Ad Blocking And Teen Engagement: Here's What Marketers Need To Know

Since Apple announced the capabilities of iOS 9, there’s been a lot of discussion about ad blocking technology. At the recent Advertising Week in New York, ad blockers were a hot topic, with many creatives arguing that this technology is “absolutely a good thing” for the industry. 

The impact of ad blocking in digital publishing is still up to debate. “Optimistic” analysts claim that these apps will “only” cost around $1 billion annually in lost revenue, but others predict that they could decimate the entire digital publishing industry.

While the overall marketing ramifications are staggering, they’re particularly acute in the world of teens. Gen Z customers might be the first generation to completely avoid almost all forms of traditional advertising. They almost totally avoid print media, the one place where consumers literally cannot avoid an ad. They’re likely to watch TV content on a DVR, skipping the ads, or through a paid streaming service with little to no advertising. They increasingly consume content online, where these new apps promise the ability to block ads from publishers. 



If you’re a major blue-chip advertiser trying to reach teens, print media, online banner ads, TV spots and radio spots are suddenly all off the table. So how do you reach the customer of tomorrow who’s doing everything they can to be difficult to reach? It will take a new approach, and here are some ideas on how to do it:

1. Create compelling content. 

The burden now falls on marketers to create advertising that’s so buzz-worthy that teens seek it out. Some advertisers are doing just that. Last fall, Subway developed a series of videos showing teens working at their restaurants, targeting a demo that didn’t historically visit them. And Coke Zero recently came out with an ad explaining how millennials could use Shazam to receive a free beverage at participating retailers. 

To create interesting, inspirational or incredibly clever ads like these examples, companies need to consider co-creating content with the very audience they’re trying to reach: Gen Z and millennials. A great majority of Gen Z customers prefer brands that seek out their feedback, so there’s an opportunity to engage with these customers when creating content. 

2. Consider in-program content and placement. 

The popularity of product placements has skyrocketed in the last 15 years, but the last season of “America’s Got Talent” took this practice to a new level. Judges not only drank from Dunkin’ Donuts cups, but also hung out in the Dunkin’ Lounge, where they talked to contestants and had an after-party of sorts. The program also encouraged viewers to call in during the Dunkin’ Save, to prevent their favorite contestant from going home. There was also an “AGT Runs on Dunkin” recaps of key audition moments. So even if a viewer zapped the commercials on a DVR, they still walked away from every episode thinking Dunkin’, coffee, donuts, and associating the brand with all sorts of fun. 

As this example shows, companies like Dunkin’ Donuts are looking to product placement as a viable alternative to advertising. However, companies need to ensure that these partnerships communicate their brand attributes and add to the entertainment value of the programs they partner with. Engaging with teens directly to find out the media that they consume and why those programs resonate with them is critical to getting product placement right. 

3. Develop a robust digital presence. 

Brands need to establish a comprehensive digital presence that covers earned media, social media, websites and apps. A strong digital presence creates opportunities for brands to interact with Gen Z and millennials on a regular basis without taking out ads. Social media ads are practically immune to ad blocking technology, so complementing a strong social media presence with a social media advertising program might make sense for many companies. 

The post-advertising world is a scary and unfamiliar place, but it’s one that all brands must soon learn to navigate, especially those serving the customers of tomorrow. Those that take their marketing expertise and redirect it into more compelling messages for their customers will be the ones that win the future.

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