Ad blocking – a problem of our own making

As marketers we are at our best when we listen to communities, create impactful experiences and build brands that have a clear point of view.

However, we are at our worst when we stick with the status quo and churn out the same type of advert and activation month after month, year after year. Occasionally a new opportunity comes up and we might test it, perhaps then adopting it into our business as usual plans, tell ourselves we’ve been innovative and give ourselves a big pat on the back. Sound familiar?

Well, that’s what many of us have done with digital advertising. As great marketers of the traditional age, we learned how to make brilliant press and TV ads. Then digital banners and video ads came along and we decided to put some budget towards them. The mistake we made was that we thought we could just shift our well-crafted TV and press creative into these new online formats and our audiences would love them.

The next mistake we made was to keep doing this for years, and years, and years.

Fast forward to 2016 and we find ourselves with a problem entirely of our own making. We have bombarded consumers with adverts that slow websites down, that are contextually inappropriate, that do not play to the strengths of the format and that ignore the behaviours and preferences of the audiences that receive them.

In short, as an industry overall, we have done a terrible job. The net result is that consumers have turned to technology to help them, in the form of ad blockers.

Ad blockers, apps or software that we can all install on our phones, tablets and laptops to stop adverts from appearing alongside content, have grown in popularity to now feature on every advertisers ‘challenges’ list. On both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store, ad blockers such as AdBlock Plus have become amongst the most downloaded apps on the market. In the UK, eMarketer predict that by the end of 2017 27% of web users will have ad blockers installed – this is a massive 15m people. And this is not just a UK or Europe issue, in the USA by June 2015 there were 45m people using ad blockers and globally usage rose by 41% last year largely due to the high level of blocking taking place on mobile in Asia. 

What can be done about this?

Firstly, we need to be clear that online advertising itself is not the problem, it’s just the way that it’s been created, planned and implemented. As an industry we need to hold our hands up and acknowledge it.

Secondly, we need to be creative – and focus on creating customer experiences not advertising. Advertising may well play a role – but it is not the only way we communicate as brands.

Thirdly, media owners need to be clear to audiences about why advertising is needed. Along with subscription, it is one of the two ways that sustainable online content can be developed. Advertising revenue is the lifeblood of online content and so rather than blanket-block it, we should invite audiences to see how it can deliver value to them, and make sure I creative work rises to that challenge.

Creatively, delivering value can mean many things and it’s not the purpose of this blog to tackle that. But, all great online brand experiences live and breathe a few key principles. They include:

  • Think consumer/audience first to ensure you are credible. When brands such as Pampers developed their engaging website experience, they did so by identifying the exact needs of a new parent. Then they crafted their content around key child development stages and in doing so have made themselves more than a product, but a brand with real meaning.
  • Build with your medium in mind to ensure you are relevant. One of the pitfalls of the digital age has been to ‘scale down’ a TV or cinema advert for the smaller screen. In the age of the mobile this will not deliver the optimal experience. Think instead of highly visual and short form executions such as Facebook’s Carousel ads.
  • Don’t launch and leave. Be contagious. Consumers don’t live their lives solely in campaign periods. Think how your adverts and content will live beyond the campaign by allowing them to be shared, adapted and owned by consumers. HD camera manufacturer GoPro excels at providing a platform to their customers to share their personal footage, helping to create an ‘always on’ source of engaging content.

As marketers, we have created this problem but by fusing technology and creativity together we are more than capable of finding a way out. In doing so, we can develop experiences that deliver value for the communities that we seek to inspire, and help build meaningful brands.

At Brand Learning, we frequently work with brand teams to help shape their multi-channel customer experience. Advertising can be one way of creating compelling customer experiences and, if done well, adding value to customers. Adding value should be our focus, not just in advertising, but in all efforts to create experiences that are truly contagious, relevant and credible. By broadening our focus beyond advertising, we have also assisted brands in dark markets to re-imagine customer experiences in the digital age.

We would love the chance to share our experiences further, so please get in touch!


BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.