Why ad blocking could save the creative industry

Search the coverage of Apple’s latest software update and you’ll find a wealth of discussion about the inclusion of ad blocking capabilities. Needless to say, this has raised hackles across the creative and media industry. According to the direst forecasts advertisers will have to adapt or die.

Not everyone is worried about ad blocking software becoming more available. Many consumers seem to be saying ‘Huzzah!’. Even before Apple’s iOS9 update, they were taking advantage of the ability to banish the annoying advertising that was slowing down their browsing – the global usage of ad blockers grew by 41% between 2013 and 2014.1Via PageFair http://downloads.pagefair.com/reports/2015_report-the_cost_of_ad_blocking.pdf

In spite of the rise of ad blockers (before iOS9), the advertising industry still has an appetite for digital ad spending – digital display
ad revenues in the UK alone rose by 27.5 per cent to £1.31 billion in the last year.2The UK Digital Adspend report, conducted by PwC http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/digital-adspend-continues-soar/1367567?bulletin=campaign_daily_fix&utm_medium=EMAIL&utm_campaign=eNews%20Bulletin&utm_source=20151008&utm_content=www_campaignlive_co_uk_ar_2#P2T5GJOUdlGGOoei.99 The rise of programmatic advertising, the algorithmic sale and purchase of digital advertising space in real time, suggests that consumers can expect to see a lot more advertisements as they browse, unless, of course, they take measures to block them.

Where does that leave us? Advertisers, creative and media agencies and most digital media owners need digital advertising to work because that is where the consumers are. Many would argue that consumers – whether they know it or not – also need digital advertising to continue to make the internet free.

For years we’ve seen platforms or publishers like Spotify move content behind pay walls, with less or no advertising. There will undoubtedly be more of this. Much in the way apps have developed in free and paid for versions, we can reasonably expect some movement in the digital landscape more generally.

Then, there is the new obsession – ‘native content’. This is the seamless and non-intrusive inclusion of sponsored content into a page or site. Netflix employed this technique during the launch of the latest season of Orange is the New Black – sponsoring an article on women’s prisons that seemed perfectly at home on the New York Times’ website.3http://paidpost.nytimes.com/netflix/women-inmates-separate-but-not-equal.html?_r=1  This paves the way for a potentially more meaningful information exchange. This content is currently immune to ad blocking software and will put some power back into the publishers’ hands.

Despite these developments, some questions still loom large.
With so many people so eager to block digital ads, should the industry be truly worried? Could this mean the death of digital advertising and of creativity as we know it?

No. But those are the wrong questions. The right one is ‘why?’.
Why do consumers want to block internet advertising? Because it is often boring and irrelevant.

This spells good, albeit challenging, news for the industry. As we have seen for years in other media – TV, radio, print – content is king. We’d like to modify that for today to ‘creativity is king’. To capture people’s imaginations and eyeballs, more creativity will be key to overcoming people’s aversion to advertising online.

That could be further leveraging creativity in digital formats such as harnessing the power of Instagram to allow younger consumers to build a Mercedes-Benz GLA (generated 20,000 new followers), or using a Facebook video launch to promote diversity (check out Love Has No Labels). We shouldn’t forget the power of true multi-channel – Channel 4’s hit show ‘Humans’ created a pseudo brand called ‘Persona Synthetics’, which claimed to be opening a store on Regent Street and launched a ‘real’ auction on Ebay with the selling price of £20,000 for one of the robots – all as part of a PR stunt! This was coupled with a TV campaign and the #Humans on social media, and helped make the show the channel’s most viewed drama for over a decade. Another example of this is the John Lewis ‘Man on the Moon’ Christmas ad, app, in-store experience and #ManOnTheMoon.

To increase the value of creativity in their content, advertisers will need to move digital from its historical tactical roots into more brand-building territory. Coca Cola have done this well with their ‘Share a Coke’ campaign – where consumers could purchase bottles of Coke emblazoned with their name, or the name of someone they wanted to share a Coke with. The icing on the cake though was the sharing of these images and of the campaign online, building brand love via social media. The campaign resulted in 235,000 tweets from 111,000 fans using the #ShareaCoke hashtag and 998 million impressions on Twitter in 2014 alone. By embracing creativity, digital advertising can continue to grow its share of attention and thus its share of media budgets.

Today we laugh at the cheesy, sexist or inappropriate print advertisements of 50 years ago, thankful that print advertising has come a long way. But so has digital advertising. It has been on a journey of development from the first banner ads and the annoying (and now almost extinct) pop-ups, to the huge variety of digital advertising formats currently available, to whatever comes next, which we can barely imagine today. But what we do know, is that in order to survive, the industry will have to be creative!

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