While social marketing’s in a very good place right now, traditional advertising methods most assuredly are not. As a matter of fact, they’re in a rather terrible spot at the moment – and they’re not really showing any sign of recovery. More and more, internet users, tired of having to deal with advertisements interrupting their browsing experience, are turning to ad blocking software so that they can browse in peace. As a result, many websites which survive solely on advertising revenue are being wholly devastated. After all, you can’t get any views or clicks if the ad doesn’t load.
It’s a very unfortunate situation, and by no means a simple, dichotomous issue as some would have you believe. People have been making a lot of noise about ad blockers for some time now, and as an advertiser, you might like to think that the onus falls entirely on the shoulders of the users to stop using the software. After all, you can’t get something for nothing, and viewing a website without contributing to the revenue stream which funds it is akin to piracy, is it not?
What if I told you that ad blockers were only part of the problem? How many have, for example, stopped to think about precisely why Internet users are turning to ad blockers? Why do they feel the need to block out the white noise created by Internet ads? What is it about online marketing that strikes such a sour chord with so many? More importantly, how can we fix the problem?
To determine that, we must first look into precisely what the problem is.
I get it. As an advertiser, you want people to see your content. You want your stuff to catch their attention. Wanting to draw users in so they’ll be interested is a completely acceptable goal. What is patently unacceptable, however, is shoving loud, obnoxious, irritating marketing materials straight in the face of anyone who might happen by. What’s even worse is when an advertisement is so poorly coded and optimized that it’s mere presence slows a user’s browser to a glacial pace, something which essentially makes the site unreadable.
It only gets worse when you consider the fact that there’s more than a few ads which toss spyware and adware onto the computers of the people who view them. Tracking cookies are not okay, folks, nor is butting your heads into the lives of your users in an effort to ‘target’ them with advertising. Most users don’t like it when you do that.
There are good agencies, clever marketers, and incredibly creative people out there. The problem is that the good ads designed by these competent individuals end up as diamonds in the rough, lost in an ocean of poorly thought-out tripe. Users turn to ad blockers in spite of the fact that they occasionally see an advertisement that appeals to them because, by and large, most of the advertisements they see irritate them.
And if you’re irritating your target market to the point that they tune you out, you’re probably making a mistake somewhere.
As a result of all this, Internet advertising has developed a terrible reputation, and rather than take the good with the bad, most users decide to simply tune everything out – causing websites to suffer across the board. Unfortunately, as I hope I’ve shown, the solution isn’t as simple as just asking politely if your users can stop blocking ads – the last time I browsed without an ad-blocker, I encountered all of the above problems on about four separate websites; all of them very large, very reputable, and very well-trafficked.
By this point, the problem should be obvious: now how, exactly, do we go about fixing it?
Building Better Ads
The first, most obvious solution is that we need better advertisements. The most important question becomes: how does one build a better advertisement? What do users want to see, and how can one convince them to purchase content or visit a particular website? How can your firm, specifically, make an advertisement that speaks to your users?
Unfortunately, the creative process is, by its very nature, a difficult thing to categorize and quantify. I’m not a marketing guru, nor am I an advertising expert. I make no claims to genius in either field. All I can really do is speak from my experience as a user, and my perspective as a consumer. With that in mind, here are a few guidelines that could be utilized to make your advertisements better.
For Banner Ads
- Don’t make things too distracting. Using flashy animations or obnoxious noises to catch the attention of potential consumers makes it feel like you’re either desperate or not creative enough to pitch your product in an unobtrusive fashion, so you’ve simply settled for being louder than everyone else.
- If your ad feels too ‘pushy,’ people are simply going to ignore it.
- Try to see things from the perspective of who you’re trying to sell to. Ask yourself: “will this insult our target demographic?” This is where market research comes in handy. Try to figure out just who it is you’re trying to sell your product to before you design – preferably without using tracking cookies or spyware.
- It might be worth hiring on a few extra graphic designers to make sure your ad looks good. It’s entirely possible to put together a memorable, eye-catching ad without having to essentially scream in the consumer’s face about your product.
- Be very, very careful about using graphic or resource-intensive designs. These tend to slow down older browsers and systems, and might even make it impossible for the user to view the content they originally wanted to see.
- You’re making an online billboard, not a television spot. Keep that in mind during the design process.
For Other Advertisements
- Keep it fresh, witty, and original. If you can make the viewer laugh while still selling your product, do so. If they find your pitch comical, they’re far likelier to remember your brand.
- Where video ads are concerned (for example, on YouTube), don’t make them longer than 10-15 seconds. Most people don’t keep watching past the first fifteen anyway.
- If at all possible, try to ensure that your ads are only shown on videos that would be relevant to your target demographic. Very few people want to see an advertisement for Viagra on a video game trailer, for example.
- In any medium, you want your brand, and those representing it, to appear sincere, trustworthy, and knowledgeable. You want your users to feel that you’re trying to help them discover something useful to them. Yes, you’re trying to sell a product – but you want to avoid using the “used car salesman” approach, if that makes any sense.
A number of rules, regulations, and guidelines for what constitutes acceptable advertising does exist, but these standards are virtually identical to the standards we’ve seen in other mediums- and it’s been proven time and again that not all content providers and advertisers (even those on supposedly reputable websites) follow the standards, anyway.
Plus, these standards don’t generally cover whether or not it’s acceptable for an advertisement to be poorly designed, obnoxious, or aggravating. In order for Internet advertising in its current state to truly survive, we’d need an organization responsible for policing these advertisements and judging their quality on a regular basis (or we’d need content providers to step up and do a better job of it.)
From what we’ve seen thus far, that’s a fairly difficult undertaking. If advertisers could fix the problems which currently plague the online advertising industry (security, privacy, performance, quality), ad blockers would, essentially, become unnecessary. Certainly, there’d still be a few die-hards who’d still block ads, but most users – who aren’t intentionally ripping off the sites they visit – will stop using ad blockers if they’ve no reason to.
Either way, one thing is obvious: simply blocking the offending software and continuing on as we are isn’t enough, as it jumps into a game of cat and mouse with tech-savvy users across the globe. It’s a game you’re going to lose if you try to play it. After all, if there’s one thing we should have learned by now, it’s that there are some very crafty, very intelligent people on the Internet – and trying to fight them when they feel they’re in the right is an exercise in futility.
There’s another possible solution – but it’s not necessarily an attractive one for marketers or for content providers.
As CNet’s Matt Asay put it, in order to truly defeat ad-blockers, we may first have to let the users of such software achieve victory. In other words, we may well have to let the current model of advertising die. It’ll be a long, painful road, and many are likely going to fight it tooth and nail, but a new revenue model and distribution model might not be such a bad thing. After all, Asay notes, it’s worked pretty well for the Open Source industry, which was plagued by many of the same problems as online advertising.
It may well be as Asay has claimed – old business models might not be suitable for the Internet any longer, and only by letting those models die (rather than forcing users to adhere to them) and replacing them with more effective ideas will we ever truly evolve. After all, there are plenty of sites out there which survive just fine on revenue generated from sources other than advertising.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to say just how the current model should change – the only thing we know for sure is that it will.