Blocking All Over the World: How Marketers Can Take On the Global Rise of the Ad Blocker

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Football nearly came home, Harry and Meghan tied the knot, and the UK is enjoying its first proper summer since 2003. Advertising woes, however, remain; and the problem of ad blocking in particular hasn’t gone anywhere. Writing exclusively for ExchangeWire, Richard Poustie, CEO UK and Ireland, Kantar Media, explains why this is the case, and how marketers can change consumer conceptions of advertising.

Kantar Media’s DIMENSION 2018 Report on the major trends and innovations in the media world, published earlier this year, revealed that only 57% of UK consumers believe advertisers are doing a better job of communicating with them now than in the past; 36% of UK consumers use ad blockers sometimes and 26% of 18-34 year olds always use them.

Of course, the problem isn’t limited to the UK alone, with 1-in-5 connected adults globally using an ad blocker all the time.

The ad-blocking debate

There is some talk within the industry that the issue is being exaggerated. After all, ad blocking is a uniquely online phenomenon in a world of myriad advertising formats – even if you flick past print adverts or mute audio ads, there’s still an initial interaction. Some experts, on the other hand, have added that the issue isn’t necessarily the number of ad avoiders, but how loud they’re shouting – positioning those who use ad blockers as something of a vocal minority.

Realistically, the ad-blocking phenomenon is one of the largest mass boycotts of any product or service in history, and the message it sends out – that ads are somehow bad and to be avoided – is stark, and needs to be addressed.

The act of ad blocking flies in the face of the idea of the value exchange, by which the internet remains free, and content relevant, in exchange for user data and engagement. Even alternatives that aim to plug the gap have their downsides. More and more consumers – especially in China – are turning to so-called ‘selective blocking’ and other premium services. Whilst this might solve some of the problems of dwindling returns from a very squeezed online ad sector, it continues to reinforce the idea of advertising as a negative force and equally removes those premium audiences – of greatest interest to advertisers – from the market.

Whatever your take on the phenomenon, the situation as it stands is unsustainable, and the problem needs to be looked squarely in the face. So, what can the industry do in response?

A call to arms

Right from the outset, it’s important to fight the urge to blame consumers. Consumer frustrations with advertising aren’t new (though, the percentage always using an ad blocker has increased 6% on last year), and if we’re going to challenge the problem we really need to understand where they’re coming from. A significant 31% surveyed this year ‘dislike advertising’ generally, whilst 20% believe advertising is changing for the worse.

In order to change consumer conceptions and keep advertising working for all of us, there are three very clear ‘must-dos’:

1) To me, to you

Firstly, it’s important to make the trade-off at the heart of advertising clear. If one of the greatest problems we face is that consumers aren’t aware of the value exchange represented by advertising, then we need to make it of more significance to them. Most importantly in this regard is to stay relevant. Sixty-five percent of consumers prefer to see ads relevant to their interests, but 43% claim the ads they see on websites they visit don’t fit the bill. This kind of mistargeting is simply falling at the very first hurdle.

2) Content is king

Secondly, it shows a need for brands and marketers to think more widely and innovatively when it comes to advertising. Consumers are overloaded with commercial messages wherever they turn online; and a great deal of these aren’t as sophisticated (or as attractive) as they should be. Arguably, consumers don’t respond so much to ‘adverts’ as they do to content. If you can provide quality content and make yourselves useful to the consumer, they’re much more likely to see you as a facilitator rather than an irritant. While you’re at it, it’s important to make sure your content is relevant to the particular platform on which you’re advertising. Forty-four percent of those who ‘sometimes block’ state that whether or not they use a blocker depends on the device they’re using. So, keep long-form articles, for example, to print and desktop, whilst making the most of phones and tablets with snappy quotes and short video clips. Integrated cross-media approaches can also help make up for a current lack of reach online, whilst making sure your viewability rates remain first-rate. Remember, too, that innovative, enticing, and even interactive creative can make ads almost impossible to ignore. Be useful, and be entertaining.

3) Get creative

Finally, when it comes to measuring ad effectiveness, simply looking into audience data isn’t enough. Online measurement needs to incorporate creative considerations (Did the message resonate? Was the ad viewable?) and things like long-term strategy and value if it’s to really give a true sense of how successful an ad is. You might also consider when and where customers are most receptive to advertising, as opposed to just ‘if’. To put it very simply, if a consumer doesn’t respond as well to audio adverts as they do to interactive video, then give them more of what they like and less of what they don’t.

The ad industry has had a tough time of late, and it’s not something that can be overhauled overnight. But with a few simple considerations and by keeping our ears open to what consumers want – and that includes those of us on this side of the fence – there’s no reason why advertising can’t be something to be enjoyed rather than simply avoided.