Gabey Goh
Aug 30, 2016

Mobile roadblocks set off hunt for a bypass

As mobile ad-blocking soars in popularity across Asia, marketers ask whether in-feed advertising is the answer for brands.

Asian mobile users have warmed to ad-blocking, prompting marketers to seek inventive get-arounds.
Asian mobile users have warmed to ad-blocking, prompting marketers to seek inventive get-arounds.

The lingering assumption that Asian consumers lag behind their North American or European counterparts in embracing mobile ad-blockers can now be put to rest.

Asian users are in fact now the most willing to install a mobile browser that blocks ads—and by a significant margin—according to a recent study by PageFair, in partnership with Priori Data.

In March, Asia-Pacific accounted for 55 percent of global smartphone users, but an incredible 93 percent of ad-blocking browser usage, the report found. China, India and Indonesia alone accounted for 319 million active ad-blocking browsers. 

Ranga Somanathan, Southeast Asia CEO for OMG Singapore and Malaysia, says that adoption in the region is likely to be more driven by necessity than “a function of knowledge alone”.

“Many startups in India are experimenting with utility apps which optimise data usage on the device to minimise data costs,” Somanathan says. “With the vast majority of consumers in the region on prepaid subscriptions, the utility apps play an important role to stretch the consumer’s data dollars.”

With low-cost smartphones flooding developing markets, many of them coming preloaded with ad-blocking software to enhance browsing experiences on prepaid or 2G environments, Somanathan says it is only natural for these markets to scale faster than those in the West. 

“It will be a push from device manufactures and not so much a pull from the consumers,” Somanathan says.

PageFair’s report also found that the use of mobile ad-blocking browsers dominated in the region, but in-app ad-blocking apps were also able to available to block third-party ads in other apps, such as Spotify, Apple News or CNN. These apps also block ads in any installed browsers. 

However, there were few options for blocking in-feed advertising. The report noted that when an app downloads in-feed advertising, the network traffic is usually indistinguishable from regular content and therefore impossible to block reliably.

Vikas Gulati, APAC MD at Opera Mediaworks, says he is already seeing a shift towards in-feed advertising, in-feed videos and sponsored content, as advertisers and publishers continue efforts to find relevant ways to monetise content to ensure it appears seamless and less intrusive.

Gulati says a native video effectiveness study his company conducted with comScore found that “purpose-built native video ads drove significant lift and outperformed mobile norms across key upper- and lower-funnel brand metrics”.

“This proves that in-feed advertising will be the next port of call for advertisers, as consumers are willing to be engaged as long as the video ads are relevant to them and not intrusive to their mobile experience,” he says. “When executed correctly, video completion rates can be as high as 90 percent and click-through rates as high as 5 percent.”

Rohit Dadwal, Asia-Pacific MD of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), says that there are numerous benefits of native advertising for advertisers, as it sits more comfortably within a mobile experience and is therefore less susceptible to being blocked.

“The usage of native in-feed advertising is likely to be bolstered by the growth of programmatic native, which will allow advertisers to apply audience data—such as interest and intent—when targeting their content to consumers on mobile,” he says. 

Somanathan also predicts that in-feed advertising will be an important mechanic to connect with the consumer.

“My argument, however, is not with the ad delivery mechanic. It is with relevance,” he says. “Our industry is structured to design and deliver messages to the collective. Hence, we create generic messages and are efficient in delivering them at scale to audiences during prime time.”

Digital platforms have provided the ability to deliver messages to individuals, using data and tech. Somanathan argues that while the industry has progressed in its ability to deliver to the individuals, it stills lags in its ability to design messages targeted at those individuals. 

“Until  the industry evolves to a point where we are able to design and deliver messages to the individuals, we will be exposed to being blocked.”

Kat van Zutphen, GM of Mobext Singapore, echoes that the underlying causes must be addressed, as there “are no ‘safe zones’ in this ad-blocking game”. “It is only a matter of time before all areas of advertising are capable of being blocked, in-feed advertising included,” she says. “We can’t ignore the simplicity of the cry for change and have to evolve towards more meaningfully connecting with our target audiences.”

Van Zutphen says that the advertising industry has been a campaign-driven culture for a long time, making it difficult to develop a longer-term vision that is focused through customers’ lens on their lives.

But MMA’s Dadwal remains optimistic about the road ahead, noting that it’s never too late to start over. And while ad-blocking remains a major headache for advertisers and publishers, it has pushed them to rethink how to relate to consumers and how they value content.

“Create better content, served-up based on granular data insights and not only will it yield better results for marketers, it will engage more effectively and lead to an enriched user experience.”

Our View: Ad-blocking is not going away and is fast encroaching on mobile territory, Asia’s dominant device. It’s time for the industry to buck up and do better.

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