September 20, 2016
Brandspeak: Ad Blockers Are Not the Enemy
By Daniel Dryburgh, Account Manager & Global Team Lead

If you sell ads for a living, it’s rational to view ad blockers as a Terminator that’s wired to extinguish your livelihood. Press coverage hasn’t helped. “Beware, the Ad-Blocking Tsunami is Coming for You,” screamed a Fortune headline, while the Wall Street Journal dubbed ad blockers a “nightmare for publishers.”

Thankfully, the truth is a bit more complex and less terrifying. According to a recent IAB report, two-thirds of consumers who use ad blockers can be convinced to turn them off. Rather than fret about the menace of ad blocking, take solace in the fact that consumers are amenable to advertising, if it’s presented the right way. Marketers often skip over the latter part, but they shouldn’t.

Consumers don’t hate advertising

Consumers’ loathing for advertising is often accepted as a given. The data don’t support that assertion. A 2015 survey from Marketing Sherpa, for instance, found that just 8% of consumers said they didn’t want to receive any ads. Some 54% indicated that they would like to receive updates and promotions in the mail.

The fact that consumers are receptive to advertising to a degree makes intuitive sense. At this writing, Coca-Cola has more than 99 million Facebook fans. That means almost 100 million people (and OK, probably some bots too) at one time or another opted to like the brand. Consumers viewed this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads on YouTube some 330 million times. Obviously, no one was being coerced to do so.

The more likely scenario is that consumers are embracing ad blockers because there are too many ads and such messages are interruptive. Thankfully, there’s a middle ground to pursue in which marketers follow a pull model in which consumers opt to see ads in a format they control and enjoy. Here are four ways advertisers can make that happen:

1. Experiment with different media. For years, the click-through-rates for banners have hovered around 0.01%, meaning one click out of 1,000. CTRs aren’t the standard for banner efficacy (branding ads aren’t designed to encourage clicks), but it’s generally accepted that “banner blindness” is epidemic. By contrast, video has been shown to be twice as effective as banner ads. Still, banners have their place. Mix up your media choices and your creative to keep the messaging fresh.

2. Make ads more relevant. It should be obvious that advertising products and services to people who aren’t ever going to be interested is bad for business. Yet we’ve all tolerated this to a degree because of the limitations of traditional media. If you wanted to reach the 1% of the population that might be in the market for a new Buick, for instance, you had to expose the other 99% to Buick ads. That’s because you couldn’t flip a switch and run TV ads aimed at just those Buick-loving-in-the-market-for-a-car consumers. Now you pretty much can, online anyway. Via behavioral targeting and predictive data analysis, it’s possible to target ads aimed at 1% of the population to just that 1%. This will eliminate much of consumer ad rage.

3. Don’t use auto-play. Facebook has decided that it’s OK to run auto-play video ads in the News Feed as long as the sound is muted. While there’s logic to this decision, in the open web at least, auto-play will alienate and annoy users. A better approach is to let users decide if they’d like to click on the video they see on the page.

4. Be mindful of frequency. Even the most hilarious ad becomes annoying somewhere around the 30th viewing. Better to tinker with the frequency than expect bulletproof creative to save the day. You can either decide to cap frequency so a given user only sees one ad so many times or you can employ a frequency-based approach that takes into account where the consumer is on the purchase funnel. If they’re aware of your product, then no need to blast them with awareness messages, for instance. Another approach is to tell a story over multiple executions. That will keep the consumer’s interest without burning them out on your product pitch.

As some 16% of the public opts for ad blockers, it’s possible that the growth will continue and will engulf the industry. That’s not where we are today. Instead, some 84% of people are still viewing ads.

Now is the time to change their relationship with your brand. If the industry follows these guidelines and stops overwhelming consumers with ad messages, then there would be no need for ad blockers. Then we will see this ad-blocking Terminator for the tempest in a teapot that it really is.

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