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Where Brands Fail In Online Advertising

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Where Brands Fail In Online Advertising

According to Statista, user penetration for ad blocking in the US grew 3% between 2017 and 2018 to reach 30.1%. In the UK, Emarketer’s latest data shows 22% of internet users are blocking ads. While the growth of ad blocker usage has slowed, it’s not insignificant, especially when nearly all of the four hours (on average) people spend online daily is paid for by ads!

In a recent post, Bob Hoffman celebrates the good of online advertising and reminds us that online advertising doesn’t have to:

  • Be despised by the public
  • Subvert democratic institutions
  • Enable corruption and fraud
  • Place personal and private information about us within the reach of criminals
  • Devalue the work of legitimate online publishers
  • Waste billions of dollars of advertisers’ value on fraud
  • Degrade our news media and journalism

So then, why do brands continue along such an erosive trajectory?

Brands would be better off if they knew where their ads were running, curbing the nightmare about brand safety in advertising. Audiences would likely see an increase in higher-quality content if brands were to pick and choose publishers based on their editorial merit and where the advertising could actually persuade and influence versus going after impressions and clicks at any cost. Would “fake news” even be a problem if it weren’t funded by programmatic ad tech?

But yet we continue to let the lineage of direct response win. As Hoffman says, “The bad kind of online advertising is only superficially advertising. It is mostly tracking-based spyware disguised as advertising distributed primarily by machines (“programmatically.”) The bad kind is the kind that the online media industry has defaulted to.”

Tracking is at the heart of the problem. The technology follows people around the web recording their behaviors and often selling that behavior without prejudice or user consent. Yet every time the tracking issue is brought into a discussion, it is opposed by leading trade organizations like the 4As.

Some technologies are trying to find a happy medium. Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus has unveiled a selective list of ad formats it will allow mobile users of their adblocking app to receive. Their Acceptable Ads Committee includes representatives of advertisers, ad tech companies, advertising agencies, publishers, academics, consumer advocates and members of the public, and has determined rules around the types of ads that can be visible, where they must be placed, and how invasive they can be. While this is a positive step for the quality of the online experience, it is a band-aid rather than a cure.

As a marketer, it’s easy to get seduced by low costs per lead, high volumes of clicks and what looks like good traffic. It’s worth it to spend some time doing pivots on audience sources because not all sources are created equal. If prospects and visitors from broad acquiring mechanisms aren’t doing what you want them to, it’s time to look at another method, and one which may cost more (and do more).

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