What do ad blockers mean for mobile apps?

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Most of the $21.8 billion lost to ad blocking last year came from desktop, though it is becoming more prevalent in the mobile space. While only 1.6 percent of Q2’s ad block traffic came from mobile devices, that number is sure to surge now that iOS 9 has made it so easy for users to install ad blockers.

Ad blockers have long been available in Google Play, which is why Chrome and Firefox, common browsers on Android devices, account for 93 percent of the mobile ad blocking share.

“The quality of ads might improve and people might enjoy watching a pre-roll video or even seeing a Givenchy ad while they’re reading a horrible bit of news. It might be a nice break,” says Dave Yoon, co-founder at Been. “I don’t think there’s a fundamental disconnect between what users want and what advertisers need. We just think there should be some control.”

Shortly after Apple embraced ad blocking with the release of iOS 9, the company approved Been Choice, Yoon’s app that blocks ads both on the mobile web and within apps. Combining a Safari content blocker and VPN service enabling it to filter out ad traffic via deep packet inspection, Been Choice is the first ad blocker that’s ever worked on first-party proprietary apps like Facebook, Google and Yahoo.


The app was born as a way to protect users’ privacy. If ad blocking is a choice, people are able to opt out of providing their data to the advertisers they don’t necessarily trust. Ironically, protecting consumers’ privacy was the reason Been Choice – and other apps like it – were quickly removed from the App Store.

Been Choice was allowed back in the store a week later, without the root certificate. Yoon doesn’t think Apple is necessarily against blocking in-app ads; he believes the company just wants to do it first.

“I think in-app ad blocking is going to continue. I think Apple doesn’t like people getting ahead of it in the experience. It provided an incredibly efficient way to block ads and trackers in Safari; it may have something in a year that works in apps,” says Yoon. “[Apple] doesn’t want people going ahead of it and offering this thing, and that may have played into its decision [to remove Been Choice from the App Store.]”

It’s likely that in-app ad blocking will continue, especially as mobile traffic increases so steadily. As more advertisers get more sophisticated with mobile devices, there will undoubtedly be an increase an ads – and as a result, an increase in people not wanting to see them.

But Malcolm Friedberg, chief marketing officer of Clever Tap, notes that as marketers get more sophisticated about mobile, they’re also more likely to do better advertising, not just more of it.


“Mobile savviness is better served by developing an engaging app than throwing money into browser-based ad networks,” he says, adding that improved targeting and personalization also come with increased savviness.

“Success with mobile is all about personalization, which is a byproduct of having and using customer data,” Friedberg continues. “Advertisers that get better at leveraging customer data will get better engagement, which will translate into more customers. If they learn to do that, ad blockers will be much less of a challenge for them.”

Personalization is just one way mobile marketers can improve their user experience. Another is making loading times faster, a trait that’s often superior in-app compared with the mobile web.

Whether on desktop or mobile, most ad blockers are deployed because users see the ads as interruptive. Janis Zech, chief operating officer and co-founder of Fyber, points out that publishers can make them feel less intruded on by gently reminding consumers that ads fuel the free Internet, something that doesn’t occur to many of them.

“I don’t think users always understand that concept because it’s very implicit. If it’s explicit, you say, ‘You have the choice to watch an ad and then unlock premium content, or you have the choice to pay for the article with a paywall,” says Zech.

Music streaming services illustrate this point well. Spotify and Pandora continually make it clear that ads are part of the deal – unless you pay for the premium membership.

“In that kind of premium economy, there’s an explicit value exchange,” adds Zech. “Users will say, ‘I don’t want to pay, so I’ll watch the ad.'”pandora-one

Mobile ad blockers will inevitably become more prevalent, both in and out of apps, but marketers have a distinct advantage. They have a much greater awareness of ad blocking now than when it became a common practice on desktop.

And with that greater preparation, mobile marketers have a greater awareness about what they can do to lose less money than their desktop counterparts. Greater personalization and UX, according to Friedberg and Zech. Yoon believes the whole industry will be forced to revamp somewhat.

“Ads are a result of this very strange 20-year-old system where trackers and cookies scan and collect data, and it’s sold into this very sophisticated advertising network without my consent,” he says. “That has to stop at some point and that’s the core thing of what’s going to drive what goes forward.”


There’s no question that ad blocking is on the rise, a trend that’s starting to cross more into the mobile space. Soon after Apple released the latest ad blocker-friendly version of iOS, apps like Crystal and Purify shot to the top of the App Store. Other apps took it one step further, allowing users to block ads within apps.

Marketers have a greater awareness of ad blocking now than they did when the practice became big on desktop, in addition to being more mobile savvy in general. So while the use of ad blockers, both in and out of apps, will undoubtedly increase over the next year, marketers are better prepared for them.

Since the majority of time spent on smartphones happens within apps, making sure your app has a dynamite – and personalized – user experience may result in less wasted ad dollars spent on mobile than on desktop.

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