Sunday, August 23, 2015

Can Online Advertising Be Saved?

Sometimes, a technological advance kills an entire industry. Like CD's killed vinyl.

Could ad blockers be about to kill online advertising?

For many websites, who rely on selling display ad units, the situation is highly concerning.

On the typical gaming site, for example, ad blocking rates now top 50 percent, according to ad tech firm Secret Media, while those for fashion and lifestyle sites are close to 35 percent.

The phenomenon is worse in some countries than others - only 15 percent of American users, for example, are using ad blockers.

But what if the Americans catch on? 

There are signs they are about to. Online searches for the term 'ad blocker' are rising rapidly.

I am a long-time advocate of advertising, and of the value of advertising. (That website you like? It's almost certainly funded by advertising).

I personally would never install an adblocker, and I think the technology is close to being immoral, because it creates a 'free rider' problem - people benefiting from web content, without paying its creators. It's akin to piracy.

In fact the business model of AdBlock Plus is arguably comparable to piracy; they earn their income from charging big companies for an exemption from ad blocking - a characteristic that had French web publishers contemplating legal action against them.

We have to be honest about the forces that are driving uptake of ad blockers. They are brilliantly summed up in this article by Tom Goodwin - the same guy who wrote this widely-read critique of Cannes.

Goodwin points to pre-roll ads that insert themselves midway in articles, ads for Mercedes vehicles that are seen before beheading videos, pages that take forever to load because they're swamped by cookies and content the user didn't ask for, articles on websites which “welcome” you with bogus welcome screens and where pop-ups barge their way past browser settings.

Some of his solutions are so innovative that he feels obliged to describe them as 'thought-experiments': they include the idea that web publishers could reduce online advertising inventory to one-tenth of its current size, and use only premium spaces.

But his main recommendation - and one I wholeheartedly agree with - is very simple.

Create better ads.

When the ads are of at least decent quality, consumers will be more happy to accept the trade-off (I get free web content, in return for seeing some ads).

At the moment, the amount of time and money being invested in creating online advertising is far too low.

The targeting capabilities of online advertising are incredible, and far exceed anything possible in traditional media. Now it's time the creative bar was raised too.


Massimo said...

It can't work. For one thing, the format sucks. How many banner ads do you remember that could make it into the best 100 ads of all time? Apart from the one that asks you to punch the monkey in the face, I mean.

Then, there are just too many banner ads around. In 2012, 445 different companies bought more than a billion ad impressions each in the US alone. It's going to be very difficult to focus on premium with all the crap that is being sold.

Massimo said...

P.S. I wrote a short Ebook on the subject, and close it asking the same question. You can get it for free at Smashwords.

Ben said...

Like you, I make a living from advertising, yet I've used an adblocker for years - because as you pointed out, they're shit. And as an advertiser, you also know they pretty much to 9/10ths of fuck all.

But you're both also bang-on - make them good and people won't mind, just like ads in general. We need to look at adblockers as no different to the fast forward button or the human ability to turn a page of a magazine quickly.

Philip said...

Maybe the reason for the prevalence of shitty online ads is that the barriers to entry are so low.

With a magazine or TV ad, you had to spend a lot of money to buy the page or spot, and then shoot something technically competent. It took a while and cost a lot so you might as well invest in making the bloody thing good.

Whereas it's easy to churn out online ads. They're cheap and fast, so just throw a whole lot of them at the wall, and see which ones stick. That philosophy may now be coming back to bite the people who've been following it.

Parker said...

CDs killed the vinyl industry, but they didn't kill the music industry (and if you look at the number of people still collecting records, they didn't even kill the vinyl industry...)

The ability to fast forward through ads on TiVO or as the comment above from Ben said, the ability to flip through a magazine quickly, didn't kill those types of ads. Instead, they forced them to change and to be something you didn't want to flip through (but actually sought out).

Like you, I work in advertising (and for DDB), yet unlike you, I use an Ad Blocker. I don't see it as immoral. In fact, I feel that the act of buoying up an antique business model more immoral. It's stopping us from moving forward as an industry.

I also aspire to create ads that won't be blocked: the kind that are shared socially, either publicly or privately, and that people enjoy.

Ad Blockers are the best thing to happen to the advertising industry: they're going to stop us from getting lazy.

Ad Blockers are probably the best thing to happen to the web publishing industry as well. It will force sites to think of different ways to fund their projects, and will probably result in new and interesting ways of doing so. Banner ads are really just the updated version of newspaper ads, which Wikipedia tells me were invented and first used in the 19th century.

In fact, Wikipedia is a perfect example of a new funding model: they're an amazing site explicitly NOT funded by ads.

Anonymous said...

The problem isn't so much the ads themselves, but the fact that they slow loading times and chew through data.
A guardian article I read yesterday said ad blockers can decrease the loading times on a site from 11 seconds to 2. Some websites take about 6 megabytes of data, when only 8kb is actual content. I don't care if the ass are crap, that's not why I block them.

Chris said...

Parker. Can AdBlockers discriminate between 'good' and 'bad' ads? Unless they can, then no matter how good select adverts are people will continue to block them - because there's no way to discriminate.

Michael said...

I wish I could upload a screen grab of one of my favourite misplaced banners ads of all time. It was in and it was:

"Wood Chicken Coops. Top quality chicken coops! Delivered fast to your door."

I kid you not. I'm a regular city slicker advertising type, not one for browsing any farming equipment type sites - go figure.

Anonymous said...

Don't be so lazy for points to talk about Scamp:

Scamp said...

Not quite sure what you mean. Did you mean I've ripped off that article? I don't think I have. I will now, though! Some good stuff there.

Anonymous said...

Nice post and I totally agree with the points about how rubbish online banners are.

But to me it's just where the whole digital spectrum is moving to. One of the latest examples is the click bait news-type, now being adopted by major newspapers.

Online nowadays is all about falseness, improper conduct, bullying and so on. 90% of viral videos are absurd and offer no substance.

It doesn't matter anymore, we humans are changing almost as fast as technology around us is.

I work in digital marketing and can confirm the most crappy ads work, some o them generate the best ROI. The span of attention online doesn't leave room for online advert brilliance.

If sometimes I come across something interesting done online, it's rarely the case where those campaigns are captivating to large audiences. Most of them are just a great reminder to all marketers that something great can still be done and soon enough I remind myself man hours and results behind those campaigns are mental and they end up not being cost effective for 'clients'.

Thanks for the good reading

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 12:20am

I don't think the crappy ads do work. I do think that networks, people with a stake in selling programmatic and audiences, and publishers generally pad those "infallible" metrics.

Smart re-targeted sequential messaging that is ROI focused - yeah creatively it may be crap but doesn't stop it being effective. Straight out crap - if it's got good performance metrics attached to it - yeah there's something fishy going on there.

There's very little honest work out there anymore, digital or otherwise.

Regina Morales said...

It's only getting worse, for instance where newer versions of iOS are coming with an adblocker included. But for people in niche markets who were making a few dollars a month from their sites, maybe just enough to cover hosting fees, it's a big problem; it's likely to reduce legitimate content when they decide it isn't worth the bother.

Regina Morales @ Sonic Response