Mobile advertising is about to be fundamentally disrupted

When discussing emerging trends in mobile device use recently, I was asked what the future might look like and what changes might pose the greatest threats to existing business models. The industry that sprung immediately to mind was advertising, which is about to change forever, for three key reasons:

  1. A reduced visibility of traditional mobile ad placements
  2. Less consumer reliance on web search, websites and apps for information
  3. The rise of voice user interfaces paired with improved artificial intelligence

That third point may sound somewhat far fetched, but it’s already here and will become a pillar of personal computing within 10 years.

Let’s explore these forward thoughts in a little more detail…

We’re approaching peak-ads on mobile

There’s an enormous number of mobile banner ads interrupting our journeys and taking up valuable pieces of screen real estate right now. By 2017 there’ll be less getting in the way, even if nothing else changed in technology except for the following ones.

With just Apple’s iOS 9 content blocking changes in place, here’s what iMore.com looks like — before and after.

To be clear however, a lot else is changing in technology. If that list of mobile-ad-averse initiatives didn’t exist, far fewer people will still be exposed to far less banner advertising on mobile screens very soon…

Deep-linking and predictive computing threaten search as we know it

Spotlight in iOS 9 (and OS X El Capitan) will begin to steer users away from apps and websites for information discovery, effectively declaring war on traditional search, inclusive of the paid results and banner ads within it.

That same Spotlight screen you currently use to search your phone for apps and messages will soon search much, much more. Spotlight will retrieve results for sports scores, stock prices and YouTube videos. It will show you nearby places to eat and drink, present news headlines related to your keywords, and even display information from the depths of other apps without opening them.

A look at just some of the Spotlight-native information you’ll be able to retrieve without the web or apps

Avoiding traditional search engines, websites and even other apps isn’t an approach exclusive to Apple. Google Now is getting smarter, increasingly able to surface more of what you need directly through Android, without having to find that information elsewhere. This include’s the company’s predictive computing innovation, “Now on Tap”, which allows you to directly retrieve information about anything already on your screen, without any external discovery process. An example of this might be cinema times for a specific movie, if someone had asked if you want to see it.

Google Now On Tap contextually understands what you’re after, skipping the need to search and browse.

Technologies like these, ones that learn to anticipate what you want and what you might do next, is in fact just the beginning of far more meaningful and frictionless AI…

Voice user interfaces and AI will mean less looking, literally

Picture cleaning up a spill to notice you’re low on paper towel. Without grabbing a device or moving to one, you simply say “Alexa, reorder paper towel,” and it’s then magically delivered to you.

That’s precisely what Amazon’s Echo enables, the company’s voice-based home computing solution that launches this month in the USA. Forming an important part of our IoT (Internet of Things) future, often sporting interfaces beyond sight and touch, Apple is likely not far behind with their next version of Apple TV.

A look at the Amazon Echo, sitting seemingly idle in a living room, always on and always listening.

Environmental computing aside, voice user interfaces with this same level of clever understanding are about to become commonplace on your smartphones and wearables, with improved versions of Siri and Cortana. I’ll happily admit that the only real utility and convenience I get out of my Apple Watch is the ability to ask questions, get directions and set geo-based reminders without needing to look at my smartphone — this use case is about to get more practical and more powerful.

Requests like “purchase a Bose SoundLink Mini at the best price but that can be delivered by 4pm” aren’t far off, thanks to the progress being made in contextual computing and natural language processing. This will critically shift eyeballs away from search, from web, from apps and more generally from personal computing screens. It will do so in a far more profound way than any other threat to mobile and web advertising.

Where does advertising go from here?

These thoughts aren’t unaccompanied. Jack Matthews, director at APN Outdoor Media, thinks publishers have a right to be worried. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Matthews said that “most advertising, as a revenue model, is under threat for a variety of reasons,” when quizzed on the effect of these changes.

The creators of Viv, a new AI from the team behind Siri, are more than aware of their threat to the industry as it exists. If you’re asking for something and the best possible answer or most suited product is delivered, there’s no space for a sponsored message. Esquire recently interviewed Viv co-founder, Dag Kittlaus, and touched on the same subject, who stated boldly that “business models will change”. As succinctly suggested in response to Kittlaus, that may just turn out to be the biggest understatement of the Internet age.

All of this technological change won’t have to detrimentally impact the enormous forecasts for mobile advertising revenues over coming years. However, if mobile ad spend really is to far surpass a majority share of all digital ad expenditure, we’ll have to renew interest and effort in bolstering DOOH (digital out-of-home) advertising capabilities. In particular, intelligent communication between DOOH placements and devices of passersby. Finding ways to reach individuals directly, with truly personal, timely and geographical relevancy, is of higher priority than ever before.

With the acceptance that consumers will be exposed to far fewer display ads in their personal computing lives soon, comes the realisation of that required trajectory. Ultimately, the future of advertising lies with those capable of imagining new, sophisticated ways of engaging audiences that extend well beyond the ones imagined today.