Is Africa the final frontier for panicked digital advertisers? DSG | Transforming Customer Experience


Is Africa the final frontier for panicked digital advertisers?

Posted By: DSG


DSG Fin Week Article 1

The ever-increasing popularity of ad-blocking software is causing a headache for digital advertisers. But research has shown that, in contrast to the rest of the world, many Africans do not view ads in a negative light, which may offer an opportunity to online advertisers.

In an age of rapidly shortening attention spans, combined with ever-widening choices of online media and entertainment, it is no surprise that digital publishers and advertisers are struggling to gain a foothold. For even the most well-recognised and high-profile online news sites, for example, finding a sustainable revenue model has – in most cases – proved elusive.

Digital media consumers, and particularly younger ones, are now accustomed to free content online, and either kick up a fuss or flatly refuse to pay a fee for any content (no matter how good the content… and how low the fee).

Moreover, booming social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter have become, for many online addicts, their first and only point of call for bite-sized chunks of news and information – making the 'traditional' websites seem even more clunky and irrelevant.

Worryingly for digital publishers, readers are now also cottoning on to ad-blocking software and tools – in a not-so-subtle move against annoying pop-ups and rudely flashing banner ads. Indeed, while ad-blocking software has in fact been around for many years, its increasing use among digital content consumers is triggering a panic among various digital players.

Massive adoption of ad-blockers
According to a study released in August last year by Adobe and PageFair (a company that develops ad-blocking software), there are now over 198m 'active' ad-block users around the world. The PageFair report also claimed that ad-blocking cost publishers a whopping $22bn last year, with ad-blocking skyrocketing by 41% globally. Unsurprisingly, ad-blocking is most widely used by young 'digital natives' – the very segment that most advertisers are desperate to connect with.

To add to publishers' woes, Apple Inc. included a tool in its latest mobile operating system, iOS 9, that enables users to block adverts on iPhones and iPads when using the Safari web browser. The move brought a great deal of media attention to the practice of ad-blocking, triggering a newfound awareness amongst online media consumers. And as more and more people start to access the bulk of their news and entertainment from mobile devices, it is likely that such tools – and their adoption – will become more commonplace for mobile users.

The PageFair research team indicated as much following the publishing of their report in August, noting: "We find that not only has ad-blocking continued its fast growth on desktop, but it has also leaped onto mobile in Asia, and will soon go mobile in the West with the [upcoming] launch of content blocking on iOS … Since our last report, the existential threat of ad-blocking has become a pressing issue in the boardrooms of publishers across the world. A concerted response is required, founded upon a renewed focus on user experience…"

Their predictions have since been proven rather accurate: Ad-blocking became almost as popular on mobile devices as on desktops and laptops at the end of last year. This is according to GlobalWebIndex, which released data from the last three months of 2015 showing a rise in people reporting they had used an ad-blocker on mobile devices within the
last month.

Analysts caution that these findings are slightly skewed by the popularity of ad-blocking in Asia, where it has been common for several years. That said, the GlobalWebIndex data indicates that almost a quarter of mobile users in Europe and almost 30% in the US are taking to the practice.

So what's at stake?

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of local technology consultancy World Wide Worx, places the issue in context for outsiders: "Ad-blocking is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it robs digital media of their ability to generate revenue from readership, and hence reduces their viability to offer content at no cost. On the other hand, it protects readers from what is viewed as obtrusive, invasive and unwanted interruptions of their reading. Of course, there needs to be a middle path, and it won't be achieved merely by blocking viewers who use ad-blockers and not doing something about the way advertising is displayed."

Goldstuck also points out that there are, in fact, a number of tools and techniques (such as barring browsers that use ad-blockers) to fight the trend.
"The double-edged sword is that, while 'free' viewing may be locked, it could also affect readership numbers and therefore ad rates," he adds.

But according to Goldstuck, what many have dubbed the 'ad-blockalypse' is a non-starter in South Africa at this point.
"Most South Africans are unaware that ad-blocking tools even exist, and would rather tolerate the annoyance of ads than go to the trouble of finding and installing special [ad-blocking] software…"

Goldstuck also argues that SA's digital publishers are far behind their US and European counterparts, and are in fact still grappling with the basics of creating 'readable and usable' – not to mention profitable – websites.

"Globally, online publications are in continual flux, and even those that are heavily read are in a state of confusion," he adds. "They are trying to balance quality with attracting maximum traffic, which often results in ugly websites dominated by click bait. Essentially, online media is going through a crisis of credibility…"

A uniquely African 'opportunity'?

Yaron Assabi, chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association and founder of Digital Solutions Group, has an interesting take on the debate. He insists that unlike their US and European counterparts, African digital media consumers are unperturbed by most advertising – and in fact – many readers find ads to be relevant and useful. In his view, as a mobile-first market, and with a fast-growing audience that is still finding its way on the internet, advertising is not the evil and exploitative force that most other markets view it as.

"Most African consumers don't find [digital advertising] irritating – on the contrary – it helps them find things that are relevant to their daily lives and experiences," notes Assabi. He adds that he has come across many "inspiring and innovative" mobile ad campaigns and mobile ad solutions, which have demonstrated not only how valuable mobile reach is, but how advertising – when done right – can add value for all the stakeholders.

Interestingly, Assabi believes that the booming African mobile market is offering up an ideal opportunity for mobile advertisers, ad networks and marketers to explore and experiment with different ways of reaching consumers… and particularly audiences who have yet to develop a psychological barrier or resistance to ad messages.

"Bearing that in mind, we need to be very conscious of people's needs and create smart, relevant and responsible advertising solutions," he explains.

This will necessarily include developing solutions that avoid consuming too much data and slowing the download of primary content.

"In ad-funded or supported models for products and services, Mobile Network Operators and publishers could choose to '0' rate the data for advertising − so there is no consumer concern with data costs," he suggests.