This year at Collision Conference in New Orleans, advertising and media executives were abuzz with the all-too-familiar industry problem: How do we save online advertising from itself?
Fewer people are clicking on ads — is this a sign of the end of online advertising, or the beginning of a new era? Media execs from across the industry argued that this is simply the dawn of a new advertising age, and offered a promising roadmap for how we can get there.
Take a look at this advertisement from 1994. Back in the early days of online advertising, this ad had a 44% click-through rate.
“How many of you will kill for a 44% click through rate today?” asked Shennan Reed, President of Digital, MEC at Collision Conference, addressing a crowd of advertisers and media industry professionals. Almost the entire crowd immediately raised their hand. “Yes. Exactly. What is our average click through rate today? .06%. That’s our industry average. That is frightening.”
The symptoms of this ever-increasing problem are familiar to most in the advertising industry: banner blindness, ad blocking, low viewability… the message becomes clearer every day: our ads are no longer getting through to people.
Reed’s diagnosis for this problem? She argues a major cause is a lack of thoughtfulness around the context and creative served in this new digital medium.
“We’ve made the ads ugly because we tried to take what was in a magazine and put it in a 300 x 250 pixel unit,” Reed lamented. “We’ve taken video ads that were meant for television and put them in front of the content that the consumer actually wants to watch.”
Frank Addante, CEO & Founder of the Rubicon Project expressed similar concerns in a separate panel about the fate of advertising. “I think what’s happening is we’ve tried to copy and paste what was done in print and television advertising, and essentially copy that to desktop display advertising,” Addante explained.
Beyond the lack of consideration around the context, the industry’s failure to prioritize the consumer experience of advertising has led to reactions like ad blindness or more proactive measures such ad blockers. On all sides, we have forgotten who ads are ultimately serving: not the advertiser, the data provider, or the publisher, but the consumers themselves.
The Cure: Advertising as a Service
“If you look at the data, a lot of the reason that people are choosing to use ad blockers is because their internet experience is being slowed down,” Addante said. “It has nothing to do with the advertising itself.”
Both Addante and Reed argued that the consumer dislike of display ads is not due to an aversion towards online advertising as a whole, but its current form. If the experience were to better serve their needs—to provide a valuable service rather than an interruption—it could revolutionize the entire experience into something wildly valuable.
Today marketers have an incredible amount of data, and more insight into their customers than ever before. We know who they are and what they’re searching for, and can leverage data to help them accomplish their goals rather than impede them.
Reed gave an example of advertising as a service: “Let’s say we know you’re looking for a hotel to stay in Barcelona. We’re going to serve you with an ad for a hotel in Barcelona with a great price, one that’s maybe even discounted if you purchase it directly through my ad as opposed to going to an online travel agency. I have now given you a cleaner path to purchase and made your life easier. That should be advertising as service.”
The Charge to the Industry
Reed called for all sides of the advertising industry to step up and help make this shift towards advertising as a service:
- Media companies: Create a better environment for advertising to live, with creative and non-invasive ad units that are relevant to the consumer and part of the flow.
- Advertising & creative agencies: We need better creative and more quality creative. In an age where we can segment and target very specific audiences, we will need a greater volume of creative and messaging that fits a variety of consumers and parts of the funnel — without sacrificing quality — to support more tailored ad experiences.
- Media-buy industry: The media industry sits on mountains of data; we know who our audiences are, the sites they visit and what they want to do next. We can even predict how they will behave, or what they’re going to buy. How can we use this powerful capability to deliver advertising as a highly useful service to the consumer, rather than just serve billions of generic ads in a status quo system?
There are many countless creative directions this consumer-first approach to advertising could evolve. For example, Addante suggested that the industry could develop a solution similar to providing coupons in newspaper ads, which shoppers used to cut out and save for later— “One thing to consider is that somebody may not want to take an action right now,” Addante suggested. “So we can ask something simple: ‘Why can’t I save an ad for later, when it’s more convenient?’ The action doesn’t necessarily have to happen right now.”
No matter what creative solutions the media industry comes up with, the focus needs to be on serving consumers, not just serving more ads.