The notion of advertising all but propping up the digital publishing industry is an uncomfortable but unavoidable facet of modern content. When value is measured in clicks, clickthroughs and conversions, publishers with few other streams of revenue turn to the sensational and the misleading to garner traffic as print revenue disappears. The explosion in mobile internet usage has threatened these techniques, though, and as the gulf between time spent on mobile devices and ad spend is bridged, marketers will need to rethink their strategies.
In short, the medium of mobile internet and apps presents some major problems for advertisers, problems that threaten the revenue stream itself, in turn adding further insecurity to an already floundering publishing industry. Of all domestic news revenue in the US, 69% comes directly from advertising - if this ad spend becomes ineffective it’s not just marketing that will suffer. According to Business Insider UK, mobile is still set to be the ‘fastest-growing advertising channel’ for the foreseeable future, but brands and tech companies alike need to ensure they’re doing it right.
Currently, perhaps the biggest issues when putting together a mobile ad campaign are the format itself and the loading times that come with it. Pop-ups are too intrusive on a mobile device because of the smaller screen and the still imperfect mobile browsers, and video still loads less quickly when using data than it does on wifi - essentially, mobile advertising is too slow.
Google has been taking measures to remedy the speed issue, though - understandable given their huge stake in digital advertising. At the recent DoubleClick Leadership Summit, the tech giant announced its plans for AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) for Ads, an open-source project designed to encourage advertisers to put together ads that don’t affect loading times so dramatically. Google found that when publishers can load ads in under five seconds, advertising revenue can double compared to the 19-second average range.
Google’s AMP initiative is focused on speeding up the loading of content on mobile devices more generally, and Google claims AMP pages load four times faster and use 10 times less data than other pages. AMP for Ads is, according to the Wall Street Journal, simply a ‘set of guidelines and code that ad agencies and brands can employ to build faster ads.’ If Facebook’s commitment to Instant Articles is considered alongside AMP, it’s clear tech companies are committed to streamlining the mobile browsing experience - it benefits tech companies and publishers alike.
Advertisers haven’t yet hit the same realization. Mobile ads are all too often stacked with multiple tracking mechanisms or unnecessary visuals that grind page loading to a near halt. The second major issue faced by digital advertisers is, then, a direct product of the first - the fact that ad blocking software has made its way onto mobile and has been accepted by the likes of iOS. The entire system of downloading apps makes mobile a very receptive medium for ad blockers, despite the fact only 22% of the world’s smartphone users currently use them.
Ad blockers on mobile face the difficulty of being unable to affect others apps, and sandboxing should prevent them from doing so. Given that around 90% of mobile internet time is spent in-app, and digital publishers will often have their own apps with their own advertising, revenue shouldn’t be affected too drastically. Also, according to research from AdRoll, Apple’s acceptance of ad blockers has actually had very little effect on mobile ad spend - an initial drop-off occurred when the news broke, but among the regular peaks and troughs the dip doesn’t seem out of place. Even so, usage is on the rise, and as apps strip back traditional advertising in favor of loading speed and native content marketing, mobile advertising will need to adapt to stay alive.
One company looking to change how mobile advertising is sold and delivered is Shine, an ad blocking company with a current consumer base of 100 million phone subscribers. Users of the networks covered by Shine see no mobile internet ads unless they opt into viewing them - ads are blocked at a carrier level - and the ad blocker is aiming to have brands pay for their ads to make it through the net on legitimate, recognized sites. The trade off is that brands can avoid the fraudulent, bogus traffic that makes an ROI on digital ad spend so difficult to quantify. Products like Shine will only grow and the company claims it is in talks with other carriers, in deals that could see its reach extend to up to 800 million subscribers.
Shine isn’t a signal of the end for mobile advertisers, rather it suggests a much-needed cleaning up, a quality check on what users are hit with. An ad-free mobile experience may sound great, but publishers’ reliance on ads means quality content would take a potentially fatal hit. Instead, if mobile ads can be reconfigured to be less intrusive and more relevant, a happy medium could be found that benefits not just the consumer but advertiser and publisher alike.