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Three UK to trial network ad-blocking

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Mobile operator Three UK has decided mobile advertising needs improving and thinks network-level ad-blocking is the answer.

The company says it believes the current mobile advertising model is broken, citing a KPMG survey from a month ago that found a significant minority of UK digital consumers are planning to use an ad blocker in the next six months. From this Three has concluded they are serving the best interests of their customer by taking that decision away from them and imposing ad-blocking technology across its network.

Tom Malleschitz, Chief Marketing Officer, Three UK, said: “This is the next step in our journey to make mobile ads better for our customers,” said Tom Malleschitz, CMO of Three UK. “The current ad model is broken. It frustrates customers, eats up their data allowance and can jeopardise their privacy. Something needs to change.”

Not mentioned in the announcement was the title of the KPMG report: ‘No winners with ad blocking – it threatens media owners, ad agencies and consumers’. The report goes on to point out that a lot of digital publishers are actively preventing the users of ad-blockers from accessing ad-funded content, while conceding that it’s difficult to get consumers to pay directly for content.

“Turning off content for those that have ad blockers is self-defeating for media owners and can, at best, only be a short term strategy,” said David Elms, UK Head of Media for KPMG. “Too many people still seem to think that they can consume content for free. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch in content. People are refusing to watch ads, but they show no inclination to pay for many forms of content – and that’s clearly unsustainable. It demands a fundamental re-examination of marketing strategy for major advertisers – and business strategy for media owners.”

Three seems to worry a lot about its subscribers exposure to advertising. In February it announced ‘three principle goals in mobile advertising’:

  1. That customers should not pay data charges to receive adverts. These costs should be 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 adverts.

“We can only achieve change by working with all stakeholders in the advertising industry – customers, advertising networks and publishers – to create a new form of advertising that is better for all parties,” said Malleschitz.

This stated desire to work with advertisers seems somewhat at odds with the draconian step of introducing ad-blocking across the network. It’s quite possible that the public announcement of this 24-hour trial is as much a negotiating ploy as anything else, to put pressure on advertisers to adhere to the Three principles.

Ironically Three’s own advertising methods were called into question earlier this month when EE lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority over a campaign that featured the strapline “The undisputed. UK’s most reliable network. Again,” alongside a Muppet with boxing gloves on.

EE’s complaint was that the claim was subjective and thus disputed. “…because we understood that there were no commonly agreed objective measures of network reliability against which Three had undisputedly scored higher than their competitors, we concluded that the claim “The undisputed” as used in the context of the ad was also likely to mislead.,” said the ASA in upholding the complaint.


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