“Give the people what they want” is one of those classic show biz quotes that’s often repeated and attributed to a variety of individuals. Whatever its true origin, it’s a common sense maxim that applies to just about any commercial enterprise. For those of us in marketing and advertising, it presents us with an often unsolvable paradox: Publishers must make money via ad revenues. The reader must not be overly annoyed.
It’s been a recent hot topic among those in the online advertising business who are concerned that many internet users install ad blocking applications into their browsers. Although this ad blocking technology is relatively new within the time frame of advertising history, the problem that today’s online advertisers face is an old one. It’s the never ending conflict between advertiser and consumer: How do you get someone to look at something that they’d rather not see?
Many television advertisers thought they had an answer. Create commercials with relevant content that would be of interest to their target audience. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ad-weary television viewers who could care less about advertising content. They prefer to avoid TV commercials by recording programs on their DVR and then fast-forwarding through the interruptions. Online advertisers have tried the same thing with similar unfortunate results. Regardless of content, many online users just want to be left alone.
For the uninitiated, ad blocking (or ad filtering) is removing or altering advertising content in a webpage using an application that the user can install on their web browser. As of 2015, 45 million Americans were using ad blockers. In a survey research study released in 2016, MetaFacts reported 72 million Americans, 12.8 million adults in the UK, and 13.2 million adults in France were using ad blockers on their PCs, smartphones, or tablets. As one might imagine, internet advertisers are not pleased with this trend.
Recently, in a debate at Mobile World Congress, executives from Google and Yahoo voiced strong objections to a new ad blocking software called Shine. They’ve accused the software company of destroying the relationship between advertisers and consumers. Relationship? Sounds like wishful thinking to me. It’s probably more like a one-way relationship of unrequited love.
Let’s be honest, fellow marketers. The public doesn’t love your ads. They tolerate them because they have to. There’s a reason it’s called “intrusive advertising’ in the marketing textbooks. Yet to hear some ad execs tell it, what they’re creating is some kind of virtual best-friends-forever partnership with their online viewers, as if their audience is fervently asking for unsolicited ads to constantly appear on their monitor screens. Well, PR people often have to put a positive spin on a bad situation. They have to pretend that the public loves their ads, when in reality they tolerate them at best.
A few online publishers have begun to fight back. They’ve installed programs that detect when a user is using some kind of ad blocker. Instead of going to the content page, the user gets a page informing them that the host website has detected an ad blocker. Then the message asks the user to disable the ad blocker program in order to continue on to the desired content. But a question remains. Will users consider the content valuable enough to disable their ad blockers? So far the results of this new tactic haven’t yet been determined.
Here’s a little reminder to all who struggle with the push and pull conflicts of outbound marketing. The popular term used today for this kind of promotion is called “interruption marketing.” The meaning and what it implies should be obvious to any advertiser. It should remind us that even though the technology changes, there are certain advertising principles that remain unchanged. Advertising is not a love story. It’s a sales pitch.