When ad blockers emerged as a threat, the industry reacted by hosting two gatherings – the first, to improve the ad experience for users and the second, to fight ad blockers by developing consumption policies or technology to bypass them.
While the former is a noble goal and will require a shift across the industry, the latter is an arms race that is expensive and will have no definitive end.
The moment you build a way around the ad blockers, they find a way around you. So on, and so forth. According to eMarketer, the number of US ad blocking users is projected to reach 86.6 million in 2017. One thing is for sure: companies need to adapt.
Looking at the landscape, many have found a new appreciation for an existing solution that fits the bill – influencer marketing.
Though ad blocking is getting a lot of attention in 2016, it’s worth pointing out that the idea of consumers blocking ads is not a new concept. Just a few years ago, the industry worried about DVRs, such as TiVo, and their ability to present recorded TV programming sans advertising. Additionally, ad blockers on the Web have been around for over a decade. It was not until Apple’s release of iOS 9, which enabled users to install ad blockers on their mobile devices, did the industry start to take notice along with a segment of the general public who were not previously aware of the existence of ad blockers.
While the TV industry appears to be evolving around the challenge of DVRs (coincidentally solving it by leveraging a more digitally-centric programming and distribution model), the same can’t be said for digital media and ad blockers yet. Combined with the squeeze programmatic has put on publisher’s display inventory, this has been a tumultuous year for such businesses – Gawker has declared bankruptcy, Mashable has retrenched, and even BuzzFeed isn’t meeting revenue goals.
Some believe standardized native products – like those offered by Nativo, Sharethrough and even Google – may be a solution in both circumventing ad blockers and providing the better consumer experience users are shouting for, they unfortunately are not. Ad blockers see standardized native ads the same way they do display ads and will block them preventing the consumer from ever even seeing the industry’s attempt at creating new non-intrusive ads to gain back consumer trust.
Ad blockers take a binary approach to blocking ads by blocking the entire ad delivery infrastructure. Consider bypassing the ad-delivery system altogether with influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is also not a new concept. Align a brand with a trusted editorial voice and have them advocate for your brand or product. The digital twist is that these influencers have access to create their own platforms using social networks, blogs, and video channels as their own and thus become their own publisher.
The other distinction is that these influencers are independent. They are not paid editors or producers; they are genuine advocates of their subject matters, and produce content from a place of passion, not business. Audiences are attracted to this genuine voice, creating a strong bond with the influencer. This bond is the secret that makes digital influencers and the connection they have with their audience valuable and engaging for brands.
Influencer marketing provides a solution to the ad blocking dilemma. The “ad” isn’t seen as an ad by ad blockers. It’s seen as editorial content distributed via the publishing process on social media, blogs, and forums versus ad-tech, which is what ad blockers look to block. It also reaches consumers in a way that no other digital strategy can. A recent study by Nielsen revealed a case study that proves influencer marketing can deliver 11 times the ROI over all other forms of digital media.
So, partner with an influencer who speaks organically about a topic aligning with your brand, pay them to talk about your product, and call it influencer marketing, right? Actually, that’s the worst thing you can do as a brand. There is a fine line of trust influencers must maintain with their audience. If your brand is perceived as the force breaking that trust, you might as well pay people to keep away from your product. The ability to walk the fine line between marketer’s message and maintain a relevant and organic experience for the influencer’s audience is the critical component to success.
Unfortunately, influencers themselves are not the experts in influencer marketing. Brands also need guidance, as relying on traditional audience studies and strategies to inform their influencer marketing strategy will #fail. Chose a partner with credentials in identifying the right talent, stitching multiple executions together for a consistent campaign and doing so in a way that scales.
Influencer marketing is not marketing trickery, but rather plain old advocacy when done right in a challenging and rapidly-changing digital media environment.