Every now and then I read a study that I know will force the advertising industry to fret over its future. Recently, Adobe and PageFair released a report that said 45 million people in the United States use ad-blocking software. The figure represents a 48% increase from the same report released a year ago. If people block ads, it’s because the advertising does not matter to them. The remedy isn’t some kind of industrywide attack of the software and the people who use it. Instead of worrying about people blocking ads, we need to focus on their motivation for doing so.
Ad blockers aren’t only popular because they eliminate distractions from the watching or reading of free Web content. People block ads because they are not relevant to them and thus seen as a nuisance. We should take two things from this: generally speaking, consumers want fewer ads and they want more relevant ads. At the root of this problem is the need for “one-to-many” advertising strategies of mass media to evolve in the digital world. Web content is curated specifically for the people watching or reading it and designed, in many cases, to appeal to their interests and behavior. Ad content needs to follow suit.
Despite the increase in ad-blocking software, consumers have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want to pay for almost anything on the Web. They’re willing to put up with ads if it means they can watch music videos for free. But, as the consumer is increasingly empowered, advertisers need to work even harder to capitalize on this trade-off. This means creating even more engaging and relevant ad content. Ads, after all, are universally seen as a great source of content and entertainment and they will remain one of the most effective ways advertisers can appeal to consumers.
As the recent studies have shown, we now know more clearly what happens when we create content irrelevant to our target audiences. They don’t just ignore it. They turn to software developed solely to block it. All too often, however, we also see the opposite happen: consumers engaging with ad content when it conveys a message that speaks directly to them. So, if consumers are tuning out, the marketer needs to tune back in to create a meaningful connection.
At this point, greater use of ad-blocking software hasn’t affected profits for publishers or prices for advertisers. The tipping point may come though, and the solution isn’t more ads or bigger ads or longer ads. It’s better content — content that engages users on a personal level, speaks directly to their interests and tells an interesting story. There is no question that some of the rise of ad blocking can be attributed to ads consumers just consider annoying.
But there is much more to it than that. When people tune out, it’s because we don’t have their attention. Or, more accurately, we haven’t earned their attention. The study from Adobe and PageFair certainly didn’t provide much in the way of positive news. But, the next step for us as an industry is to pay better attention to the results and what our audience is trying to tell us — that the status quo needs to change, and the requisite adjustment isn’t on the consumer side. We need to reconsider our strategies. Personal experiences based on consumers’ individual profiles are the way forward.
Consumers share more information about themselves every day and — despite concerns about this bandied about from the privacy pundits — consumers consistently tell us that they want greater relevance in their lives and they consistently interact with it when we give it to them (advertising is no exception).
So, all of the data in the digital world that marketers are spending incredible amounts of time and resources to aggregate and activate these days needs to be informing digital advertising content. The results should be obvious and will benefit all parties: consumers learn of new, relevant products and services while remaining able to enjoy their favorite Web content for free, and advertisers get the engagement they need to generate serious business value.