Digital advertising is at a crossroads. The two headed monster of ad blocking and allegations of click fraud have put advertisers and publishers more than a little on edge.
At stake are the prevailing economics of the internet, and at risk is nothing less than any entity that relies on the trafficking and trade of digital advertising. Which is to say, publishers, ad networks, ad tech infrastructure providers and brands that rely on digital advertising to generate revenue—and, to an extent, anyone who benefits from the consumption of free content. Which is to say, virtually all of us.
Allegations of click fraud have existed from the earliest days of the medium. And ad blocking tools have been available for nearly as long. Only today, as more engagement happens on ever smaller screens with preciously limited real estate, we’ve become more attuned to the conspicuous encroachment of ads.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer responded to the ad blocking problem by suggesting that opting out harms the web experience for audiences and the business models that enable media companies themselves.
She continuous with the moral argument that blocking ads violates an implied contract between publishers and consumers, where the tolerance of advertising is simply the cost of admission.
She’s not wrong, of course, but I’m not certain either of these arguments can adequately sway public opinion or materially influence consumer behavior.
Call it the tragedy of the commons. Like littering and cheating on taxes, violators act in their own self-interest based on the rationale that their actions are but a drop in the bucket.
But many drops does a bucket make.
The ad blocking challenge, in particular, has existential consequences. In my opinion, it’s a not-so-subtle message from audiences to advertisers that they must to better.
Sure, better targeting is one part of the solution—and one that relies on consumer cooperation. But targeting alone isn’t the way out of this predicament.
Many believe the answer is native advertising, where ads are woven into editorial and narratives in ways that are less interruptive, intrusive and, frankly, more difficult to block.
Perhaps. But I think the solution is more fundamental: produce better content to begin with. Anticipate and answer your audiences’ questions. Inspire, enlighten, educate and entertain.
Make it less about you and more about them.
When you start with what’s at stake for your audiences you earn the right to their attention.
But earning this right begins with something so many advertisers have forgotten: empathy.