Oisin Lunny
Oisin Lunny 4 December 2015
Categories Mobile

In The Darkness Of The Ad-Blocking Debate Mobile Engagement Will Shine Through

moving away from the 'spray and pray' strategy to a more customer-centric approach looks to be the best means of survival.

In the past couple of months ad blocking has become an increasing popular topic, much to the consternation of those within the advertising industry.

It’s no surprise the issue has become a priority with adoption rates among web users soaring – up to 18% from 15% just five months ago according to recent research by the Internet Advertising Bureau.

To further complicate the matter, Apple’s announcement that it would include tools in app developer kits for iOS 9 to block ads in its Safari browser added fuel to the ad-blocking fire. While some well-known marketers have voiced their concerns, others have buried their heads.

Unfortunately for those hiding from the issue, this won’t blow over any time soon. Public feeling has soured so much that some are even calling for it to become a legal requirement.

Speaking at WSJDLive, Google executive Sridhar Ramaswamy called for the implementation of a ‘sustainable ad standard’ that was bandwidth efficient and non-intrusive. The fact is, the pop-up/banner model just isn’t working with modern consumers and marketers need to react accordingly.

A move away from the ‘spray and pray’ strategy employed by many today to a more customer-centric approach looks to be the best means of survival.

Brand engagement doesn’t work the way it used to

Ad-blockers have been in use for some time. Apple’s recent announcement has shifted the conversation to mobile, in a nice piece of symmetry to the way its technology has done over the last decade. In fact, in an interview with the Guardian, the IAB said the UK rise in the adoption of ad-blocking was unsurprising given the extensive coverage the topic has received as a result of Apple’s developer news. The fact that the debate has moved to mobile is such a concern for advertisers is because mobile is the way the average person interacts with brands whether it’s shopping online, via apps or through social media. Mobile is completely integral to the consumer journey. Perhaps more importantly, these mobile first consumers are interacting with brands how they want to, rather than vice-versa. This might mean shopping at 3am when they can’t sleep or checking out the latest offers on the train home from work. Time and location aren’t really a factor.

It would be unfair to say all mobile advertising takes an ‘interruption approach’, but user experience is often a secondary consideration when it should be central to any mobile engagement strategy. Plans to reduce ad- blocking by making consumers more aware of the consequences (that they won’t receive free content if they refuse ads as these are what essentially pay for content) seem self-defeating. While the IAB states that only 4% of consumers are willing to pay for content with no ads, this doesn’t tackle the root of the problem; ads are not engaging with consumers – whether they are present on the page or not.

And once ad-blocking technology is turned on, consumers may never know if a brand has got it right. That means that popular retargeting tactics that offer adverts based on the pretext of previous browsing patterns may no longer be possible for the ad-blocking demographic. This recent “holy grail” for marketers is rapidly becoming an unviable option.

The new age of mobile powered contextual commerce

Marketers and brands need to be a little more accurate in their approach – they can’t just broadcast, cross their fingers and see what sticks. A mobile engagement strategy is crucial to improving the customer experience so that any form of engagement is smart - just like our devices - relevant and personalised. By compiling contextual mobile web and app data including both real-time location and location-history of a device, marketers can potentially leverage location as a proxy for a consumer’s real-world activity, interests and intent. With the increasing popularity of artificial intelligence (AI) and bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless technologies such as Digital Genius, Google’s Eddystone and Apple’s iBeacon that can provide even more mobile data for ultra-personalised services, the opportunity is larger still. Meanwhile the mobile phone networks are considering whether selling data about their customers could be a $24 billion business opportunity.


The delivery mechanism for a two-way, user-centric and personalised engagement on this platform will be via intelligent SMS solutions, especially for consumers on the go. At OpenMarket we commissioned eDigital Research to find out which platforms were preferred by shoppers, for a number of use cases. The results show there is no one size fits all solution. Different approaches work better in different settings. The research showed was that when the message is time-sensitive and when the consumer is on the move, SMS is the best choice. Not only does it deliver open rates of over 95%, in contrast to email and push notifications, but it is also prioritised by 83% of consumers.

SMS soft engagement tactics combined with AI such as DigitalGenius has worked for a number of brands including Unilever, who use the technology to power a virtual cooking assistant. According to Dmitry Aksenov, founder and CEO of DigitalGenius, the app allows a consumer to “text in ideas for a recipe for fish, or tell it you have five people coming for dinner and need ideas. It will recognise your request and can tailor all communications around your mobile number. For example, it will remember that your spouse is a vegetarian. The levels of engagement are exceptionally high.”

Even start-ups are looking at SMS as a marketing engagement tool. Digit, a tool that promotes savings asks its users to sign up for the service on its website. Users then key in their mobile phone number and bank account number. Amongst other features, the software can analyse spending patterns and automatically set money aside in a savings account. With the widely documented onset of consumer app fatigue, SMS is becoming the universal UI.

Mobile First means Customer First

With an emphasis in the advertising industry on measuring click-through rates and using valuable data to inform decisions and trends, the prospect has turned from customer to a product in and of themselves, leaving engagement on a back foot. Mobile engagement needs to swing back to putting the customer back in control. As former Tesco CEO Philip Clarke remarked, customers should be allowed to engage and transact with Tesco, “in whatever way best suits them – physically or digitally, transactionally or non-transactionally. In an age where customers have more choice than ever in how to shop and who to shop with, loyalty is harder to come by, and easier to lose, than it ever has been.”

Using mobile messaging presents businesses with the opportunity to reach the user, interact and influence far more effectively than broadcasting adverts; it’s like comparing a well-placed whisper in the ears of the right people compared to bellowing through a megaphone in a crowded shopping mall. As attitudes to pop-ups and banners continue to sour, business leaders and marketers should be considering how they put SMS at the heart of their engagement strategies.


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