Being from an advertising background, for me it’s the creative that always has to work smartest to deliver results for our clients – in whatever medium. Talk to the specific customer you’re aiming at. Engage with them and be memorable. And it helps if you’ve got a compelling reason for them to act. But more and more when we collaborate with media agencies for online campaigns, the creative is improved vastly by smart, targeted media planning. And the real kicker is getting tangible figures for the number of eyeballs that viewed the ad, and went on to buy – hard to argue against proof of ROI when it’s there in black and white. Yet for all its smarts, the power of digital media to target consumers based on countless criteria is at risk, as consumers are increasingly opting out with ad-blocking software. So what now for digital advertising?
The latest Apple iOS included a relatively small development, but one with potentially huge impact for media publishers and their clients. iPhone and iPad users can now download apps that allow them to block ads on websites they visit on their device. Almost straightaway after launch, those apps were top of the downloads list. With no criteria, just a total block on ads, it no longer matters how smart, or subtle, the creative – in an instant your audience can elect to opt out of your digital marketing plan. And this development from Apple isn’t creating the movement, it’s jumping on the bandwagon: even before its release, a quarter of laptop and desktop users in Germany and France were blocking ads.
Moreover, this seems like part of a bigger trend, of consumers moving away from the overload of rich media, screen stacking, 24/7 social media and do-anything-anytime-all-the-time-on-all-devices tech, back towards simplicity. We’re ruining our sleep, damaging our relationships and missing out on actual experiences, so let's all ditch the multimedia anyway. The latest phones funded on Kickstarter are uber-simple – they just make calls, and are “designed to be used as little as possible”. Or you can invest over £200 in the Punkt phone, which allows calls, and texts, and very little else. Who needs a smartphone anyway?
So what does this mean for brands reaching their audience online? No doubt established brands using digital ads to remind customers of that dress they left in their online shopping bag will survive relatively unscathed, finding new ways to spend those budgets and with a strong and loyal customer base already. But for brands dipping a tentative toe into the world of digital advertising, it may be time for a rethink.
One option may be major online platforms clubbing together to act consistently to protect their own revenue streams; perhaps following the Washington Post’s example by asking users with ad-blocking technology to turn it off to access articles, or to subscribe to their site. If that model prevails, brands may still find they have a captive audience online. Or can brands and media owners find another way to sneak advertising in and dodge the blockers?
If the future of online advertising is that users opt in, then branded content could replace the more traditional digital ad. The latest in digital advertising is native ads, which essentially are the same principle as the tried and tested advertorial – branded content, dressed up to match its context. Which brings us full circle, back to the idea behind the ad, and ultimately, the offer – what are you doing different than your competitors? What can you offer your audience? Without good content, the creative and the media space just won’t stick.
And let's not forget traditional media: television, radio and press, whilst dwarfed by the time users spend online, aren’t waning in their audience or consumption.
When simplicity and a single-minded message always win the day, I find that digital advertising often feels overly complicated and restrictive anyway; unless you have an enormous budget to buy exciting media space and commission impressive and involved creative, the most powerful concepts all seem to turn into the same cyber-stalking cookie-led click bait. So if this new ad-blocking trend marks a shift towards brands putting more money into strategic creative thinking, and buying more traditional media that delivers guaranteed impressions (even if a little less targeted), that sounds like a pretty good thing to us.