Last week, Randall Rothenberg created tidal waves across the industry in his evangelical scorn of ad blockers, decadently indulging his peers in a diatribe about ad blockers' profiteering and subversion of freedom of the press. Though the significant rise in ad blocking has caused painful billion-dollar revenue losses for publishers and extreme divisiveness over potential solutions, the fresh introspection into our industry is more than welcome and long overdue.
Brands, too, are re-thinking their content strategies as a result of ad blocking. While consumers choose to subscribe to ad blocking for numerous varied reasons, three explanations we all can sympathize with include: ads no longer provide value to the consumer, ads have become disruptive to consumers' online experience, and finally, ads no longer resonate with consumers at an emotional level.
Fortunately, over the past year brands have taken this time as an opportunity to reverse the tide and explore innovative content ideas. Here are some emerging trends that marketers can apply to stem ad blocking inertia.
Long-form storytelling is making a comeback
Women Inmates, The Ascent, and Cocainenomics: What do they have in common?
These are all ground-breaking branded content campaigns that Netflix sponsored in partnership with The New York Times, The Atlantic, and most recently The Wall Street Journal to promote their hit shows Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Narcos. Each of these long feature articles demonstrates outstanding and delicate journalism on thought provoking subjects with beautiful graphics and deeply engaging videos.
Netflix's Orange is the New Black native 1,500-word ad included short-form videos that gave rare insight into individual profiles of women who, for example, transitioned from "a Hermes scarf, a Tahari coat dress, a pair of high heels" to shackles on the first day. Rather than cornering this ad to a 300x250 ad slot, the paid post appeared on the Times' homepage, "among editorial links to an article about a town's fight against pollution, an op-ed about the Frick Collection, and a travel story about Bolinas, Calif."
For advertisers, custom native ads like these are paving a new model for branded content. By delving deeper into interesting subjects and delivering value that readers expect alongside editorial content, brands will ensure consumers come back thirsting for more.
Deliver the right experience, not just the right message
Over the years, intrusive, repetitive, and data-intensive (rich media) display ads have led consumers to associate online advertising with annoying experiences and slow load times. Therefore, it has become incumbent upon brands more than ever to reset this perception by creating contextual, non-interruptive experiences.
This imperative couldn't be more relevant than in the context of mobile. When the Times reviewed how much of consumers' mobile data came from advertising in "The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites," the study astoundingly found that "more than half of all data came from ads and other content filtered by ad blockers." No wonder why consumers glommed onto ad blocking when Apple made it easier on iOS.
For "mobile-first" brands, crafting a light, yet engaging content experience will be vital. Additionally, Mobile Marketing Association found that marketers who ran mobile native campaigns at lower frequency (fewer placements and exposures) contributed to better overall ROI. Therefore, as advertisers plan branded content campaigns across both desktop and mobile channels, prioritizing non-interruptive, relevant experiences at less frequent times will remain key to keeping consumers engaged.
Along these lines, publishers should also think about how they can serve advertisers as a better conduit for good user experiences. Publishers such as Forbes are already experimenting with offering "ad-light" experiences that will likely prove to become sustainable, revenue generating models.
From pushing marketing messages to pulling on consumers' heartstrings
Jeff Bander, president at Sticky, perceptively pointed out that marketing is entering an era focused on emotion, so it behooves brands to adjust their measurement to align with this new reality.
There are many examples of digital campaigns that are following this trend. In a brilliant social example geared towards environmentally conscious millennials, the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund launched a Webby Award-winning #LastSelfie campaign that featured nine-second Snapchat pics of endangered animals. The pics included captions such as, "better take a screenshot / this could be my #lastselfie" and "Don't let this be my #LastSelfie." As a result of this campaign, the WWF achieved its monthly donation target within three days and animal adoptions through its site.
This campaign illustrates how anchoring content in consumers' passions and interests can be extremely effective in mobilizing consumers to take action, rather than block ads.
The ad-blocking phenomenon rang alarm bells against a slowly degrading user experience, and sparked new, vital conversations in our industry. As a result, brands have begun laying the groundwork for new models of consumer engagement. The key will be to partner with publishers that are also evolving their monetization strategies to offer lightweight and impactful user experiences. In this new "ad-light" world, publishers will no longer rely on volume and instead realign their product strategies to the shifting landscape. I look forward to seeing how brands, publishers and the tech ecosystem will band together to innovate a brand new content roadmap.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.