American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan once said, “For the times they are a-changin’.”
While Dylan’s lyrics could apply to 101 different scenarios, coming from the ad-tech world, I see the biggest change to this space as an issue recently brought to broader light by tech-giant, Apple. In September, Apple quietly introduced a new feature with its release of iOS 9; a feature, with major implications for mobile advertisers. The feature, a form of support for ad-blocking in Apple’s main web browser Safari, represents a broader feeling that mobile web advertising is undesirable and that if a user had the chance to opt out, they would.
A 2014 report showed that there was a 70% increase in ad-blocking software downloads between 2013 to 2014. Making up the most of these downloads was the 18–29 year old demographic. This tells us two things:
1. Ad-blocking is quickly becoming the new norm
2. Millennials are getting used to web experiences without ads
Another important finding from the study was that users “expressed some willingness to receive less intrusive ad formats.” This highlights the fact that it is not so much the ads themselves that users find irritating. Rather it is the kind of ads and how they are being served that individuals find a nuisance. Clearly, digital advertising is doing something wrong and undoubtedly the ubiquitous banner ad is on its way out. So: what comes next?
Several publishers have come to the conclusion that we must counteract ad-blocking. Some methods to do so include paying off ad-blockers, and blocking content from people who are found to be using ad-blocking software. While such methods might be successful in forcing consumers to view ads, it is not necessarily addressing the root of the problem — that consumers are desperately trying to get rid of ads. Thus, we shouldn’t be putting our efforts into battling ad-blockers. Rather, we should be working to produce content that doesn’t drive consumers to install ad-blocking software in the first place.
Randall Rothenberg, CEO and President of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), agrees with this idea of giving consumers the Internet they want, but also one in which advertisers can succeed. This Internet is one in which ads come to coalesce with content in the hopes of creating an all-encompassing enjoyable experience. In a September 2015 AdAge article, Rothenberg wrote, “disruption is not uncommon in this disruptive business. But we have to disrupt the disruptors — by identifying them as the profiteers they are, and by giving consumers the Internet they deserve.”
We must combat the ad-blockers not by circumventing them and serving the kinds of ads the blockers were meant to block; that would only fortify users’ desire for the software. Rather, we should want to improve consumers’ experiences by enhancing the kinds of ads and content we serve. In that way, ad blockers will inherently become obsolete as consumers choose to opt-in to ads.
With the advent of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), mobile advertisers will now have a second chance to promote their content while giving consumers a quality experience they won’t want to ignore. As the use of IoT devices such as beacons become more prevalent, a new avenue to serve up content will emerge, and advertising will inevitably be a part of this content. This is a pivotal moment where advertising will have to be redefined.
The times are definitely “a-changin’.” Let’s make sure it changes for the better.
VP of Marketing