The other day I was checking out an article about ad blocking (ahhh the irony), on a popular tech site while grabbing a quick bite at my desk. As I scrolled down to read the next section an ad popped over the content blocking my progress and disrupting my train of thought. It made me mad. I immediately began searching for the place to dismiss this hideous autoplay slow motion train wreck. I thought to myself, why do brands/agencies resort to these lazy and harmful tactics? Surely any engagement they get is accidental and the overwhelming response is anger and frustration. Is that what they want their brand’s story to be? With so many people talking about ad blockers over the past week I found very few talking about solutions. Three things occurred to me while pondering how to solve for the complex set of challenges we all face.
1.) There is an amazing amount of clutter out there and it is extremely difficult for brands to break through the noise
2.) The measurement systems are clearly not measuring the right things if agencies and brands believe these tactics to be effective
3.) The decision about how this will work is now being made for them right now with the proliferation of ad blocking tech
Quality is really the only thing that can break through the noise and brands can be great storytellers. This is recommendation #1. Focus on quality content and telling the story about what you do best. It is not easy to create quality content, it certainly is more effort than cutting down the television ad and dropping it on websites. However this interruptive autoplay ad is going to give near 0, and some might argue negative ROI. It can and must be better.
Nearly all aspects of technology have adopted user-centered design and significant focus on resulting user experience. In that light the in-your-face interruptive ad model is even more starkly disconnected. The sponsored content model of Native Advertising offers an opportunity but certainly not a guarantee of greater engagement. No format can singlehandedly solve for garnering positive attention. It is only the combination of quality, format, content, and context that we would constantly predict success there.
With the recent release of iOS9, ad blockers have become mainstream and not a product only for the tech elite. The internet is humming with opinions on both sides of the divide. There is no question that publishers will be hurt by this. There is also no question that it will disproportionately impact smaller publishers. I have yet to see anyone provide a reasonable argument that use of the technology is not theft of IP. The prevailing argument justifying use of ad blockers is user experience (see my first paragraph, I agree). However ad blockers do not target and excise the cancer, they are much more like chemo. The kill absolutely everything and hope the patient survives.
The other common argument is around privacy. The privacy argument is rather hollow unless they are also not using social media who, by the way, are the primary beneficiary of the ad blocker proliferation. Either way, the bell will not be un-rung and a new equilibrium must be established or content creation will not be a viable business.
Ethical issues aside, there is a clear message here. The current experience is not acceptable. So…we must innovate to create new ways that take into account the lessons learned and deliver value for users and publishers. One thing is certain, the content we all love to consume is not free even though the transaction has been hidden for 20+ years. The solution must be in-part changing this paradigm to explicit transaction where the user has a choice but must pay in some way to consume it.