Jon Bains
Jon Bains 16 March 2016

Ad blocking - the elephant in the room?

When you block ads the world becomes a much nicer place. The signal-to-noise ratio increases, your phones battery lasts longer, and you get warm and fuzzy feeling that somehow makes you feel safer.

Those of us of a certain generation appreciate that there is no such thing as ‘free’, and that the trade off is the marketing message. Millennials and Generation Z don’t.

So again, ad blocking is awesome. Now let’s move on.

As marketeers our stock-in-trade is distraction. At best, ‘while you are thinking about that, think about this too. It’s relevant‘. At its worst it’s the land of ‘look at me, look at me, I’m noisy, I’m shiny and I paid lots of money to talk to you’.

My old agency won a ton of awards for ‘interruptive’ advertising. It was easy – because we hated advertising and made things that wouldn’t annoy us.  It was also a time when the web was new, so we were all experimenting. That was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and whilst technology surprisingly for most, moves forward at a relatively constant rate, consumer behaviours have jumped ahead of the game. Cool.

We’ve gone through so many buzzwords over the decades and now we live in this wonderful world of ‘programmatic’. The greys will remember that it used to be called ‘behavioural targeting’ before those words became so bad that we rebranded it.

It’s embarrassing. To be honest ’algorithmic’ would be a more accurate term but sadly nobody could spell it, and it sounds geeky – hence it never took off. Perhaps we should adopt ‘dormant cyber pathogen’!

Most of what I write for marketeers is broadly around the topic of ‘it’s not your fault, but it IS your problem’ – in this instance – I’m afraid – it is your fault, and it really is your problem.

It’s your fault, it’s my fault, it’s your creative agencies fault, it’s the media-owners fault, and it’s your media agencies fault. We made this, we broke it.

So what are we going to do about it?

Well ironically native advertising also known as advertorials is a step in the right direction. I can’t believe I’m saying that.

Why? Because it’s up to the consumer as to whether they interact with it or not! It’s not in your face. and you have to work pretty hard – with your consumer in mind – to really make it work.

Is that a long-term strategic solution? No. Of course not – it’s a tactic – with a shelf life. The very act of mentioning it decreases its usefulness. The assumption that consumers are stupid and won’t see through it falls in line with our general behaviour as an industry.

Switching hats briefly we can explore the implications of digital transformation on marketing. When you put yourself truly, honestly, bluntly in the shoes of your customer the only sane response to being ‘talked at’ is to realise you need to ‘chat with’.

This is hard and anybody who tells you different is lying. Your own corporate inertia, KPI’s and subjective, career building stuff will always get in the way. It’s possible of course, but way easier if the customer is built-in from the ground up, not bolted on to some new appointee who is going to solve that ‘customer marketing problem’.

Media owners, especially the legacy ones have had this perfectly symbiotic relationship with media agencies and through that intermediary – brands. We have the audience; you require the attention, badda bing, badda boom.

Then over time media owners became greedy and/or desperate, and brands became lazy and/or out of touch. Ok, media owners were always greedy and brands were always lazy but as a virtuous circle it worked.

Not any more. ‘Brand’ used to be about trust but when everybody in that particular supply chain abuses it, hoping nobody notices (and they do), then funnily enough trust, and hence brand value is lost.

We put our own ‘creativity’ and ’convenience’ front and centre. We won awards, we got promoted, and we did things that were ‘sexy’ – for us anyway.

We had the trust and we lost it. Good. Perhaps now is a time to take a good hard look at how the marketing ecosystem has devolved and think again. ‘Let’s go back to the rock’ as it were and remind ourselves why we are here in the first place!

Marketing isn’t going away. It’s obviously becoming increasingly more sophisticated but when it comes to advertising, the entire paradigm needs to be rethought. Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt are not David Ogilvy that said they started us on a path, provided some answers and now is the time to get it right.

So what are we going to do about it?

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