Can advertising ever really be welcome?
Evan HanlonSeptember 17, 2015
Trust creates value. This is the underpinning of any market. And in the digital advertising market, we're seeing a crisis of trust. At the root of it is changing demographics, but more importantly the industry's response to this new breed of consumer that is grounded in theory that no longer applies.
First, let's put a name to it: Millennials. The Millennial trust crisis is neither new nor localized. According to a 2015 Harvard study on attitudes toward traditional societal institutions, only the military and scientists were trusted by a majority to "do the right thing most of the time" (emphasis mine). Advertising and media were among the benighted institutions. And nowhere does this play out more obviously than online. A report released by PageFair and Adobe in 2014 estimated that 4.9 percent of all internet users had installed ad-blocking software, nearly doubling the 2013 user base. And among the coveted 18-29 male demographic, that number reached 54 percent.
How did we get here? I would argue that what brands, agencies, and publishers consider valuable is increasingly out of touch with consumers. This is largely because each of these parties is increasingly out of touch with each other as well. Brands value sales, market share, and consumer perception. Media plans generally value clicks, conversions, and leads. Agencies value impactful, viewable media executions that create consumer journeys. Ad networks generally value impressions that deliver on clicks, conversions, and leads by any means necessary. Publishers value site experience and a growing user base. Measurement frameworks generally value tonnage and cheap prices.
All of this is stacked against what could make advertising valuable to consumers again: informative ads, entertaining ads, and just-the-right-amount ads. We need to stop focusing on how to be clever with the power of digital and focus on what creates value for all parties involved. This means getting back to some basics, including the following.
Move beyond what's easy to measure and focus on what matters: causality. Agencies and brands need to use multi-touch attribution to understand how media collaborates instead of competes to see where additional touchpoints are hurting rather than helping.
It's intuitive that viewability, ad placement, and human traffic make for valuable and effective media. It is also an incredibly constrained short tail of a largely dubious marketplace. Agencies and brands need to align both measurement systems and investment approaches to promote media that drives positive user experience and real-world brand results.
Focus on the audience
Digital performance audiences are rarely a reflection of the overall target consumer base for a brand. Top-down audience plans that drive long-term growth for a brand and the accompanying brand health metrics that show traction in the market need to be given as high a priority as acquiring consumers ready to buy.
Native, TV-like digital video and content distribution formats provide a truly creative canvas on which brands can experiment. These new media will only ever be as effective as the creative experiences that brands and agencies create specifically for them.
We need to stop focusing on what we can do and focus on what we should do instead. Creepy usage of data, excessive targeting, and manipulative formats might demonstrate the power of digital, but they ultimately destroy trust.
These axioms are simple in theory but incredibly difficult in practice. Brands have been trained by the advertising industry to expect certain things from digital that have remained shockingly consistent for the past 15 years. As a result, consumers have been trained to be increasingly skeptical of the total output of an industry that will be worth well north of $100 billion this year.
The above axioms are difficult, yes. But not impossible. Realigning expectations will allow brands, agencies, and publishers to reestablish trust and better define what is valuable to a consumer. And as the industry shifts toward delivering that value to the consumer, we can then regain their trust.
Making advertising welcome is more than just an aspiration. It's good business.
This was originally posted on iMedia Connection here.