Facebook’s fight with ad blockers set to move to mobile

  • Facebook recognises danger of tech that can block display of its ads
  • As many users of ad-blocking technology on mobile in Malaysia as in entire US

Facebook’s fight with ad blockers set to move to mobileIF Facebook is willing to fight ad blockers from working on the desktop where advertising is worth US$1 billion to the social media company, imagine what will happen once that fight moves to a space worth five times that?
"Given that the mobile device made up approximately 84% of Facebook’s total ad revenue in the second quarter of 2016, there is plenty of anticipation around whether mobile will be the next port of call for Facebook in their fight against ad blockers," said Rohit Dadwal (pic), the Managing Director for the Mobile Marketing Association, Asia Pacific.
Facebook’s zeal in fighting ad-blockers is as much about preserving their value to deliver advertisements, as it is to demonstrate to their investors that they are doing something – anything – about this threat to their business.
In their 2015 FY filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook identified that “Technologies have been developed that can block the display of our ads, which could adversely affect our financial results”.
Their filing continues to state that “revenue generated from the display of ads on personal computers has been impacted by these technologies” and “if such technologies continue to proliferate, in particular with respect to mobile platforms, our future financial results may be harmed” (our emphasis).
Facebook is correct to identify the mobile platform as an area of concern. PageFair in its 2016 Mobile Adblocking Report estimates that 22% of the world’s 1.9 billion smartphone users are blocking ads on mobile web browsers. And the focus is in the Asia-Pacific region, which makes up 55% of global smartphone users, but 93% of ad-blocking browser usage.
For example, the PageFair report (pg8), mentions that there were as many mobile users using ad-blocking technology in Malaysia as there was in the whole of the US in 2016. [Paragraph updated.]
"The take-up of ad blockers is highest in emerging markets such as China, Pakistan, Indonesia and India," said Rohit, "an indication that the technology is most rapidly adopted in markets where mobile data infrastructure is not as developed and consumers’ experience on mobile, relatively new".
The constraints of limited bandwidth and stringent data quotas make ad blockers a pragmatic choice for mobile users, while most advertisers attempt to push the boundary to deliver cutting-edge content.
"With ads comprising more interactive elements, we are seeing increased page-load times and a larger portion of a user’s mobile data consumed by ads," points out Rohit. "The opportunity is to make the experience friendlier."
But until this "friendlier experience" is worked out, users do not take kindly to an authoritarian approach to managing their ad-blockers.
"It has been found that users are generally receptive to an outright request – typically flashed on page headers or landing pages – for their ad blockers to be turned off. This approach, milder in nature, can even double up as a communication tool to educate consumers on why they should turn off their blockers."
However, Rohit feels that users who do turn off their ad-blockers should not be "punished" for their decision.
"It is important to keep the conversation going with users who have a higher tendency to convert, but frequency capping is just as critical. There needs to be a fine balance between re-targeting and over-targeting."
In the meantime, advertisers can – and should – do better.
“The ad industry has definitely come a long way since the ad-blocking movement begun last year, but there are clear signs that the war between publishers, advertisers and ad-blocking companies is not ending anytime soon,” Rohit predicts.
"We do see a need for improved creativity in mobile marketing. Creativity, as we know, is what encourages stickiness," he says. "While many marketers have mastered that across most online and offline platforms, there is a need for marketers to push the boundaries in mobile marketing."
In the meantime, some researchers argue that ad-blockers will eventually win out, because Facebook must identify ads as such, in order to stay within Federal Trade Commission rules on transparency
It looks like the onus is on advertisers to make ads that users will want to accept. When that happens, Malaysian consumers may just switch off their ad blocker to watch the occasional ad at least. Keeping that power, to view or not, any ad on their mobile, in consumer hands is all important. As Rohit concludes, "The consumer, ultimately, is the clear winner. And that is how it should be."
But will Facebook accept this?
Dzof Azmi is a Contributing Writer to DNA

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