Ad blocking is bad for content creators. While the rise of programmatic buying methods represented a significant blow to the little guy (bloggers, ad networks with very niche target markets), the popularity of ad blockers is often seen as the final nail in the coffin. A majority of publishers reacted by adding ad spots to fight back the decrease in revenues, which obviously is not the best thing to do to please the users. Even Brian Myles of Le Devoir took a stand last week, saying that advertisers had some soul-searching to do. He explains that, in his opinion, only the biggest players stand to gain from the current state of the industry, and that Quebec publishers are suffering because of programmatic. He presents Le Devoir’s readers as the Quebec elite, with high incomes and good educations; a more than enviable target for advertisers. Some might be tempted to respond to Myles with the suggestion that his real problem is not knowing how to extricate himself from an outdated advertising model, or suffering the consequences of lagging behind in online business, like many other Quebec companies. But that’s another debate…
The question here is this: How can we turn things around? Many people talk about the creation of native content as the best way to get around ad blockers, while others view that as a form of content prostitution. It’s true that there’s often a fine line between sponsored content, and advertising disguised as real content worthy of the name.
Let’s take a look back, shall we? In 1940, the first TV ad made its appearance on the air. It was an effective method for television stations to generate revenue, allowing them to produce better quality, more engaging content. TV started out, like the web, by offering totally free content. Over time, cable companies started billing for access to specialty channels, like news and sports. And without even realizing it was happening, we now spend serious money, sometimes hundreds of dollars a month, to have access to content, in addition to being bombarded by 30 second spots, product placements, and all the rest.
In the 90s, the event of home internet brought about a revolution: Te return of 100% free, and even more, interactive content. The younger generation slowly abandoned television in favour of the web, and a real democratization of content emerged. Everything was accessible to everyone, for free. All we had to put up with was the odd banner ad here and there, and we had access to all the content we could handle!
Times are changing though, and our methods of collecting and unifying data are improving, to the point that advertising is more and more targeted. We know (more or less!) what users like and dislike, their gender, their age, their passions, where they live, whether they have a high income…
Ad blocking is unquestionably a symptom of the overuse of users’ navigational data and the proliferation of ad spaces on a single page.
We’ve all been targeted by an advertiser insisting that we stay at their hotel, even though we were just there the week before. The booking data never made it to the advertiser, and they keep on targeting us with their unbeatable offer for the trip to Orlando that we just came back from. There was a time when context was critical, and being associated with a website and quality content was worth something to advertisers. The more things advance though, the more we’re leaving context behind in favour of a Russian doll of data that tells us with relative certainty that a user is in market for our product. If we don’t pay more attention to the user experience, the most pessimistic among us will be right to predict that the web is on the verge of undergoing the same crisis as television.
With all this data, creative is more and more focused on immediate action: BUY NOW, paired with a dynamic price connected to inventory in real time, as well as complimentary products related to a purchase we might have made two weeks before. Marketers have shifted millions of dollars towards media that is measurable, quantifiable, and demonstrates a rock-solid ROI, and sometimes forget that consumer relationships depend a lot on the emotion that a brand elicits. We’ve stopped creating brands, and are instead creating business models that increasingly resemble accounting more than marketing. We are a far cry from Coca-Cola’s “I’d like to teach the world to sing” campaign.
Have we forgotten that we’re speaking to a human being, with unique emotions and perspectives, and not to a cookie? Maybe we should be using the astronomical quantity of data we have available to refine our messages and our landing pages, and not just our targeting methods.
Not too long ago, when a publisher put up a paywall on their website, the public outcry was merciless. Yet, many of us are now fervent users (even ambassadors) for brands like Netflix and Spotify. Now where do advertisers fit in this model? And what about the little guy, who can’t afford integration with big productions? These are questions we have to deal with on a daily basis.
Adviso has a performance-based philosophy; from our perspective, data is extremely valuable, we believe in it and think advertisers should too. That said, it’s easy to forget that we’re speaking to a human being and not a cookie. There needs to be a place for storytelling – more now than ever before. Before inviting me to tour Europe, maybe we could talk a bit? Get to know each other? Maybe then we’ll see that we have something in common 😉
The overemphasis on measurement is hurting the industry, and the illusion that the web provides immediate return on investment is starting to fade, bit by bit. When you buy a billboard, you don’t expect an immediate, measureable return, right? Why, then, do we have this excessive expectation when we buy a billboard on the website of a major daily?
Our opinion is that the future will belong to whoever is bold enough to diversify their assets, and invest now in a real content strategy and a strong and well-supported SEO strategy. The marketing industry has some soul-searching to do to go back to its roots; not everything can be measured. In my opinion, we need to go back to an interesting, engaging communication style. Brands need to use the web as a conversation space that goes two ways, not a megaphone to blast their message. The future will belong to whoever will become less dependant of paid media and bold enough to diversify their assets by building a strong organic presence and a real engagement with their clients.