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Murray Chick believes ad blockers could provide sharp focus for advertisers through which to re-examine their ads and why they are not engaging their target audience.
Consumers are tired of unimaginative approaches to advertising, so much so that they’re choosing to block them altogether via software known as ad blockers. AdBlock Plus, the most popular ad blocker extension on the market, has been downloaded more than 500 million times, and it’s a trend that in 2015 reportedly cost the advertising industry $22 billion. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the rise in ad blocking software is widely perceived to be a huge issue for businesses looking to deliver commercial messages to consumer audiences.
Consumers have always had a tendency to switch away from advertising that doesn’t appeal to them, but the industry has typically struggled with a lack of insight into what exactly is repelling them. Perhaps the messaging simply isn’t engaging enough, or maybe they can’t relate to what’s being said or who’s saying it. In worst case scenarios, the messaging might even anger the consumer, causing them to react against it and putting the entire advertising campaign at risk of a widespread backlash. Who can forget the ‘Are you beach body ready?’ advert from Protein World, which was quickly chastised in the UK for its body shaming messaging and even more quickly removed from tube stations and billboards.
Modern day advertising is far from perfect, and some of it quite rightly deserves to be blocked, whether through the active choice of a consumer or via automatic ad blocking software. If an advertisement intrudes upon its audience to the point where they’re consciously choosing to look away, the chances are that it was never going to work anyway. Whichever way you may look at it, the sad truth is that a lot of advertising is a waste of clients’ money.
To get a clearer idea of why consumers are going to such lengths to block online advertisements, we need to look critically at the technology advertisers are relying on so heavily on to push their messages. Although these new digital tools provide us with targeting efficiency, there needs to be a clear understanding of the difference between clever advertising placement and meaningful advertising consumption. Just because a business is targeting its customers in an innovative way does not mean it can guarantee that the advertising itself will be effective or profitable. The advertising industry risks becoming so seduced by the targeting opportunities and efficiencies digital media on offer that it ceases to properly consider the wants and needs of its audience, as well as the creative solution required to deliver the commercial objectives.
Viewing ad blockers in a different light
Despite what might seem like a deeply pessimistic view of ad blocking, it might actually be a blessing in disguise. We may well look back in years to come and see it as the biggest boon to advertising in recent years; not just for consumers, but also for the creative advertising industry and advertising clients.
Although the use of ad blockers is impacting the visibility of commercial messaging, for the first time ever it’s giving businesses the opportunity to find out when consumers are switching away from advertising. This might initially seem of little comfort to the poor client who has just thrown away thousands of pounds on wasted advertising — although at least a blocked advert can be pulled, somewhat limiting the wastage — but it actually paves the way for innovation. With limited visibility, we’re being forced to create better and more effective advertising that takes us out of our collective comfort zone.
In order for advertising to flourish in the age of ad blockers, it has to become an organic part of online content, and many news publications and organisations are already accommodating this modern-day requirement by offering ‘native advertising’, in which an advertisement matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears. More often than not, this takes the form of a sponsored article that looks almost identical to the rest of the content on the site, which makes for a subtler advertising push while still delivering the messaging in the body text. The American internet media company BuzzFeed was one of the first to offer native advertising, and now it’s been adopted by almost anyone you can think of. In 2018, businesses are expected to spend $21 billion on native advertising, a figure that’s only slightly shy of the loss caused by ad blocking itself.
Messaging has become more important for advertisers than ever. As well as the obvious ‘what do we want to tell people?’, businesses also need to ask ‘what do people want to hear in this situation?’. If it can’t come up with an answer that aligns with its commercial purposes, the solution is simple: save the money.
For commercial messaging to meet all of these requirements, both advertising strategy and creativity must move further upstream in the process, which would involve considering creative content, audience targeting and media placement as one whole, rather than as discrete, sequential elements. Social media and the constantly increasing number of digital channels is introducing a deeper level of engagement, narrative and relationships between commercial organisations and their audiences. As commercial messages continue to progress further into the realm of digital, there will be an increasing sense that the consumer and the advertiser are operating together in tandem.
The past few years have seen an increasing number of companies fighting back against the rise of the ad-blockers. Companies including Forbes, Wired and The Independent are just a few that have outright denied website access to users who are found to be using ad blocking software, with the only way of getting onto the site being to temporarily disable the software. But this is not a viable solution and it does nothing to prevent the fundamental problem of audience disengagement. Instead, the advertising industry (as well as the wider creative industries) should focus on embracing it and taking advantages of the many possibilities that are on offer.
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