Update: As we were finalizing this post, Apple did in fact remove Been Choice from the App Store, citing privacy concerns. Whether it comes back in an altered form or not, Tom’s advice is worth keeping mind before you do anything drastic. — Ed.
The recent hype around ad blocking on iOS devices, including coverage of a new app that helps you block ads within apps, doesn’t mean app marketers need to panic. We already covered why the web ad blocking introduced in iOS 9 shouldn’t be much of a concern for advertisers, but here’s why even more comprehensive blockers like Been Choice aren’t much of a threat to mobile advertisers – at least, not yet.
- Initial adoption will be low. This is not new tech. The basic idea is similar to a VPN app: you download the app, set up a new device profile, and allow all of your data and browsing to be routed through their servers, where the ad blocking provider inspects all the incoming data and removes the ads before they get to your device. It’s a lot more complex than Safari ad blocking, which simply requires downloading an app and turning on a setting. And those that are concerned enough to block all ads may have concerns about the security of sending all of their data to a third party in order to do it.
- It’s not highly adopted on Android. It’s already possible to block in-app ads on Android, but studies show very limited adoption. There’s no reason to think that the story will be drastically different on iOS just because there’s more buzz.
- Those weren’t your users anyway. Guess who isn’t going to click on your ads? People who hate ads so much that they want to use ad blockers. Ads weren’t going to convert those people to become customers anyway—your focus needs to be on figuring out how to engage with them through other means. In the meantime, make your ads better and more relevant and you won’t push away the 98% of users who are open to seeing your ads.
- If it’s a threat to the ecosystem, Apple will shut it down. There is definitely a precedent for Apple to start with a wait-and-see approach, then take decisive action. This happened two years with apps that mimicked app stores. After weeks of speculation, Apple simply updated their policy and blocked all of those apps. We also saw Apple’s willingness to evaluate their policies last year with the concern around apps being submitted with IDFA collection enabled but not serving ads. After several weeks of hype and concern, Apple simply clarified their policy and started allowing these apps again.
- Apple approving it isn’t a tacit endorsement.There’s been speculation as to why Apple approved this app, but it doesn’t necessarily signify ecosystem changes. It may simply have snuck through, but there also may not be an explicit rule to block it. I can’t find a rule in the developer agreement that would explicitly apply to this type of app. However, Apple does explicitly say “This is a living document, and new apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time. Perhaps your app will trigger this.” Bottom line, if Apple doesn’t want it, it won’t exist. (Told you so. —Ed.)
That said, Walt Mossberg’s article on the trouble with web ads speaks a lot of truth. “Ads need to be less intrusive, less burdensome, and smarter.” The industry will evolve, and chances are that ads as we know them today won’t be the same five years from now.
It’s the exact reason we emphasize several best practices around customer value and not ad costs, and it’s why we’re focusing our business on getting closer and closer to the holy grail: the best ad isthe right message to the right person at the right time.
So what should marketers do?
- For now, nothing. Seriously. We’re talking about apps that are downloaded by hundreds of people a month at most, and up to three billion smartphone users in the world—do the math. It isn’t going to impact your current campaigns. If it does, Apple will step in. There’s no need to panic and do anything differently right now.
- Buy audiences, not inventory. Instead of buying the cheapest placements or publisher takeovers, use the available data and technologies to target the best possible users of your apps. Use targeting data based on the apps users like and where they’re most likely to download apps from. Build lookalike models of your current users. Serve ads to your existing app users to get them to re-engage with your app. Stop wasting money on placements and start putting ads in front of the right people!
- Track your downstream metrics. Instead of focusing on the lowest CPM or CPC (or even CPI), focus on the cost to acquire someone who opens your app and uses it. If a user is sending their data through a VPN and the ad is being blocked there, there’s a strong chance you’re paying for an impression that’s never getting seen, namely if you’re focusing on paying for impressions.The cost of loyalty isn’t going down, but focusing on getting your ad in front of the right users will help to mitigate those costs and produce the most efficient ad buys. If you need to buy on CPC, do it as smartly as possible and use all the data you can to get the right people to click on your ads.