Stop disrupting: Advertisers to blame for ad blocking | M&M Global

Stop disrupting: Advertisers to blame for ad blocking

JR Little, global director of strategy at Essence, offers a three-step solution to tackle the ‘multi-headed monster’ of digital advertising avoidance.


The other day, a colleague asked me how I come up with ideas to write about. Two things drive me to write about marketing and communications, i.e. advertising.

First, we are an ideas business and need clients to value our thinking. Second, we are a part of a much bigger community; it’s our duty to make the advertising industry more valuable. This post is driven by my conviction. We, you and I, must make digital advertising experiences better for the mass public, for the sake of our trade’s future – for the sake of our jobs.

Ad blockers are attacking our industry

Over the past few years, we have witnessed the rise of a multi-headed monster. Ad blocking can be many things: a browser without ads, an app or extension to stop ads, or a telecom operator restricting ads. It’s hard to identify a single way to slay ad blocking.

Today, 21% of the world’s smartphone users utilise an ad blocking browser by default [PageFair and Priori Data, eMarketer, May 2016]. In Europe and the US, 63% of Millennials have actively installed a blocker on at least one of their devices [Anatomy Media, eMarketer, September 2016]. And in the UK specifically, 21% of all internet users are using an ad blocker [IAB, August 2016].

Whether people are increasingly using ad-blocking mobile browsers or ad-blocking installs across desktop or mobile, the overall message from the masses is clear: ‘Ads don’t belong on digital’.

A scary thought, right? If your role is even tangentially related to digital advertising, you may feel hopeless, as if there is nothing you can do to alter the trajectory. You would be wrong.

We made this monster

To innovate our way out of this mess, we need to explore how we got here.

Looking back at the origins of advertising, we can see that early print, radio and TV ads were not too dissimilar from the content they interjected. Early iterations of ads were highly informative with little creative messaging or imagery; they were almost utilitarian.

Over time, as people had more options to read, listen to or watch, ads started to become more creative and startling, using more persuasive language and imagery. They attempted to stand out from the page, break through the noise, and jump from the screen.

“Digital spaces demand a different approach altogether, not a different iteration of advertising as we know it”

Today, the cinematic quality of an American Superbowl or British Christmas advert is all about capturing the viewer’s attention and emotions— disruption is the aim.

However, this kind of disruption is annoying in digital. Digital spaces demand a different approach altogether, not a different iteration of advertising as we know it. We – the industry – can’t at once take pride in disruption and bemoan ad blocking. Our industry’s fixation with disruption created the very monster we must now slay.

How to slay the beast

1 – Empower the user: The open nature of the web means it’s difficult for a user to understand why they should do anything they don’t want to do, such as being forced to watch an ad before arriving at the page or experience they seek.

Thus, any content or design to help make decisions easier are valuable to our end user. Years ago, Procter & Gamble created an app to support its toilet paper brand, Charmin. The app, ‘Sit or Squat’, helped users identify the nearest clean public restrooms. If you’ve spent much time walking around New York City, you know that finding a clean place to go can be a challenge. Whilst this case is many years old, I still think about how innovative and helpful it was at the time.

2 – Trust the data: There are significant ways data can be used to improve the online ad experience.

First, we must continue exploring the relationship between annoyance and efficacy. Essence has begun supporting some of our clients in this arena; so far our research has uncovered some clear (if unsurprising) patterns. Ads that audiences experience as “interesting”, “informative” and “simple” are received far more positively and perform at least as well.

Second, we must use all available data to understand the consumer’s interests and create experiences that are unique to them. Content must fit the context, thus, one creative idea and campaign asset will most likely not be enough. Sub-segments should be identified and content variants – such as dynamic executions – should be considered.

Lastly, we must check the performance data often to see what is and is not working. Chances are, if one of your adverts is being skipped or ignored, it’s being considered annoying or unhelpful.

3 – Educate the masses: The annoyance study mentioned above also found a negative correlation between ad blocker users and respondents who prefer to view adverts instead of paying for content. There seems to be little understanding that ads help keep content free.

This highlights a big opportunity. One way to combat ad blocking is through public education on what users get in return for ads—free content. This will take the most effort from all of us, not just our advertising associations.

It may mean that we should include footnote messaging in our ad units with lines like ‘this advertisement keeps online content free’. Similarly, publishers should help inform the public of why they use adverts, ‘the content of this page is free to you because of ad funding’.  A shift in public understanding may lead to a stagnation or decrease in blocking.

Ad blocking, our multi-headed monster, will take time to outsmart. It will require the actions of each of us to make ads more valuable and elevate the industry we love so much. By empowering our users, making the most of data, and educating our online communities, we can slay the beast and making advertising more valuable to the world.

Please join me in openly advocating newer and better ways to advertise on digital.

JR Little

Global director of strategy, Essence

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