iOS 9: Adblockalypse Now, Or Much Ado About Nothing?

12 mobile experts weigh in on what Apple’s ad block­ing real­ly means for mar­keters and how many con­sumers will actu­al­ly use it.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

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.

Con­tent-block­ers in iOS 9 can stop back­ground cook­ies and scripts, which means block­ing hos­tile JavaScripts/malware as well as ad con­tent, but it also may mean some ana­lyt­ics block­ing,” she said. “That could be more than dis­rup­tive in adver­tis­ing – if wide­ly adopt­ed, it could be dis­rup­tive in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing on the whole.”

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?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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