It may appear counter-intuitive but ad blocking can drive digital transformation in businesses.
Ad blocking has been happening long before the onset of ad-blocking apps. People have been ignoring irrelevant ads for years. We have advertising blindness despite (and maybe because of) being exposed to over 5,000 marketing messages daily. Ad-blocking software simply reinforced a known need and existing pattern.
But by most news accounts in the last few days, the resistance to online ads has reached a tipping point. Apple recently enabled ad-blocking apps through its new mobile operating system, iOS 9. Users rejoice, but web publishers cry foul because this will hurt their livelihood.
Ad blocking has been around for years, but adoption is now rising steeply, at a pace that some in the ad industry say could prove catastrophic for the economic structure underlying the web. That has spurred a debate about the ethic of ad blocking. Some publishers and advertisers say ad blocking violates the implicit contract that girds the Internet — the idea that in return for free content, we all tolerate a constant barrage of ads. – Farhad Manjoo
For me, ad blocking goes beyond distinguishing between ‘good’ advertising and ‘bad’ ones. Clay Shirky wrote that the successful creation of online groups and crowdsourced work relies on the fusion of “a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain.”
The same can be said of advertising, but the promise, tool, and bargain made by online advertising no longer serves peoples’ needs.
Ad blocking can be seen as an adverse reaction to what Mark Schaefer described as content shock, but it goes beyond that. To quote Postshift co-founder Lee Bryant: “The ‘ethics of ad blocking’ is simple: advertising is an anti-pattern.”
Top-down vertical, repetitive, unasked for advertising do not build brands: they don’t create relationships because they don’t serve users’ interests.
What I wrote about the future of content is the same as the future of online advertising: it will always be about things far bigger than online advertising. Advertising needs to transform.
People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.
You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.
Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs. – Banksy on Advertising
But this transformation in online advertising demands digital transformation in business as well. People blocking ads to protest the intrusiveness and ineffectiveness of current one should motivate businesses to not just rethink ad creation so they can produce ‘better’ ads. The more fundamental challenge is to come up with user-centred, relevant, and imaginative ways to monetise online.
Where do we start imagining?
Average brands advertise. Great brands share. — Ted Wright
What if, instead of trying hard to work for views and traffic, you make ‘trust’ a core measure of your success? Mark Schaefer issued this challenge in his new book, “The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing, and your business.” Instead of trying to device and defend ways– such as ads for example — “to trick, seduce, or coupon customers into loving you,” why don’t we all use this time to reflect: How loyal are we to our customers?
Asking how loyal we are to our customers causes a mind shift: instead of trying to defend and find ways to make better ads or convince people not to block ads, we will start changing the question we want to answer..
How would your business be transformed if your focus was demonstrating respect, gratitude, and love instead of “traffic”?
Adapt this question to the advertising: rethink the purpose of ads and the role they serve? How about shifting context and changing masters: instead of serving the advertiser, why not serve the end users? Let’s replace the almighty click as the measure of online advertising success with meaningful content that solves and saves (and eventually sells).
Here are some ways to start this transformation:
- Replace ads with meaningful content as currency for attention. It’s our ticket to join our audience in their buying journey. Let’s create content as if it were a product: treat it like a business asset instead of a marketing cost.
- Time and attention are currency. Let meaningful content drive your marketing instead of ads. People don’t care about self-serving content, much less about self-serving ads. Let’s measure marketing value value in how well the media we create solves people’s problems or fulfils their needs. Prioritise content that educates and elevates people to greater heights so that the “ads” we make are based on value creation for users.
- Don’t rely on repetitive, noisy, generic ads to build your brand identity or mistake it for connection and interaction with your audience. Turn content into conversation pieces that don’t interrupt the customer journey. Yes, it means taking the longer path to sales. But won’t it be easier to make the sales pitch if you get to be known as the provider of relevant information instead of the annoying spammer?
- Be the information hero people can rely on — the business that helps them make the right choices and become better in what they do. The best time for pitches is when our audience become our fans. It’s way easier to sell to fans than strangers.
- The inconvenient truth is that nobody gives a damn about our sales pitch. In today’s hyper-social and collaborative world, people won’t care about how much we know until they know first about how much we care. So let “ads” be a touchpoint of relevance. Make it function as an element of relevant storytelling about what your business stands for instead of pushing to make a sale right away.
If the road is blocked, let’s build a new one.
Image taken from Flickr: Rolling Rollback (Creative Commons license)