Two things dropped onto my metaphorical desk recently that deserve some thought. The first was the latest piece of work from Credos on behalf of the Advertising Association and presented at Lead 2016 at the end of January. This is titled ‘State of the Nation’ and it’s an analysis of how advertising is viewed by the public, by MPs and by people working in the ad industry. It doesn’t make for fun reading: more than 40% of the public and MPs ‘don’t enjoy’ advertising; 73% think it’s manipulative; and fewer people would recommend advertising as a career to a family member than would recommend banking.
Perhaps most damning is that one in three of advertising’s future leaders sometimes feel the need to apologise for working in the industry. Yet most respondents could rationally see the need for and value in advertising. But we have to work much harder at the ‘value exchange’ whereby people feel their time and attention has been properly rewarded.
Then, from GlobalWebIndex, came the latest figures on the rampant installation of ad-blockers; 38% of desk-tops and 37% of mobile devices now carry an ad-blocker. Only 21% of people said they weren’t interested in installing an ad-blocker. Could these two reports be in any way linked? I think so.
Ad blocking must be the most written about and discussed topic of 2015
It’s serious stuff and is preventing publishers being able to monetise fully their investment in quality content. Some have likened it to theft.
But it’s crazy to dismiss this behaviour in those terms when people are simply reacting to the ad industry’s inability to self-police or a media-owner’s cynical pursuit of the ‘investor story’. Although this is supposedly an issue solely for online advertising there are two important reasons why we in TV – and every other medium and marketing discipline – must understand the phenomenon: No.1, TV is online and will become so to an increasing degree; and No.2, there are crucial lessons about all advertising that we can learn from this mess.
The motivations to block ads are several and varied but not hard to understand by anyone with an ounce of empathy: concerns over data privacy; abuse of online behavioural tracking to retarget ads ad nauseam; bandwidth hungry ads that delay page loading and cost the user money; badly mannered ads that obscure vision, are positioned to promote accidental opening, difficult to close ads or – embarrassingly – autoplay ads with sound; the serving of malware along with these ads.
These are the natural concerns of ordinary people who didn’t start off as militant ad-avoiders, but who have been turned into them – by us. What were we thinking? Add to this advertisers’ concerns about fraud, non-human traffic and viewability and the headlines about the ‘adpocalypse’ coming our way make sense.
We’re not gloating over here in tellyland; we’re trying to make sense of the clues. The lessons that TV is taking from all this fall broadly into two areas:
Make TV ads that people like
We’re good at this in the UK. TV ads are the ones that 75% of people say make them laugh, smile and remember. People rewind them to watch again. People seek out their favourites and share them online. Even the average ones are tolerated. People skip the majority of ads in playback viewing (which are not counted and hence freeto advertisers), but there’s no sign that people are deliberately recording TV in order to skip ads. Levels of playback on equivalent BBC content are very similar to commercial TV.
We need to work tirelessly to keep improving on this standard. There are a few areas where we could pull our socks up a bit in my opinion: some sponsorship credits, some new to TV advertisers, some response advertising maybe. It’s subjective I know. We have more ways to make TV advertising special; new opportunities to explore, innovations – maybe a bit of collaboration with the broadcasters or a spot of interactivity – that can turn the ad breaks into a real event and something to be anticipated.
Brands should also exercise their conscience on every front: clarity, diversity, sexism, ageism etc. Not just because people will increasingly expect this from brands and reward those who play the game honourably, but because it’s the right thing to do. There’s a danger, when brands can get away with making video ads that wouldn’t get past Clearcast, to ‘push the envelope’, to risk offending and alienating parts of the audience. It’s not big and it’s not clever and it will eat away the high levels of trust that people have in TV advertising.
Make sure we deliver these tv ads in a respectful way
Even with a lovely ad in your back pocket, there’s lots of potential for all sides to mess it up still: misplaced ads, offensive contexts, overlong ad breaks, excessive frequency (particularly in VOD), unsuitable sponsorship vehicles, inappropriate use of targeting. Sometimes this involves a trade-off between volume and quality of inventory; we need grown-up conversations when this arises.
The issue of personal data is also becoming more crucial to TV advertising with the platform companies, who hold names, addresses, banking details and other personal information, able to deliver customised addressable advertising. Major broadcasters have also signed up many subscribers to their VOD services, allowing them to personalise advertising to an impressive level using first-party data, rather than using less reliable inferred data scraped from behavioural tracking. This data is precious and broadcasters are treating it like the gold dust it is.
What this means is that viewers aren’t resentful when ITV or Channel 4 require them to exempt their services from ad-blockers if they want to watch the programmes. This suggests that those broadcasters have got the ‘value exchange’ right.
So let’s all make advertising more likeable. Not only does it have the best chance of stopping the ‘adpocalypse’ in its tracks, other research that we and the IPA have done show that it will also make your ads work better. ‘Likeability’ is the best predictor of your advertising’s effectiveness. Your shareholders and your customers will thank you, and so will we.