Once only used by a handful of techies with the right browser extensions, ad blocking software has been powered into the mainstream by Apple and Android, raising awareness enabling millions of users around the world to block those pesky ads and promotional content.

The Internet Advertising Bureau reported in July (before the release of iOS9) that around 15% of British internet users were using ad blocking software. That figure has grown in the UK  by 82% in the past year – that’s more than 2.3 times the growth seen in Europe and 1.7 times the growth seen in the US.

Pro adblocking advocates claim that ad blocking enables web pages to load faster and alleviates privacy concerns as well as focusing a lighter load on mobile data plans. Publishers argue that advertising sustains nearly all the content you enjoy on the web.

Here are my musings on the world of ad-blocking, and what you, as a marketer (and consumer!) should view it as:

Digital disruption helps us become more innovative

Ad-blocking is the latest disruptive technology.

Disruptive technologies are bloody scary especially if they’re threatening to a long-term revenue stream for your brand. But if you are not threatened by change, they can be a very good thing.

Disruptive technologies force change as they wouldn’t survive unless they had fulfilled a need. What was this need? Well maybe, just maybe consumers didn’t actually want to be bombarded with promotional material whilst they are happily surfing the web – not to mention having to sacrifice valuable data in order to support the very irritant that’s trying to sell to them.

Now that brands have realised this – its time to get innovative. Lets look at a couple of other disruptive technologies that were scary at first but have changed consumerism for the better.

Example – File Sharing in the Music Industry

Another famous disruptive technology pioneered by naughty entrepreneur Sean Parker was file sharing in the music industry. Again, it survived because it addressed a need. Consumers didn’t want to use and pay for the music the way the industry demanded they do. File sharing gave them an alternative in a situation over which they had no control.

Although there was outcry – the music industry had no choice but to reassess their business model and update it to fit with customer requirements? It ended up sparking a shift in the music industry’s offering that’s currently worth $6.9 billion per year, of which $1.57 billion is generated by streaming services.

Unfortunately, there were some casualties – did Woolworths and Our Price go out of business? Yes, but purely because music fans were keen to trade Saturday mornings spent trawling through overpriced CD singles for the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of Spotify. If Woolies had anticipated their users’ needs faster, they wouldn’t have been the ones to take the hit.

Example: Uber

Consumers were fed up of standing in the cold waiting for a taxi that a miserable telephone operator insisted was “just around the corner love”. They didn’t want to walk miles to a cash point, or spend hours queuing at a taxi rank. They yearned for the ability to know how long they’ll be when meeting a friend across town.

Unfortunately this need is greater than a consumer’s desire to “Save the Black Cab”. Uber have been one of those incredible companies that never stops innovating, from its “track my journey” option to automatic payment – it is relieving needs that we never knew existed.

Instead of protesting and lobbying, the taxi industry simply has to step up its game. Pushing a bill for a 5 minute min pickup time is a short term solution but defeats the point that consumers are not having their needs met. Some black cabs have already started to introduce apps and card payments (well overdue, surely?)  and are starting to recognise the need to listen to their customers in order to survive.

Ad Blocking WILL make Advertising and Publishing better

Ad blocking and content filtering is another disruptive technology born out of consumers’ frustration with being interrupted, sold to and disrespected by advertisers everywhere they go online.

It offers them the peaceful opportunity go about their digital business without constant nagging demands on their attention and data plans from brands who have nothing valuable to provide them in return.

Will the spread of ad-blocking hurt publishers and advertisers? Most likely but only if they continue to ignore their customers’ needs and pains.

Ad-blocking provides our industry with an opportunity to be innovative. To trial new solutions that work better for everybody.

Social media

A large opportunity lies in  improving personalisation and making more use of social media messaging apps. Platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp will be used to send relevant offers to consumers to avoid the ad blockers.

Personalised advertising will also continually stretch into the home via smart devices and the wider adoption of the Internet of Things – time to start exploring these now.

High focus email marketing

Brands should adopt a data-led approach to email marketing. This enables them to segment its audience and ensure content is relevant and engaging

LV ran an email campaign that targeted consumers based on the type of insurance they were interested in purchasing and their stage in the purchase journey.

In regards to user abandonment for example, emails were sent 24 hours after the user abandoned the buying journey, if a user did then not return to the site and complete their purchase within three days a follow-up email (‘retrieve your quote’) was sent.

The results were  impressive. For all initial abandonment triggers across the three products (car, home, travel) the following results were achieved:

  • Average monthly open rate: 51.1%
  • Average monthly clickthrough rate: 41.83%
  • Average conversion rate direct from email: 10.77%

Overall LV= made £198.40 for every £1 that it spent on the this email strategy. Fantastic conversion!

Taking advantage of  ‘digital fatigue’

It’s easy to be distracted by the digital generation, accustomed to using the internet regularly in their everyday life. However, there is such a thing as digital fatigue. At least a third of Millennials prefer using coupons, deals, and promotions they’ve received in the mail. About 90% of people aged 25 to 34 years consider direct mail to be a trustworthy source of information and another 87% prefer retail information in the mail. In fact, of millennials alone, 57% have converted to a sale after receiving direct mail.

OOH connections

The digital Out of Home [OOH] market will also be doing its best to attract marketers as a solution to ad blocking, especially those keen to reach smart phone users via Bluetooth beacon technology, for instance.

Growth and advancements in targeting, measurement and reach offer a serious complement to any marketing campaign. PwC recently reported that OOH revenue is looking at a 20% growth between 2014 and 2019 to £729m.

Digital outdoor is no ‘ad blocking silver bullet’, but it undoubtedly offers some additional ways to reach an audience. Every week we see further investment in OOH screen networks, accessing huge audiences via connected sites during people’s daily mobile screen journeys. And with no content blocking plans in sight, there is a clear argument that it should be getting a bigger bite of the online/video display budgets.

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