People 'n' Issues

Ad-blocking demands new strategies

November 24th, 2015
The rise of ad blocking shows it’s time to reorient publishing and advertising around the needs of users rather than those of publishers and advertisers, writes RICHARD CLOGG, Senior Technology Consultant at Acceleration.

Since the rise of mass media, there has been an implicit contract between audiences, brands, and publishers. Publishers invest in producing content, to entertain and inform their readers or viewers, largely paid for by advertising from organisations that wish to influence the audience.  That model has undermined by several waves of change since the birth of the web.

It all started when publishers introduced banner ads to monetise their web content, figuring that the digital world would work much the same way as print or broadcast. They soon found that advertisers weren’t willing to pay as much for digital placements as they were for print and broadcast. Brands, meanwhile, were often disappointed in the results they tracked from their digital campaigns.

And end-users, of course, grew to resent digital adverts as they became increasingly intrusive, thanks to roadblocks, pop-ups and pop-unders, self-playing videos, tagging, and other “innovations”. From the user’s point of view, ads slow down their page downloads, track their behaviour and stalk them across the web with unwanted offers for things they Googled earlier in the morning.

Little wonder that the ad-blocking feature in Apple‘s iOS 9 is causing such anguish for the advertising industry – it’s an enormous threat to their revenues in an overtraded market where margins are already thin. As Business Insider’s Paul Berry writes, ad-blocking isn’t just a software feature – it’s a cultural movement.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs says that the rise of the social media giants and the backlash against digital advertising will see the ad industry “fundamentally restructured” in the years to come. But given that no one seems particularly happy with the status quo – even the IAB admits the industry has “messed up” – that might not be a completely bad thing.

What might an advertising paradigm for the future look like? It would be focused on user experience first, rather than on automation, efficiencies and data gathering for agencies, brands, networks, and publishers. It would ensure faster loading of content. And rather than steamrolling users with invasive sounds and visuals, it would present them with targeted, interesting experiences that they welcome.

Publishers, brands, and the adtech companies are still shaping the future of advertising. However, the future might include an element of paid subscriptions for users who don’t want to see advertising at all, more use of native advertising as a way of offering experiences that feel natural within the publisher’s environment, and the use of the platforms that the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Apple News, and Medium offer for publishers.

We find it particularly interesting how these new platforms might enable more efficient targeting for advertisers and a better user experience.  On the flipside, content producers risk being sidelined as distributors and aggregators such as Facebook, Apple News, Medium and Twitter control the audience and monetize their content.

We’ll also see some interesting innovations around mobile, for example, the advances offered by Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project.

Advertising accounts for around 1.5% of the GDP in the United States – a number that has stayed constant even as spending has spread from print to broadcast and then to digital. This is a large industry everywhere in the world. We don’t see the advertising sector disappearing completely as a result of the ‘adblockalypse’, but it is going to change dramatically. There will be new paradigms in consuming and publishing content, possibly enabled by new tools and technologies.

Against this backdrop of change and transition, publishers and brands face the challenge of ensuring that they can target and engage the audience wherever it goes. To succeed, they will need to create digital frameworks that help them to accommodate a shift in how audiences move around and interact with content. An agile but robust architecture and streamlined business processes will help them navigate the changing the landscape.

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