The Antidote to Ad Blocking? Two Words: User Experience

Can we A/B test all three shades of blue of the ‘learn more’ button? Will the thumbnail of the stylish hipster millennial work better than the young Gen Z female listening to music? As digital marketers, we lay awake at 3 a.m. with these questions on our mind.

CTA examplesWhile marketers can get painfully obsessed about call-to-action buttons and copy variations, what do consumers think of all of this? What are the most important components of advertising for the audience? According to research, the reality is that they probably look like this:

Audience CTAsNot buying it? Chew on this:

  • Ninety-six percent of users skip pre-roll video ads.
  • The average click-through rate (CTR) for banner ads is 0.06 percent.
  • Only 14 percent of users can recall the last display ad they saw and the brand or product it promoted.
  • Despite complex ad targeting, only eight percent of users claim that display ads are relevant to them.

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Backlash Against Disruption = Rise of Ad Blockers

If you read the media trades, you’ve likely seen a surplus of stories covering the rise of ad blockers, especially as iOS 9 has come out with ad blocking extensions. In a matter of months, ad blocking has turned from a marginally disturbing trend for ad-supported business models to a full-blown disaster that’s edging into mainstream reality.

Ad blockers are now being used by over 198 million users and 41 percent of 18-29-year-olds in the U.S. There’s no sign of adoption slowing down. Ad Block Plus, one of the more prominent technologies, averages 2.3 million new downloads per week.

Ad Blocking GrowthHere’s a summary of leading developments in the recent ad blocking narrative:

The Response to Ad Blocking

The media industry is finally reacting to the proliferation of ad blocking. So far, here are some of the pushbacks:

  • Block the ad blockers: CBS enables technology to essentially block the ad blockers, requiring users to disable ad blockers to view content.
  • Let’s just make banners better: Industry leaders push to make display ads more relevant and part of the user experience.
  • Suing the ad blockers: IAB panel explores suing ad blocking companies in hopes of meaningful recourse.
  • Selective ad blocking: Some publishers are educating readers on the impact of ad blocking on their editorial resources and asking them to “whitelist” their sites within ad blockers.

Advertising Whitelisting The drawback with these responses is they’re not addressing the real underlying problem, which is people’s entrenched aversion to digital ads. Further, these reactions are squarely protecting the publisher’s interests and impression status quo.

In order for an ad-supported business model to thrive, consumers, brands and publishers must have a symbiotic relationship.

  • Publishers need audiences (monetization).
  • Brands need access to publisher’s audiences (advertising).
  • Consumers need valuable content (funded by advertising).

Growth of Native Advertising

Native advertising can solve this dilemma. Native is perhaps the only advertising we have left.

As native advertising came on the scene in 2012, it held promise to liberate the web of display ads with more relevant, less disruptive ad formats. For struggling publishers, native possessed the potential to accelerate new revenue streams. For consumers, instead of downright ignoring banner ads, native offered an improved user experience that involved ads they might actually want to see and engage with.

Today, we’re starting to see native expectations come to fruition. According to an eMarketer report, native ad spend is projected to double by 2018 to $8.8 billion—up from $4.3 billion in 2015. Leading publishers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal now monetize native ads and run profitable branded content studios. Enjoying unpreceded growth, native platforms like ShareThrough and Outbrain replace boxes full of logos with compelling ad formats that blend into vertical streams.

How Do Ad Blockers Impact Native Ads?

This is where native shines even brighter as the new cool kid on the advertising block. While display, pop up and pre-roll ads have been the primary target of ad blocking, native advertising has been largely shielded from the technology. However, that will change as ad blocking sophistication grows.

Native has its share of constraints, whether it’s disclosure, scalability or lack of consistent measurement. Clearly, this three-year-old trend needs some time to mature. The good news is there’s still time to safeguard it from going the down the same reader-less path as display ads. Native, if done smartly, can scale and forge a genuine win-win-win for the advertiser, the publisher, and most importantly, the audience.

Advertising Doesn’t Have to Suck!

Ad-blocking doesn’t beckon Armageddon for digital advertising; rather, it could be the best thing to ever happen to digital advertising. The upsurge in ad blocking teaches us that we’ve lost sight of the audience and its connection to advertising. People are fighting back against the digital clutter that exists today.

Ad blockers push us to change in an already rapidly changing industry. Failure to adopt is not an option. We can, and we must change the current model and move from the age of disruption to a new era of human-centric advertising.

Advertising doesn’t have to be lame or disruptive; it can actually add value to the user experience instead of extracting from it. Let’s go make advertising beautiful—the way it was always supposed to be.

This article originally appeared on Medium.


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