No Ads Please, We're European

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Mark Thompson

Or are we? With the announcement of the UK's referendum on EU membership this is a very pertinent question. And this current political debate is mirrored somewhat in within the autonomous state of Adland. Mobile operator Three has just announced that it will become the first major European network to adopt Ad blocking, the first decisive operational stance taken within this much debated current hot topic in advertising.

This protectionist, anti-interference stance of “no” may be aligned to the position of a famous local politician, prior to his more commercial First Minister phase at least, and more currently of Boris Johnson, but ideologically it is founded closer to that of Fidel Castro, with a desire to blunt outsider capitalism to ensure perpetuation of the existing system.

Mobile ad blocking software is the product of an anti-establishment movement and thereby inherently unregulated. Through this step Three have essentially brought such technology under a state/network controlled system, thereby minimising the risk of unexpected and unforeseen problems. The full reasons stated are: 

  1. That customers should not pay data charges to receive ads.  These should be costs borne by the advertiser;
  2. That customers’ privacy and security must be fully protected. Some advertisers use mobile ads to extract and exploit data about customers without their knowledge or consent;
  3. That customers should be entitled to receive advertising that is relevant and interesting to them, and not to have their data experience in mobile degraded by excessive, intrusive, unwanted or irrelevant ads.

The subject of how mobile platforms can be successfully monetised through advertising has been one of consideration for a number of years and with the rise of the smartphone, complete with their large high definition screens and video capability seemingly brought solutions primarily in the form of interstitial and VOD pre and mid rolls. Their future, on mobile at least, now appears threatened. 

This move echoes the view of some marketing commentators that many mobile, and indeed digital advertising formats are too intrusive. But why the fuss? Interruptive advertising in the middle of Television and Radio programming is not questioned as negatively impacting on the user’s experience, so why so on mobile? It’s the individual personal communication aspect of mobile where differences arise alongside the greater concern of morality. It’s also the manner of enforcement and the lack of choice in the serving of these messages, they MUST be viewed, the Platform insists.

Many major European political powers previously adopted an ill-conceived, repressive, zero choice approach through one party fascist and communist states and all are now thankfully a footnote in history. So maybe it's only inevitable these formats will follow a similar path. As visually domineering and unavoidable as they are, malcontent amongst some is possibly an obvious reaction, with Three in response not necessarily taking a stance in principle, but seeing their own commercial opportunity of differentiation. Even better than taking a stance in principle, is the perception of doing so, a chance for corporate to be cool, that most potent of commercial forces. Che Guevara after all has sold a lot of T Shirts.

I doubt there will be a referendum on this debate, just much debate itself, but the next move of the major mobile operators will be telling if not decisive. Regardless, it appears the immediate future of mobile marketing remains to be one of confusion and a lack of clear direction. The question of the EU looks somewhat simple is comparison.

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