Mobile ad-blocking was an Asian trend, until Google U-turned

“Mobile-ad blocking remains an Asian phenomenon” is the reassuring consensus from GlobalWebIndex’s (GWI) State of Mobile Ad-Blocking Q2 2017 report, claiming that mobile versions of ad-blocking software have notable limitations when compared with their desktop cousins – limitations it says are holding back a mobile-ad blocking boom in the US.

This is clearly a distraction from the truth that the use of ad-blocking software in general is rising at a rapid rate in the US, with the exception of tablets which are heading towards extinction. The methodology seems to forget that smartphones are the de facto devices for browsing and viewing video in Asian markets, whereas laptops and PCs remain the go to source in the US.

GWI’s data found that of 427 US internet users aged 16-64 who have blocked an ad in the past month, 68% used ad-blockers on laptops, followed by 51% on PCs, and 22% on mobiles.

Interestingly, more than 6 in 10 respondents stated that they were unaware that it was possible to block advertisements on mobile devices. Although there was a big swing by demographic, with 62% of 16-24 year-olds aware of mobile-based ad-blocking software, whereas just 38% of 35-44 year-olds said they were aware.

The findings display that a lack of awareness has a significant part to play in preventing mobile ad-blocking from becoming more widely used, rather than the inherent limitations that GWI suggests. Another limitation that we can think of, that GWI didn’t include, is that in-app ad-blocking software is not yet in high demand, and brings with it privacy concerns as in-app software has access to more personal user data than in a browser – a practice that community-driven software providers such as AdBlock Plus are strictly against.

However, the report notes that there is an underlying demand for mobile ad-blocking software that could surge once awareness increases. It found that 1 in 3 smartphone owners complained that there are too many ads when browsing the internet on mobile devices, but the majority of these are unaware of the availability of ad-blocking software for mobile browsers.

Apple made a controversial move in 2015 when it announced that its Safari browser for iOS 9 would support ad-blocking extensions, and the report calls out Android for being a particular culprit for stemming the adoption of mobile ad-blocking – unsurprising given that some 77% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising.

Google’s reluctance to allow extensions on Chrome has led to many Android users downloading third-party browsers which do support the software, however, Google made an uncharacteristic move at the start of this month by finally announcing it will add an ad-blocker to Chrome at the start of 2018, following months of rumors.

Google is likely to make its ad-blocking extensions far more stringent than in other browsers, yet the move is still hugely influential for the advertising industry, one which might make advertisers think more seriously about making ads less intrusive – the main reason the software is downloaded in the first place.

“It’s far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the web – like the kind that blare music unexpectedly, or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s SVP of Ads and Commerce.

The move will also decrease the amount of smartphone users running multiple browsers, which the report found to be 14% of respondents. Also, over 6 in 10 Samsung handset owners said they were unaware of mobile ad-blocking, despite Samsung rolling out third-party blocking capabilities on its default browser last year.

Unlike the same GWI report published last year, which has been removed from its website, this quarter’s edition has not published the percentage of mobile users who use ad-blocking software, which was found to be 37% last year. This figure was almost certainly higher this year, as 42% of last year’s respondents said they were interested in using ad-blocking software in the future – meaning that there is a potential for 79% of mobile users to be using the capability in the future.

A section on consumer attitudes found that 47% of smartphone owners would prefer to block all ads completely on their mobile devices, and 41% said they trust providers of ad-blockers to define and enforce rules for respectful ads. This shows that the mentality of smartphone users towards ads is increasingly one that rejects the model of value exchange that comes with receiving free content.

This trend is unlikely to revert, but a potential solution here is that advertisers could make a compromise by working more closely with providers of ad-blockers to regain favor with consumers.

For example, AdBlock Plus runs the Acceptable Ads Initiative that allows companies to apply for their ads to be accepted and bypass the blocking software, as long as they meet specific criteria, such as not being intrusive, not being misleading, meeting specific size requirements, and not auto-playing video or sound. Unfortunately, having spoken to a number of companies in the ad tech industry, we are aware that many are unwilling to embrace this.

It was quite unfortunate for GWI that its research was carried out prior to Google’s announcement, so we expect its next report to produce some rather different results.