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Opinion

Ad blocking is here to stay – so let’s rethink our approach

25 August 2015
Ad blocking is here to stay – so let’s rethink our approach

Ad blocking has become a serious and measurable trend. With 236m ad blocking users forecast for 2015 by Pagefair, and 15% of the UK population already using some form of ad blocking software according to the IAB, it’s clear there is growing discontent within the digital ecosystem.

For many, rich content in return for advertising is no longer considered a fair exchange. Consumers are saying no to their information being collected and sold to marketers and having their browsing experience interrupted by obtrusive, time consuming ads.

Content publishers have to date been the most wary of ad blocking services, which directly assault their revenues. Much of the content they produce is funded by advertising; a sentiment summed up by Vice's chief digital officer Mike Germano when he said: "I love my audience, but fuck you, ad blockers - 20% of my revenue is gone!"

Although the threat feels real, content publishers are actually in a very fortunate position that will see them survive the storm.

Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Users may hate interruptive ads, but they hate the thought of not being able to view their chosen content even more. Publishers have the power to rebalance the scales and respond to the consumer’s needs by serving relevant, unobtrusive advertising that they control. No auto-play videos, no pop-up windows - just native, content rich advertising that doesn’t interfere with the consumer journey.

The solutions aren’t so obvious for big players like Google, Facebook, and Amazon who make most of their revenue from serving ads and selling inventory on programmatic exchanges.

Ads served from platforms such as Google’s DoubleClick, Facebook’s Atlas, and Amazon’s AAP are systematically caught up in the net and removed from the user’s final visible page. Where this poses a very serious problem, is that without the emotional content-driven connections a publisher has with its audience, ad serving platforms will need to work even harder to change the way they target users.

Direct assault

The issue has now become even more prevalent with Apple’s introduction of ad blocking software on the latest iOS. This is not only a direct assault on mobile ad revenue, but it has thrown a fringe issue into the mainstream spotlight. Alongside the recent ruling by a German court that ad blocking is indeed legal, it means it’s an issue that’s here to stay.

With an increasing number of services available to web users, the current system needs reform, and quickly, to persuade consumers not to block ads. Programmatic models that use cookies to create ‘big data’ in order to profile a user’s behaviour might favour a move into a more customer-centric, contextual solution that understands consumers interests, not actions. Privacy is paramount and any future solutions need to address this issue head on, so consumers feel like the balance is being restored and their activity is respected.

Obtrusive ad formats have also been part of the problem. Un-skippable video pre-rolls, overlays, and automatic videos can all ruin the users browsing experience if not used correctly. Although the ad might be seen, it certainly doesn’t help the brand’s image if it annoys the user.

Investing in better ad formats that sit alongside the user experience, not on top of it, will complement the browsing experience, not hinder it. It shouldn’t be about shouting louder, but being visible where the consumers wants and expects to be sold to.

Creative execution is one important factor: good creative, dynamically served, is appropriate and brings results. Ad servers should choose to offer contextual targeting defined by where users are. And while programmatic media buys may well hit the right audience at the right time at the right price, we can optimise response further using human insights right down to factors like time of day, message environment and mood.

Ultimately users want to feel valued and in control of their online experience – and there is a huge opportunity for rewarding interaction. Rather than auto playing a video, consumers should be given the option to interact with the ad and then be tangibly rewarded for doing so with offers and incentives. The result: far higher engagement levels and satisfied consumers.

It won’t be easy to reform and it will take time, but businesses that survive will stop fixating on this war of attrition and instead turn their attention to what’s truly important: the consumer. Investing in the consumer, understanding their needs, and finding an equilibrium that works for both parties will guarantee a lucrative future.

Ad blocking is here to stay, so the work on improving our approach needs to start now, or the consumer will be lost forever.

Daniel Da Costa, senior strategist, Maxus UK

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