widely unless the technology comes standard on devices.
“Only the technologically literate will have even heard about it and even fewer have implemented it,” he said.
Plus, there are plenty of workarounds, noted Cindy Krum, CEO of MobileMoxie.
“To avoid the workarounds, people will have to stay in an Apple-only universe, not even using Google Maps or Chrome, or any third party apps with embedded ads and that will just mean that their Apple-only universe will be reinforcing more Apple products and downloads – for apps, music, TV, etc.,” she said. “It is good branding, but remember that branding, especially this kind of branding, is just a more subtle type of marketing.”
As Grossman puts it, the ultimate question is what percentage of mobile Safari users will even be aware of these extensions and actually download them.
“If content-blockers are only used by a small tech-savvy percentage of the iOS user base, this may not have much of an effect on ad revenue and tracking, but if blockers become widely adopted, publishers may start to shift their iOS advertising spend to in-app iAds, which won’t be blocked,” she said.
However, if anyone can push mass adoption, it’s Apple, Straw said.
In fact, according to Straw, Apple has a habit of being disruptive after lying in wait for other brands/manufacturers to experiment before it moves forward and stealthily spurs mass adoption in one fell swoop.
“Before the iPhone arrived back in 2007, demand was extremely low and confined to those people that were geeks like me,” Straw said. “Then Apple comes about and shouts about this highly designed smartphone and becomes disruptive.”
In addition, as the mainstream press talks more and more about ad blocking, Straw said it won’t be long until consumers realize they can block ads – and they will.
Straw may be on to something. Howard Stern reportedly learned about ad-blocking during his radio show recently, exposing his audience of 20 million listeners to it as well.
Adoption is on the rise and a number of providers are jumping in, but Briggs questioned whether Apple be the one to push it mainstream.
“Not all consumer segments are likely to aggressively pursue ad-blocking solutions,” he said. “Sites with a large audience of young tech-savvy males will likely experience significantly higher rates of blocking than those serving an older or more female-skewed audience.
What’s your take on ad-blocking extensions? Will they go mainstream and/or significantly impact mobile marketing?