Ad Tech is getting a wake-up call. It’s called ad-blockers. The prospect of massive amounts of lost revenue is raising a general alarm in the industry. The spike in ad-blocker downloads after Apple’s new tweaks to the iPhone coupled with the integration of ad-blocking capabilities straight into web browsers only add to the seriousness of the issue.
The waters get murkier, however, with claims of censorship and unfair dominance by advertising giants like Google and Facebook. What might have started out as consumer backlash to a flood of popups and banner ads, has become a much more complicated issue.
All the more proof that it’s time for Ad Tech to grow up.
Too much success?
Up until now Ad Tech has been a boon for advertisers and publishers alike because of its potential for improved reach, greater agility and most importantly, a wide range of revenue possibilities.
But – AdTech carries with it the possibility to make marketers lazy – much like a child enthralled with a brand new toy.
Being able to push ad campaigns across a large range of publisher sites with automated tools has given a false sense of effectiveness with minimum effort, while ignoring the effects on customer experience. The anonymous factor of programmatic buying and selling (particularly in RTB-powered open exchanges) means that creatives can get dropped onto any and every publisher page with little or no regard for how they match surrounding content.
In addition to this intrusiveness, longer page load times contribute to a deteriorating customer experience. The speed (creatives served in the blink of an eye) and efficiency (less unsold inventory) of programmatic media-buying and selling means that sites have become loaded to the brim with ads which often slows down load times, especially on mobile devices, to a snail’s pace.
Somehow these exciting, new – and very useful – toys have gotten used too much.
Online users, of course, have turned to ad blockers to deal with these issues – and understandably so.
Responses from the advertising players have been varied and for the most part self-serving, which doesn’t betray a very mature approach to the situation.
Some have looked to overcome ad blocking technology with innovative workarounds. Video platform Brightcove’s tool Lift is one application that deals with ad blockers’ detection of the ad call by serving ads “in-line.” But this “sneaky” approach doesn’t offer a long-term solution.
Several big players in advertising claim to have a solution, creating so-called “walled gardens” like Apple News and recently-introduced (and already controversial) Facebook Instant Articles for a cleaner customer experience. And yet, online users, like most everyone, value their independence, meaning that being tied into one stream for free news and having to pay subscription fees for anything else isn’t likely to make them too happy.
In neither case, however, have the answers been tied to a true focus on the end-user, in other words, those who consume online ads.
Towards a better Ad Tech ecosystem
What the AdTech industry needs in order to grow into a mature and sustainable ecosystem is to not only think about what is good for the bottom line of advertisers, publishers and those in between, but most of all what is good for online users themselves.
There are several areas which should help with this:
1. More direct relationships between advertisers and publishers to control customer experience. This is one of the reasons programmatic direct has caught on recently. With greater control over the creatives being placed on their sites and their integration with surrounding content, publishers have a greater chance of keeping the overall experience clean and pleasant.
2. More dynamic content serving. Instead of reusing ads created for TV or print campaigns, advertisers will need to leverage technical capabilities to serve more focused content. And they will need to get more creative when it comes to designing the ads. This is especially true when it comes to mobile devices where users find ads especially intrusive and where limited space means that poorly designed creatives can have a jarring effect.
3. Serving more valuable content. Not only will more personalized content make for an improved experience, but so will more valuable content – valuable from the point of view of the consumer. Again, that means less generic banner ads, and more informative, helpful content. This trend has already taken hold in the area of content marketing and native advertising, but incorporating it into the ecosystem on a larger scale can also have a significant positive impact.
3. Better, “lightweight” ads. Keeping creatives simple and to the point not only makes them less obtrusive against the background of other page content, but it also makes them easier to load, which contributes to a better overall customer experience.
4. Better data integration and usage. The data management side of Ad Tech will definitely have to mature. Not only will marketers need to be more adept at counting basic metrics like page-views and link clicks, but also at measuring user engagement and interest so that ads are relevant and therefore more acceptable.
There will also need to be a greater effort to integrate contextual data from publishers into the programmatic system in order to provide a better visual and contextual experience.
Finally, there needs to be more innovation when it comes to gathering online data since a large part of the page load time problem stems from tracking pixels connected to the ads. Better and more efficient tag management and cookie alternatives can go a long ways towards alleviating this part of the problem.
A better future
In the end, ad blockers may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Already the challenge thrown down by the current wave of ad blocking has started to unite the industry with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA ) calling for a coalition to analyse consumer attitudes towards advertising.
Hopefully this will encourage a more user-friendly outlook for the future and help shape the development of the next generation of tools as companies rediscover their conscience and put the customer first.
And that isn’t a bad thing.