Why ad blocking could lead to better advertising

July 5, 2016 Vawn Himmelsbach

Is digital marketing taking a hit? It could be that our ads are just bad.

Ad blocking

As a marketer or business pro, you may be worried about the rise of ad blocking. After all, if no one actually sees your ad, how are you going to get your message across to online customers?

It’s a real concern: A forecast by analytics firm Optimal says more than 43 million people in the U.S. will use an ad blocker this year; by 2020, publishers could see about a third of their potential ad revenue eaten away by ad blockers.

Another study finds that one in five of the world’s 1.9 billion smartphone users are blocking ads on their devices, according to analytics company Priori Data and Pagefair. In part, that’s because they suck up way too much data.

Whose fault is ad blocking?

The Internet remains one of the best ways to reach potential customers — with the ability to target users with specific products and services. The problem is, those ads can get annoying — particularly aggressive ads, like pop-ups and pre-roll video. And that’s resulting in the proliferation of ad blockers, which promise an ad-free online browsing experience.

But, this “poses a threat to the Internet and could potentially drive users to an enclosed platform world dominated by a few companies,” writes Scott Cunningham, senior vice-president of technology and ad operations at the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau).

In many ways, however, the industry itself is at fault — so says Cunningham.

“The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public Internet and drained more than a few batteries. … This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.”

That’s why the IAB came up with its LEAN Ads program, which stands for ‘light, encrypted, ad-choice supported, non-invasive ads.’ It’s meant to guide the next phases of advertising technology standards.

Are online ads just really bad quality?

The current situation might actually be a good thing for the advertising industry. “It’s vital that instead of clamouring for solutions, jumping to conclusions and joining bombastic ‘X is dead’ conversations, that we understand these changes further,” writes Tom Goodwin, senior vice-president of strategy and innovation for Havas Media US in a piece for the Guardian.

And that could lead to much-needed change. Like better ads.

Inventory continues to grow as we spend more time online, says Goodwin. And that has created a vicious cycle:

“Ads are cheap, production budgets low, ads are poor, bad results follow, which leads to cheaper ads. We need to reverse this cycle. To have fewer, better-produced ads would serve the interests of everybody.”

Another solution is more personalized advertising — not creepy, Big Brother-ish ads, but more relevant ones (and perhaps fewer of them). I don’t like being bombarded with a constant stream of ads that trace my browsing history (and yes, it totally creeps me out), but if I made an online purchase and the vendor makes personalized suggestions based on that purchase, I’m okay with that.

Of course, ads support the content we’ve become accustomed to getting for free. So that will provide options to both marketers and consumers alike. “Publishers should have the opportunity to provide rich advertising experiences, LEAN advertising experiences, and subscription services,” writes IAB’s Cunningham. “Or publishers can simply deny their service to users who choose to keep on blocking ads. That is all part of elasticity of consumer tolerance and choice.”

Could higher quality ads be the answer?

Some mega-companies — say, Facebook and Google — have the power and money and resources to find their way around ad blockers, making it impossible to use their services unless you disable your ad blocker. Or, they could give you an option to pay for their services if you continue to use an ad blocker.

But that may be missing the point. Consumers may be less likely to use an ad blocker if they receive premium, personalized ads, rather than ones that are aggressive, obnoxious and irrelevant.

After all, ad blocking isn’t new. Back in the day, when we watched TV on an actual TV, we could simply walk away during commercial breaks. But if the ads were smart, funny and entertaining, we’d watch them.

Consider the power of Super Bowl ads — and how people actually discuss their favourite ads the next day. It goes to show there’s still power in a good ad — we may just need fewer, better quality, better-targeted advertising.

What is your take on ad blocking and the number of digital ads that appear online? Tell us in the comments below.

About the Author

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as CBCNews.ca, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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