Ad Blocking: Updating iOS and Industry Thinking

Posted by Ann Newland on October 22, 2015

At Apple’s early September iPhone event, the tech giant revealed an important update: iOS 9 will support ad blocking on any iOS device.

Users everywhere rejoiced at the possibility of never seeing another pop-up ad again. But in Apple’s attempt to improve the user experience and entice users to move all mobile activity to apps, some parties were left out to dry.

Publishers and websites like Google — which often depend on online advertising to monetize their sites — were caught in the crosshairs. After following some of the hand-wringing over this development, I think the issue before us isn’t “to block or not to block,” but to determine what kind of content we’re putting out in the first place.

Of course, ad blocking’s real impact on your business will vary based on your current strategies and the way you get your message across. But what you may not even realize is that many of your prospects are already using some form of ad-blocking software right under your nose.

What Is Ad Blocking? 

The word “advertisement” covers a wide range of offerings — from pop-up images to banner ads and even cookies and tracking scripts. These are encountered in a typical online browsing session, and for most people, they’re a nuisance. But what those same people fail to realize is that we get much of the free online content that we enjoy because of advertisements, which often subsidize our beloved sites.

However, online ads become a real problem when they eat up precious bandwidth and pose numerous privacy implications. 

At its core, ad-blocking software is used to protect users’ privacy and enhance the online experience by preventing ads from loading and interrupting a mobile session. But this isn’t a new concept.

Prior to the Apple release, ad-blocking browser apps like Adblock Plus had already been downloaded and pressed into use; most recent numbers reflect more than 300 million downloads. About 45 million people actively used some form of ad-blocking app in the second quarter of 2015, making the new iOS option simply a variant of an existing consumer trend.

These current ad-blocking apps allow users to browse the web on a mobile device without encountering ads, boosting both connection speed and security. Apple’s new iOS aims to do the same for Safari users.

How Will Ad Blocking Impact PR?

There are 5.2 billion mobile phone users in the world. With mobile at a global penetration of 73 percent, mobile platforms offer the best option for many consumers to go online. Undoubtedly, the latest shift by Apple has far-reaching effects. But first and foremost, ad-blocking software isn’t the mobile Armageddon it has been painted out to be.

In fact, if you’re already using content marketing to generate conversation with your audience instead of one-way interruptive advertising, the impact will be minimal. Content marketing serves up interesting stories, apps, and interactive experiences that invite viewers to read and engage. Content marketing also takes into account factors such as the context and timing of communication so it’s most relevant. And it’s delivered over a variety of channels, from paid to earned to owned.

Because this type of strategy doesn’t mirror the more annoying approach used by the typical pop-up or autoplay message, the impact of ad blocking will be minimal at best. Remember: Many of your readers are likely using some form of ad-blocking software or application, anyway — particularly if you serve a tech-savvy customer base.

Apple’s new iOS will have the biggest impact on the companies that are using standard advertising techniques to force a message on viewers. The latest update could spur changes that benefit consumers and force businesses to change the way they reach out to their customer base.

Much like any tech advancement, ad blocking will serve as the catalyst that drives innovation in marketing. Think about it this way: The advent of television forced radio advertisers to adapt; the rise of the Internet and mobile phones has forced another shift. 

In a natural extension of this pattern, ad blocking will force companies to adapt and find innovative ways to promote their messaging beyond the traditional ad. Promoted Tweets, promoted posts, and Promoted Pins all offer ways to advertise without being perceived as overly invasive. 

What’s more, ad blocking doesn’t impact apps, so creating a user-friendly app with seamless, relevant advertising could be another way to engage users and get a message across.

While ad blocking may not have a huge impact on your overall marketing and PR strategy, the recent shift by Apple should trigger an evaluation of your efforts to ensure that you are engaging the customer in an effective way. 

Ask yourself, “Are we truly connecting with customers, using the art of storytelling to engage, and serving up relevant content that builds our brand?” If so, an ad blocker poses very little threat. If not, it may be time to make the switch to content-driven marketing efforts that will keep you relevant.

Topics: Digital Marketing, Ad Blocking