Do Consumers Really Owe Us Anything

There’s a simple economic value exchange at the heart of the Internet. Consumers get a massive amount of content and services for free and advertisers foot the bill.

Yet as everyone in the ad world knows this model is under pressure. In 2015, adblocking consumers opted out of this unstated agreement to the estimated tune of $20 billion in lost publisher revenue. That consumers could be so irresponsible in not holding up their end of the deal has been a particular sore spot for the industry.

But are consumers really to blame? After all, none of us explicitly signed up for this value exchange in the first place. Rather than consider adblocking as treaty abrogation, it may be more helpful to view it as consumers simply trying to create a better Internet experience for themselves.

We shouldn’t assume that consumers are fundamentally against ads. They’re against the overbearing digital experience that the current advertising ecosystem has created. Fix the experience and consumers will no longer have a need to turn off the ads.

While re-creating the industry overnight isn’t in the cards, there are things that advertisers and publishers can do (and are doing) to turn the ship in a more consumer-friendly direction.

Treat advertising like content

Movies, books, articles and music succeed or fail based on the willingness of consumers to allocate some of their precious time to them. Meaning, success ultimately comes down to consumer choice.

Advertising on the other hand has typically had the luxury of operating in a world where consumers didn’t have a choice as to whether or not they would experience an ad. With the advent of adblocking, consumers are no longer a captive audience.

Rather than building a better mousetrap to prevent their escape, advertisers and publishers should focus on improving the experience so consumers no longer feel the need to leave. Or, even better, provide experiences that consumers actively seek out, enjoy and share with others.

Adopting a content focused mindset is one way for the industry to better engage with consumers in our attention economy. We all loved to be entertained, to learn something new and to get useful advice. This is exactly what great content does. And so can great advertising.

Make less ads and make the remaining ones more relevant

Whatever the Goldilocks balance of ads is, we are clearly far beyond it. In fact, we’ve come to the point where there are so many ads consumers have developed so called “banner blindness” for many of the most common placements.

Part in parcel with dialing ads back is making the ones we do show more relevant and less intrusive. One promising area is programmatic creative, also known as self-assembling ads. These are ads that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to build themselves at run-time to more exactly match the myriad of individual tastes and preferences we all have.

It’s a huge advance, allowing advertisers to get closer to the evergreen promise of 1-1 communication with their intended audiences.

Artificial intelligence can also be used to initiate and run campaigns based on real-time events that have engaged consumer interest. Think Oreo’s famous “you can still dunk in the dark” tweet during the Super Bowl 47 power outage, but on an automated level. While the technology isn’t yet at that level of capability, AI-driven marketing might soon empower brands to create campaigns at the speed of culture, delivering messaging that’s more natural, effective and ultimately welcome.

Go native

Enthusiasm around native ads is high because they tackle the consumer experience head on, engaging audiences with content that is similar in spirit to what they are already consuming.

Where native has struggled is in delivering scale across a fragmented market. It’s also been difficult to do effective cross-channel attribution for native ads which tend to operate in multiple silos (different silos for different native formats such as in-feed ads, outstream videos or social ads to name just a few) that are all too often separated from the rest of the digital spend.

Yet this is changing, particularly with the growth of programmatic native, which now allows advertisers to utilize the same audience data they use for their existing campaigns across all devices and channels. Additionally, by applying audience data to native formats, advertisers can target their native content even more effectively because of what they might know about the interests, intents and consumer path of the consumers viewing the content.

Don’t just think advertising, think customer service

Retailers, hotels and restaurants all strive to deliver a positive customer service experience because they know good customer service drives sales.

Amazon isn’t a category killer simply because of its prices. The seamless customer experience – fast shipping, easy returns and the ability to buy virtually anything – is a big part of the value proposition.

Customer service is about meeting the needs of the customer. It’s a helpful mindset for advertisers and publishers to consider in creating more effective connections with digital audiences. If we can build an advertising environment that delights and informs consumers while driving results for clients everyone ends up winning.

Ultimately, the question of whether consumers owe us anything is probably moot. What is clear is that it’s up to us in the industry to create a digital environment we can all enjoy and where advertising is welcomed. The survival of free quality content and journalism might well depend on it.

This was first posted on AdNews.