BARCELONA: Mobile advertising has become too intrusive and needs to "evolve" the chief executive of O2, the UK mobile operator, has warned.

Ronan Dunne's comments to Campaign, while attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, came days after rival operator Three announced plans to offer ad blocking technology to customers of its British and Italian networks.

While Dunne was opposed to that move, he recognised the background that had led to it, referring to "a lot of what can only be described as intrusive forms of advertising that are probably going beyond what customers reasonably want and expect".

Opponents of ad blocking often talk about the value exchange between user and advertiser, but Dunne's view was that "In this market there is an imbalance between the interests of the consumers being supported and the interests of advertisers, and both are legitimate, but there doesn't seem to be a fair balance".

He suggested advertisers sign up to the Internet Advertising Bureau's LEAN (Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive) Ads program, announced in October last year.

"The challenge is," he continued, "if more and more ads are trying to be squeezed into the same time of consumption, that was never a deal that the advertising industry or brands ever signed up to."

That said, he was optimistic that the challenges could be successfully addressed and noted that Weve, the mobile ad-serving platform established in 2013 by O2, Vodafone and EE, had registered a 30% increase in revenues last year.

"What we've seen with some of the research we've done is, if it's relevant and contextual, a lot of customers are comfortable with advertising," Dunne said. "Good, well-considered advertising is akin to curation – it's actually delivering value to customers.

"It's when it's unsought and it disrupts their ability to consume the content that they're after that it's a problem. The current environment isn't tenable, so it has to evolve."

Data sourced from Campaign, IAB; additional content by Warc staff