Is This the Mobile A(d)pocalypse?

Sanne Kemner
Sanne KemnerMarketing ManagerMore about Sanne

[This article was originally published in Dutch on Emerce.nl. Click here to read the Dutch version]

The admission of ad blockers in Apple’s mobile Safari browser continues to cause concern among advertisers. There’s been no shortage of speculation surrounding the ethics of ad blockers and the effects on the way we use, consume, and pay for digital media. Bannerconnect brings hard data to the discussion.

Conscious that the ad blocker issue could be of concern to clients and many in the industry, Bannerconnect recently conducted a study to find out if advertisers are charged for blocked ads on desktop browsers.

Is This the Mobile A(d)pocalypse?

Tests were conducted with popular ad blocking tool, AdBlock Plus, enabled, and conclusively found that advertisers’ budgets are not wasted on ads that are blocked on desktop browsers. The cost of blocked ads is borne entirely by publishers. However, this only covered desktop. The effects for mobile – iOS in particular – are yet untold. It raises several questions: is there significantly less online advertising space available for iOS? Will the price of advertising space on mobile increase dramatically due to less display space? Will this affect how campaign operators target certain mobiles and devices?

Much Speculation
Despite the commotion surrounding the iOS 9 release, there hasn’t been much solid data to support any concrete answers to the above questions. To determine whether iOS 9 has indeed been as disastrous as some experts have interpreted, Bannerconnect closely monitored the sales of advertising space on iOS across managed accounts before and after September 16 – the day iOS 9 launched. Tellingly, data from AppNexus showed a clear decrease of up to 50% less spend for some clients after 16 September. The sharpest drop in ad spend on iOS occurring the weekend after the release. This confirms suspicions that ad blockers likely were enabled on many iOS devices following the launch, and particularly on the weekend, as users has more time to download and install apps.

Supply and Demand
Naturally, one of the main concerns surrounding blocked advertising space is the expected increase in the price of displaying an ad to iOS users, as demand outweighs supply. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case – at least not yet. The data currently available in AppNexus suggests that prices for digital advertising space in iOS have actually dropped.
There’s no concrete evidence for the cause of this, but one theory is that advertisers are being proactive in anticipating future trends, and are deliberately targeting iOS less because of the recent buzz around ad blockers. If that is the case, then it is logical that this leads to a decrease in demand of iOS impressions.

Desktop vs. Mobile
Thanks to previous tests described in the previous article, Bannerconnect was able to establish that advertisers are not billed when ad space is blocked. However, similar tests for mobile yielded different results. Unlike with desktop, in some cases ads are still served on iOS 9 browsers enabling ad blockers. In these cases, it means the advertiser does incur a cost for an ad that is never seen by the users as the ad itself is blocked. Fortunately, instances such as these can be avoided through the use of specialized viewability solutions, such as those used by Bannerconnect, and excluded from campaigns to prevent advertisers losing out.

What now?
Over the past few weeks there have been countless articles and opinions posted online about whether the influence of ad blockers is good or evil. The first app, ad blocker, Peace, has already been removed from the AppStore because the developer does not want to be responsible for adverse financial consequences for undeserving companies. AdBlock Plus, the most popular ad blocker for desktop browsers, has established an independent watchdog who can decide which ads are ‘acceptable’ and can therefore be shown, similar to a white-list model.
For many advertisers, these recent developments will undoubtedly have led them to rethink the way they advertise. On the other hand, users will possibly realise that good content is not free. When given the choice to view an ad or to subscribe, many of them will certainly go for the first option. However, until that time, advertisers would be wise to take into account the true impact of ad blockers.

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