Ad blocking has become a passionate topic across the industry, inspiring fiery keynotes from the Internet Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Randall Rothenberg and driving broader mainstream press explorations about what consumers’ increasingly loud actions mean about the future of digital publishing and advertising.
Discussions to date have made general assumptions about why consumers have become fed up, and we can all personally attest to online ad grievances such as slow load times, interruptive banners, misleading content, and other irritating experiences.
But what exactly do consumers really want and expect from digital advertising?
Publishers could benefit from looking deeper into consumer research studies and applying key learnings to potential ad blocking solutions. For example, are publishers aware of the specific, widely varying preferences across different regions? Knowing that Brazilian and Chinese consumers are more likely than US and UK consumers to click on a mobile ad if it is relevant can impact how both publishers and their brand advertiser clients craft (and measure) their global strategies. By anchoring ad blocking solutions in consumer-driven data, publishers will successfully be able to slowly win back their audience’s trust and create more sustainable revenue generating business models going forward.
What Do Consumers Really Want?
Since the first display ad appeared on HotWired, consumers have come to understand and accept the value exchange of online ads—in return for tolerating ads, readers can explore and enjoy digital publishers’ web content, for the most part, for free.
But how far are consumers willing to go for free content? Last year, Millennial Media found interesting data around this. For example, they reported that across 4,018 consumers polled across France, Germany, UK and the US, only 3% of consumers said that they pay for content in order not to have ads. Additionally, one in five (19%) said that they would expect 1-3 minutes of ads in an hour, while just 12% said 3-6 minutes. Unsurprisingly, millennials were most receptive and most likely to expect more than a minute of advertising for every hour on their device.
Another recent study by Adobe uncovered compelling insights into how selective consumers are becoming about how they spend their time online across devices.
* When limited to a 15 minute window to consume content 66% would rather watch a video on breaking news vs. read an article.
* Over one-third (35%) of Millennials value entertainment over accuracy — more highly than other generations.
* More than 7 in 10 (73%) say content “must display well on the device.”
Key reasons consumers switch devices or give up on content altogether:
* Images won’t load – 46% switch devices; 39% stop engaging.
* It takes too long to load – 44% switch devices; 39% stop engaging.
* Content is too long – 30% switch devices; 38% stop engaging.
* The content is unattractive in its layout or imagery – 35% switch devices; 38% stop engaging.
Each of these discrete data points can help publishers better understand their readers’ mindsets. By acquiring this new knowledge, publishers can carefully shape their product roadmap and advise advertisers more strategically during the campaign planning process. As a result, over time ad blocking usage will decline as publishers solve the real source of consumer woes. Here are a couple examples.
Lighten the Load
As the research shows, consumers hate waiting for online content and will quickly shift gears if content takes too long to load. To avoid losing eyeballs and becoming branded as ‘that site that takes too long,’ publishers should take every effort to make their pages as light as possible for consumers. Otherwise, ad blocking adoption will continue to rise. After experimenting with load times before and after an ad blocker was installed across 10 major mobile sites such as Business Insider, Wired and The New York Times, mobile ad blocking developer Dean Murphy showed that blocking mobile ads made the page-loading process nearly four times faster. For increasingly impatient consumers, who wouldn’t want that?
Tech partners should also support publishers in their effort: Vox Media’s CEO Jim Bankoff commented that, “the bigger risk lies ahead for the ad-tech companies, whose tracking and targeting systems spur some consumers to install ad blockers by slowing down page loads and seeding worry about privacy.” A concerted effort, combined with emerging publisher initiatives such as the IAB’s LEAN Ads program and ad-light experiences, will significantly help regain consumers’ trust.
Speak to Emotions
Emotion-based marketing is quickly gaining momentum. As the above research shows, consumers want to be entertained. In fact, not only do some generations value entertainment over accuracy, but design and fit to a device are top considerations. For publishers, why not ask consumers how they felt about an online ad—this will give direct access and insight into consumer emotions, and enable advertisers to learn if their intended campaign goals and objectives were successfully met. For example, as former President and CRO at Sticky Jeff Bander suggested, at the end of a sponsored content article, instead of leaving a generic comment box (or none at all), ask more specific questions—i.e., Did you find this article entertaining? Did this make you laugh?
Additionally as the research shows, when consumers have less than 15 minutes, they prefer watching a video over a reading a plain article—advertisers should explore different formats such as a six-second video versus a traditional 30-second spot to keep up with consumer preferences.
Above are just a couple examples of what publishers can do to infuse consumer insights into potential ad blocking solutions. By embracing a holistic approach that engages your ultimate customer—your audience—in developing and implementing ad blocking solutions, your consumers will become a loyal partner in the long run.