Let’s face it: Ads on the Internet are annoying.
Interstitials – those full screen ads that require several seconds of attention before you can get where you really want to go – greet us at nearly every website these days. Then there’s the annoying square ads that cover the text you’re reading, until you locate and click on the impossible-to-find “close” function. And, my least favourite: The videos that blare out sound when you least expect or want it – like during a staff meeting…with your boss, for instance.
Digital advertising relies on disruption – grabbing user attention by disrupting the content experience. It’s totally and utterly annoying – and yet? Right now, it’s completely necessary.
Oh, I know – you probably use an ad-blocking program like AdBlock Plus, which weeds out all ads but those deemed “acceptable” by the company. (That tool, by the way, has been downloaded more than 500 million times!) PageFair counts the global number of ad-blocking users at 198 million in 2015, up from nearly 40 million in 2009.
And while programs like that do a pretty good job of improving user experience, they aren’t gaining fans among advertisers and publishers. Digital advertising is big business, projected to top all other forms of advertising globally by 2017. And for publishers to serve up the great content users expect – at a price they like (read: free) – companies need digital ads to pay the bills.
To be sure, publishers are looking at other ideas. Native advertising is one buzzy trend that has taken off in recent years. These ads mimic the look and feel of the host website, often providing actual “content” instead of just an ad. The risk here, though, is two-fold: If publishers don’t adequately label the content, consumers are tricked into thinking it’s editorial. And if the content is marked well, users can train their eye to skip over it, just as they do those ads on the right rail you probably haven’t seen in years. (Google, by the way, is doing away with those rail ads in 2016.)
The mobile advertising market, expected to reach $100 billion globally this year, has been less affected. While you can download ad-blocking software for smartphones (and companies are actively working to refine the technology), these tend to work only within apps. Most mobile users connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi, which means ads still have a way through.
Good for publishers, annoying for users – and what’s that phrase about annoyance being the stepmother of invention?
So what’s the future hold? Well, things could get interesting.
The UK government has vowed to launch an initiative against ad-blocking, comparing it to piracy. “Quite simply – if people don’t pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist,” UK’s culture secretary John Whittingdale aptly summed it up.
Ad-tech companies like TubeMogul are starting to openly criticize the growth of big brands like Google and Facebook in the space, claiming they have excessive power and control over customer data. Programmatic advertising is going through its own period of change as publishers get up to speed and adopt the necessary technologies.
In short, the digital advertising landscape of tomorrow could be very different from the one we’re seeing today. The UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau thinks it has a blueprint: Make consumers more aware of the tradeoff (no ads = no free content) and make ads less annoying and more relevant. Will the plan work?
Continue reading in 20…19…18…
Be honest, are you blocking ads right now? How does your company combat this challenge and what would you like to improve?
As always, I welcome your input on how to approach changes and challenges in media. If you think I’ve misread a situation or trend, let me know. If you have a new way of thinking about the topics we discuss, pass it on. I want to engage with all of you in this space as together we make sense of today’s media industry.