It has been a rough first quarter of the year for brands and agencies. If you aren’t apologising for your product's involvement in a homophobic video or putting a Kardashian/Jenner into an advertisement that ends up belittling the current political US climate, it seems you may face an even worse fate - being blocked.
Social media hasn’t provided the cure either. Interrupting newsfeeds with boosted posts is shown to result in an agitated cold shoulder from consumers and is wasteful. It’s time to change tactics.
The statistics are enough to make any CMO nervous. In 2017, ad blocker usage has seen a 30% increase with around 615 million devices worldwide now blocking ads and 29% of those indicating the motivation behind the install was to ‘avoid interruption’.
And yet, consumers showing their desire to avoid being ‘interrupted’ wasn’t enough to deter Facebook from introducing ads in the middle of their videos this year, with the claim that Facebook now wants to see users who make those videos earn revenue (a 55% publisher/45% Facebook split).
Interestingly, I don’t see the solution to ad blocking from a tech perspective as the most crucial issue to be solved. About $6.2 billion in digital advertising will be spent this year, surpassing traditional TV advertising (with statistics trending the same way toward 2020).
The flip side to all of this is measuring ROI and discerning what matters and what is superfluous. Perhaps, we should be considering metrics we are not taking into account at all that are more nuanced than a CTR.
At conferences and in trade press articles, our industry constantly laments the two main issues of viewability and transparency.
But the truth is a huge issue we need to face is that the majority of our ads are boring, missing the mark and our little 728x90 leaderboard ad is perhaps not worthy of being un-blocked after all.
We need to get smarter (not misleading or sly) about how we integrate advertising into everyday life and monitor that impact with accuracy. Interruption of someone viewing a TED Talk with your ad is irritating at best.
It is perpetuating our own barriers to consumers, trying to con them into not blocking our ads by forcing them to watch us in order to access the content they love. This cycle of force simply perpetuates viewers into finding new ways to watch content without ads, download ad blockers and bypass paywalls.
But the other element in all of this is to realise that people just won’t block what they find valuable, and the onus is on our industry to do just that, prove our value. The payoff in these redirected efforts is a format that from a consumer perspective allows advertising both to become informative again and also to have attractive creative values.
I used to make comments about our industry based on anecdotal evidence such as, ‘people don’t care if they are being sold to, as long as they find value in whatever package that comes in’ or ‘what is the difference between publishing content that helps people make up their minds on a political issue, or content that helps them make a smarter purchase'.
That rationale has led me to take seriously all content produced from commercial to editorial, with the difference not being of quality or compelling, but rather transparency of source.
It seems statistics now back my once-glib comments, with research finding 70% of consumers prefer learning about services and products via interesting content.
The key word being 'interesting', for interesting content begets valuable content.
Take the ‘5 reasons why’ branded sponsored article, that has a mere handful of shares and no creative input. Why would I share that on my Facebook timeline, why would I advocate any interest beyond closing a window?
It becomes nothing more than a financially wasteful, commercially depressing $30,000 link building exercise. Creating interesting, educational and compelling advertising content does not just cause us to assume a higher probability of being viewed and shared, it's simply the results we are seeing.
This new mode of thinking, inserted into the digital age, opens up debate about the very nature of advertising and compels us to see that it is back to the future in the digital sphere.
The challenge then becomes around what fundamental lessons can shape the way we innovate our digital interactions to have not only ease of access, mass reach and accountability, all working toward a long lasting digital impact that consumers don’t want to ignore.
If we can’t learn from the depressing Yahoo demise, the ever-diminishing social media reach or the embarrassing YouTube ad scandal, we should at the very least listen to the market threatening blockade.
Alexandra Tselios is the founder of The Big Smoke Media in Australia and US. She is also a regular commentator on commercial radio and a columnist.