Digital Display Must Wake Up -- Consumers Just Aren't That Into You

There never was a time when consumers willingly soaked up advertising. There really wasn't, and it's unlikely there ever will be. All of us flicking channels on the television or radio will carry on searching for a station playing content rather than brand messages, and if we have the choice, we'll watch a show on a recording device so we can fast forward through the ads.

It always makes me question, then, what would happen if digital marketing truly did perform at its best, as AOL UK Managing Director Hamish Nicklin, called for yesterday at IAB Engage. We all know the type of advertising he means when he talks about those that let the side down -- pop-ups, repetitive interstitials, video ads that play in the background unannounced, pointless clickbait articles and retargeting ads trying to sell you what you've already bought. Research this week also pointed to the need for the advertising industry to get much faster at placing ads. Units that are slow to load were identified as the leading cause for only just over one in two display ads being visible in the UK during the third quarter.

But here's a question: what if the digital marketing industry truly got its act together and advertising was not intrusive and loaded at faster speeds? Obviously there would be some debate about what is intrusive, but let's just imagine it could be achieved. Would people be less likely to cease blocking ads or more reluctant to apply blocking extensions or apps in the first place? Probably yes. But by how much? My gut feeling is that it would have minimal impact. People are switching off advertising because they can and will continue to do so until publishers, like Axel Springer and potentially Trinity Mirror, start making it clear there are no more free articles to those who block ads. 

Sometimes you have to turn an argument on its head to see if it stands up to inspection. So here you go. We've already established that just about everyone is an ad avoider if they have half a chance, whether it's flicking radio and tv channels or watching a programme on a personal recording device. Answer me this, however -- what type of advertising would you say is of the highest-quality and normally pretty well suited to its audience? I'd suggest that most of us remember television ads and probably sing theme tunes from them in our heads. Prime-time television ads are usually slick, stunningly shot 30-second clips that have cost more to produce than the average digital marketer has to spend on a display campaign. Yet, what do we do? We pause a show while making a cup of tea -- or pour a glass of wine -- so we can catch up by fast-forwarding through the adverts or we record it and watch it back at our leisure, again with the ads avoided.

It's no secret that this is why the sponsor's idents at the start and end of an ad break are so in demand. I heard the other day that this is partly down to the markup being so high for an arranging agency -- but it also stands to reason that it's better to be the piece of content a viewer is looking out for, to begin or end fast forwarding through ads, than to be one of the ads that are going to be skipped.

So, yes -- advertising works -- but no, there never has been a time when consumers have wanted to view or listen to ads. Now that the technology is out there, it's being used and it all started with the humble VCR and the fast forward button it introduced to the living room.

We can -- and we should -- do everything possible to make digital display as unobtrusive -- and yet at the same time, as engaging as it possibly can be. But make no mistake, just as nobody turns on their tv to watch an ad or opens up their email to be told a free shipping offer is coming to an end, nobody opens a Web site anticipating great ads, no matter how clever the use of the data, no matter how compelling the messaging or amazing the creative. Striving to be better is admirable and will lead to improved engagement rates -- and could potentially slow down ad-blocking adoption, but we need to progress with honesty. There is no advertising nirvana, the public have always preferred getting content over advertising. The moment they achieved the ability to skip through ads, they have jumped at the chance and now they're doing the same with online.

Which leads me to my most bewildering question. Why on earth haven't publishers gone down the app route and offered ad free subscription models? It totally ties in with reader wishes and gives an option you can reasonably place in front of ad blockers. That's probably one for another day.

1 comment about "Digital Display Must Wake Up -- Consumers Just Aren't That Into You".
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  1. Rick waghorn from addiply, October 16, 2015 at 9:18 a.m.

    Users will accept ads that are authentic... And can see that they might be contextually relevant to me.

    Which brings us to the word 'local'.

    And here is the big challenge for the whole programmatic/RTB industry. For as long as its cost and it's complexity all-but precludes any and every local butcher, baker and candlestick maker from placing an authentic and contextually relevant offer in front of me - particular in a mobile context - I will block being advertised *at* by a brand. Whose product I might have already bought. 

    It is the meeting point of 'top down' versus 'bottom up'. Crunch time in a world of competing view points... And technology solutions.

    Advertise *for* me, and I'll give you the benefit of the doubt... 

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