The interruption model has revered status within the advertising business and the media sectors dependent on them. Media consumers have groused for decades about ads getting in the way of favorite radio and television programs. Ad supplements falling out of the newspaper at most inconvenient moments can be irritating. The digital dividend has brought cool stuff to media consumers - and cool cash to providers - and easily excitable advertising people have fallen for the trap.
Tech giant Apple is known worldwide for many things. One is iPhone, the smartphone icon that all other consumer electronic makers swoon over. Another is being a half-step ahead of its customers, great leaps only confuse. Remember Blackberry?
Last week Apple engineers released, with reasonable advance notice, an iOS9 operating system update for iPhones and iPads. Everybody paying attention knew what was coming. The iOS9 update allows for the first time ad blocking applications. Smartphone users, it seems, really hate all the ads interrupting whatever else they were looking at. More savvy users have noticed that ads can suck a battery dry.
Seizing that opportunity smartphone application developers released a slew of ad blocking apps. Within a couple of days several topped Apple Store sales in the US, UK and Germany. Some estimates suggest one in five iPhone users - that would be in the hundreds of millions - downloaded Blockr, Peace, Crystal and others for between €1 and €3.
Peace developer Marco Arment, so freaked out by the outpouring of love from mobile phone users who hate mobile ads, pulled the app from the Apple Store two days later. "Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have,» he said, quoted by mashable.com (September 18). "Ad-blocking is a kind of war — a first-world, low-stakes, both-sides-are-fortunate-to-have-this-kind-of-problem war, but a war nonetheless, with damage hitting both sides,"
The ad people howled in anguish. «Sorry ad blockers,» wrote ad industry trade sheet Advertising Age editor Ken Wheaton, posted to adage.com (September 14), «I assume you mean well and you have a point about page-load times and ads junked up with tracking tools and Trojan horses and the like. But theft is still theft, even if it's dressed up as some sort of digital Robin Hood act. You're not just interfering with pixels, you're interfering with business.» He called for lawsuits, protests, tears but warned against calling consumers «freeloading parasites.»
German publishers and broadcasters came up short earlier this year when copyright and anti-trust lawsuits against AdBlock Plus developer Eyeo were dismissed. The German courts ruled that Eyeo does not «willfully interfere» with the publishers ad business and that consumers can choose whether or not they want to block ads. Eyeo offers «whitelist» protection to publishers who contribute to the «support» of their endeavors. As a major server of digital ads to a variety of platforms Google pays.
«The worst possible response (to ad blockers),» said Ken Wheaton, «is paying an ad-blocking company or an anti-ad-blocking company money to get ads past filters and in front of the viewer. The consumer has gone through a number of steps to say, "I do not want advertising," yet there you are, forcing it upon him. It's also a bad idea because it sounds an awful lot like participating in your own extortion.»
At the annual DMEXCO digital marketing expo last week ad blocking was a hot topic. «I am very confident we will soon have technical solutions to eliminate ad blocking problem,» said IP Deutchland’s Paul Mudter, quoted by meedia.de (September 18). Ad blockers «reduce the potential reach and that’s money. You must not lose sight of this.» German ad industry association called for action to «stop the growth» of ad blockers.
Advertising market trends forecaster eMarketer rolled out their latest predictions last week. Total worldwide ad spending this year, they see, will be nearly US$570 billion and next year US$607 billion. Being something of a specialist in digital advertising, eMarketer’s crystal ball says 31.8% of all ad spending this year will be digital stuff, rising to 41.4% by 2019.
And the fastest growing part of digital ad spending is mobile internet, worldwide US$72 billion this year and almost doubling by 2017. After 2017 mobile internet ad spending in the Asia-Pacific region will eclipse North America. By 2019, eMarketer predicts, Asia-Pacific mobile internet ad spending will be US$83.12 billion, North America US$69.04 billion and Western Europe US$31.15 billion. Other regions, notably Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, will be in rapid catch-up mode.
«It’s really war,» said Sourcepoint chief executive Ben Barokas to those assembled at DMEXCO. Soucepoint has developed an anti-ad blocking app. Maybe; more likely fall-out. With all that money flowing into mobile advertising the war is among Google and Facebook, their revenue models depend on it, and Apple. They want to be, well, disruptive.
One is reminded of that famous African saying: When elephants dance, the ants get trampled.