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Why Online Advertisers Need To Start Caring About Their End Users

May 23rd, 2015

It’s great when online ads offer something useful. Not because consumers are blind and willing to buy the next shiny thing, but because so many marketing messages are just noise. When the right message appears in the right context, it’s as informative as it is rare.

According to PaigeFair, 2014 was the year that ad blocking “went mainstream.” At least 40% of Internet users aged 18 to 25 use some form of ad block, and from June 2013 to June 2014, ad block usage grew by 70%. In some countries, over a quarter of all Internet users have ad block turned on.

Advertisers ought to be seriously worried. If younger generations are embracing the concept of ad blocking now, it will be difficult to convince them to respond to advertising when they have more buying power. That means fewer marketing dollars spent on less effective advertising campaigns, which means smaller payouts for sites and apps.

Essentially, the ad-based Internet could be in jeopardy of running out of revenue. This isn’t a short-term problem, but if content creators don’t become proactive about shaping the future of advertising, it could be too late for them to pivot to another revenue source. Without reliable, scalable inventory, brands too will have to scramble to find new ways of delivering their messages.

Users Find Ads Intrusive

Users are rejecting online advertising because it’s intrusive. There’s a reason why few advertisers buy popup or popunder inventory anymore — users hate them. Interstitials and site wraps are somewhat less disruptive, but many ad block users still consider them a nuisance.

And it’s not just the content of ads, either.  It’s the placement, the frequency and the contextual relation to the surrounding content. Display advertising is really good at hijacking an ad’s relationship with users. 

The simple truth is that better response rates come from better ads. Seth Godin coined the term “permission marketing” to refer to marketing that treats its prospects with respect and consent, as one person should treat another.

Making Ads More Human

The online advertising equivalent of this are native ads that integrate their message into the form of the site or app, perhaps as sponsored content, sponsored searches, or in-feed items. As the incredible financial success of Google AdWords shows, this works. The brand offers its message to users without disrupting them, and the ad unit indicates that it has been sponsored, keeping the transaction transparent.

Ad block users have said in surveys that they would be willing to experience less intrusive forms of advertising. In fact, AdBlock Plus whitelists sites that are willing to be transparent and reduce disruptions.

The other concern users have about online marketers is privacy. Users want to know who is using their data, which is why browser extensions like Ghostery are popular. This becomes difficult when there are many ad tech players shuffling analytics in the middle of the advertising transaction. The key is for advertisers and publishers both to be transparent. The process to opt out of data collection should be straightforward, and all parties should make it clear how they are using user data.

Better advertising won’t happen by itself, and a single player can’t take it on, either. It’s the responsibility of the industry as a whole to move away from intrusive ads and shift towards new forms of advertising where the user is the focus. Their experience is key, and it must be taken into account to build better ad units — everything from how ads are integrated into the content to control over their personal data. Otherwise, online ads will eventually lose their audience completely.

By James Avery (