The advertising world is buzzing with articles about the impending death of digital advertising and even of the ad-supported economy. “Death of the Net, film at 11” has been an Internet meme for as long as the Internet has existed.
But we should not be too quick to dismiss the concerns. There are some significant challenges. Agencies need to adapt and do so quickly.
There are three things currently fueling this narrative.
Apple is adding hooks to IOS 9 that enable the creation of ad blocker apps for iPhone and iPad.Companies have jumped at this opportunity and are working to have ad blockers ready when IOS 9 ships next month.
At the same time, ad blocking on the desktop is on the rise. Ad blocking isn’t new. Internet Junkbuster was first released in 1998. By the early 2000s all the major browsers had popup blockers and Adblock Plus was first released almost a decade ago.
What’s changed is that according to a blog post on The New York Times, ad blocking jumped 41% in the past 12 months taking it from a minor sideshow to costing companies an estimated $20 billion a year.
The third thing is that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has just released a new Do Not Track (DNT) standard for Web browsing. Like ad blocking, DNT has been around for a long time.
Due to limited adoption and controversies around Internet Explorer 10’s on by default setting and the Apache web server ignoring it by default, it wasn’t having a substantial impact. This time, though, it’s adding more fuel to the fire about digital advertising at a time when sensitivities abound.
But why is all this happening now?
In recent years, digital media advertising has transitioned from a broadcast to a direct marketing model. Data management platforms (DMPs) and programmatic buying mean that what used to be anonymous media buys targeted by region and channel are rapidly becoming individually targeted one to one marketing campaigns.
That shouldn’t be a bad thing. More well targeted advertising should mean more relevant (aka less irritating) adverts and a better user experience. The problem is that advertisers and the media agencies that support them have not made the shift from broadcast to direct.
There are two areas in particular where traditional media advertisers need to evolve.
The first is the switch from interrupt to permission marketing. Seth Godin introduced the term in 1999 as a response to consumer advertising overload.
The idea of winning people’s attention has been present in direct marketing for even longer. Whenever you don’t own or control the channel you must win people’s attention. Whether it’s obtaining an email opt-in, a Facebook like or getting a recipient to read your mail piece, direct marketers have been winning people’s attention for decades.
Broadcast advertising has been based on interrupting people and demanding their attention — eight minutes out of every twenty. Online we’ve had banners, sidebars, animations, pop-ups, pop-unders, overlays, and interstitials. It’s been an arms war between advertisers and browser creators.
The latest front is ad blocking and advertisers are losing.
The second area is data. Earning attention and permission means being relevant, timely and channel appropriate. It also means earning trust by being respectful of privacy and data. Here, too, direct marketers have decades of experience.
I’m not saying they’re paragons of consumer protection, but they’ve had long experience balancing consumer privacy with the needs of commerce.
The opportunity exists today to use big data and modern ad tech to create far more effective, seamless and yes, less irritating user experiences. This can be a great outcome for all involved but it has to start with recognizing that digital channels are direct marketing channels.
Some of them have had a brief interlude as broadcast channels but that time is over. Eventually, every channel becomes digital and every digital channel eventually becomes a one to one direct channel.The future belongs to direct marketers.