As the digital publishing industry looks for solutions around the rise in ad blocking, many have turned to native ads to solve the problem. It makes sense, since native ads aren’t as intrusive as banners and blend in with the content of the publisher’s site, making the digital experience much more consumer-friendly and appealing to the reader.
Just look at BuzzFeed. The publisher doesn’t use banners and instead all advertising comes in the form of branded posts that blend in with the rest of its content. Brands like British Airways are able to woo readers and get them excited about traveling with 15 beautiful photos of scuba dives. The goal of these branded posts is to deliver relevant content that readers actually want to read. But, as marketers and publishers have become more interested in this tactic, software and technology is increasingly being used to deliver native ads to multiple sites.
While native ads can be a great way to engage audiences with relevant content, they are not necessarily immune to the effects of ad blockers. In fact, native ads can be just as susceptible to ad blocking as banners. The majority of publishers, including BuzzFeed, serve their native ads through traditional ad servers or even native ad platforms. And there is no rule as to what will trigger an ad blocker to obstruct a piece of native content. For example, a consumer can run an ad blocker on BuzzFeed’s homepage in order to wipe out all content marked “promoted by.” Similarly, CMO Today found that some of Yahoo’s sponsored content that appears in the same feed as real news is being partially blocked by ad blockers.
So if native is not the answer to ad blockers, then what is? Frédéric Filloux, founder and editor of the Monday Note, argues that, “The whole food chain is seen as way too tolerant of invasive ads.” The reality is that consumers wouldn’t be so concerned with blocking ads if the ads were better and provided some kind of real value or entertainment. According to research from Crystal, one the most popular of the early iOS ad blockers, found that half of its users said that they would be willing to view ads that weren’t too distracting, resource-heavy or data-intensive. Adblock Plus found that 70 percent of its users said that they were OK with ads that meet its “Acceptable Ads” criteria.
There is a growing resentment from publishers about advertisers’ reluctance to change how they approach digital ads to deliver better ads. Relying on legacy models in which agencies and advertisers spend huge amounts of money to produce big ads will not create a sustainable business model around digital. At the same time publishers need to revamp their sales teams and do away with old-school sales guys that demand high commissions, and instead train employees to be smart in Excel and trading desks.
The future of advertising revenue lies in consolidation and players will have to adopt a “less is more” attitude, selling less annoying ads for more revenues. Investment needs to be made in digital studios like The New York Times’ T-Brand Studio or at the Wall Street Journal Custom Studios, which are capable of creating highly customized and engaging ads.
The popularity of ad blocking should be a wake-up call to both publishers and advertisers about the state of digital advertising. The lesson is not that all consumers hate all ads. Instead, it’s that the industry needs to step up its game and deliver better consumer experiences. If publishers are serious about improving digital advertising and making ad blockers irrelevant, then they have to freshen up the ad experience. Otherwise, consumers will just find another way to retaliate.
Image via Nicolas Raymond