The elephant in mobile's corner; Big ad, low-level product

01 Oct 2018  |  Dominic Mills 
The elephant in mobile's corner; Big ad, low-level product

Adblocking now threatens mobile more than any other channel, so why has the industry collectively stopped talking about it, asks Dominic Mills. Plus: Why Heinz's new Salad Cream ad should be served with a dollop of euthanasia

It’s strange how the industry focus constantly shifts. Two years ago, you couldn’t have a conversation without the subject of ad-blocking coming up. Today, hardly anyone talks about it.

But that doesn’t mean the subject has gone away. It’s still with us, and potentially a bigger problem than before, judging by this WARC precis of the latest stats from GlobalWebIndex.

According to this, just under 33% of global internet users have deployed a mobile ad blocker in the last month. Yes, this is less than for PC/desktop users (the comparable figure is 37.5%). But it’s the elephant in the room for mobile, which is where ad budgets are rising fastest and which has already overtaken PC/desktop in the UK and most other markets by share, including the biggest - the US and China. You can download a slightly older, wider view, direct from GlobalWebIndex here.

Depending on your geographical focus, you might find these figures alarming or perhaps, in the it-could-be-a lot-worse sense, mildly comforting. The highest incidence of mobile ad blocking is the APAC region (around 38%), which is different from the US and Europe in two key respects: one, the populations are younger; and two, led by China, they are mobile-first markets, or more so than elsewhere.

The lowest is in Europe (around 22%). Hooray. But wait. Remember the Coalition for Better Ads, a coalition of the industry's great and good (i.e. not those grubby retargeting bastards) who come together to make all ads beautiful and all ad experiences joyful and make people want to unblock their blockers.

Despite this, and various efforts by Google to put its shoulder to the wheel - including blocking ‘bad’ ads by default, those on autoplay, and penalising ad-heavy pages with long load times - it feels like the industry is pushing water uphill. I don’t know if they’re slowing adblocking, but they’re certainly not defeating it.

And this difference between Europe and APAC is, suggests GlobalWebIndex, unlikely to be sustained. As more activities migrate from desktop to mobile, driven by usage habits, improved phone functionalities and larger screens, so mobile blockage rates will grow. By way of comparison, PC/desktop blocking levels stand at 38% in Europe.

It’s not a cheery picture, and it’s potentially compounded, I think, by the paradox of personalisation. I say paradox because, for many in the industry, personalisation is the great saviour of the digital advertising eco-system. Really?

The main reasons people block ads differ by age group, according to GlobalWebIndex, but among 35-65s it’s the potentially intrusive nature of personalisation.

Now I don’t necessarily subscribe to the view that advertisers should focus more of their efforts on the 35+ sector because that’s the one with more disposable income, but it is unarguable that is the dominant demographic in Europe and the US, and therefore on sheer weight of numbers alone should take the lion’s share of budgets.

All this is before we even get to GDPR, another subject to slip out of the top three conversation topics in the last few months. Nobody quite knows how GDPR plays through into adblocking, but I can think of two possible ways: one, consumers gradually become more aware over time of the power they now have over their data and privacy and withhold that information; and two, for those that do opt-in, the promise is that they will be served more relevant, more personalised ads.

Neither scenario suggests, therefore, that adblocking will do anything other than become more widespread. And it’s mobile that is most at risk.

Big ad, bottom-shelf product

Pic via Twitter

I don’t live in a cave, I consume ad-funded media and I look at posters too. But I can’t remember the last time I saw a Heinz ad...oh, apart from a baked beans ad which got banned in July – for the second time.

Until last month that is, when I saw this monster poster on the IMAX on Waterloo Bridge for Heinz Salad Cream or, as the ad put it, lasagne-with-salad-cream or pizza-with-salad-cream.

No chance to block this one out. I’ve probably seen it eight times over a two-week period. It’s classic use of OOH to give profile and presence to a low-profile product - 18 years after another ‘relaunch’.

FFS, I thought after the sixth viewing, there’s an alarming possibility we might have a bottle at the back of the cupboard. Or maybe we threw it out when we moved six years ago. Either way I can’t remember. Which pretty much tells you all you need to know about Heinz Salad Cream: truly a lonely and unloved product.

A bit like Spam and sherry, Heinz Salad Cream comes from another time. That’s why no-one knows how to use it, and why owners of such brands have only two tactics at their disposal.

One is to think up new uses for the product - hence the ads, which are essentially recipe suggestions. Every Spam relaunch centres on this, as do most sherry ads.

The second is a name change, which Heinz, cynically invoking the term of the moment - a ‘People’s Vote’ - says the great British public has single-mindedly rejected, thus saving the name for posterity. Phew.

Yeah, right. More like supreme indifference on the part of the ‘voters’.

The question then is whether Heinz, via advertising, can make the product relevant and exciting again.

You’d expect, therefore, some retail razzmatazz: gondola ends, sexy bottles, in-store tastings, recipe cards, shelf-wobblers galore.

But no. I visited two supermarkets, and there it was - isolated and near-invisible on the bottom shelf, and marked down by a third in price, feeling decidedly sorry for itself.

There’s no attempt to join up the ads and the retail experience.

I don’t know if this is a do-or-die effort by Heinz, but this has the feel of amateurs at work. Euthanasia would be kinder, and quicker too.

And this, by the way, from parent company Kraft Heinz - as in the one that’s supposed to know about brands, and which tried (and failed) to buy Unilever last year.

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NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 2 Oct 2018
“Just to reiterate or build on George's point: the GWI figures are claimed behaviour, and with a topic as emotive as ads, actual behaviour would generally lag behind what people claim to do. In fact the IAB in Canada undertook a more passively-based assessment and found that about 1 in 5 people block ads on PC (about half as many as claim to do so), and fewer do so on mobile.
Adblock solutions are more difficult to find for mobile than for PC - Android, for example, doesn't allow add-ons within its default browser. So using adblockers requires users to install and become familiar with a new browser, and then install a further add-on. The idea that 1 in every 3 people has done this seems unlikely.
That's not to say the trend is definitively wrong, but rather that the GWI figures present a clear picture of *awareness and consideration* of adblocking, as people grapple with ever-more intrusive mobile ad executions.”
GeorgeHopkinson, Senior Research Manager, IAB UK on 2 Oct 2018
“Interesting stuff. To compare research figures - according to YouGov data (the IAB commission annual ad blocking research) the total number of UK ad blockers is lower at 24.6% (February 2018). Actual levels of ad blocking may be lower still, when asked which ad blocker people used 15% selected anti-virus software or a non-existent ad blocker. This brings the number of UK ad blockers down to 20.9%.

And if you're interested in the UK digital ad market, the IAB / PwC Digital Adspend study is the most accurate measure of the UK market. It's true that smartphone is growing very fast but revenue isn't quite the majority yet. It's 45% of all digital spend (Full year 2017).


17 Jun 2019 

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