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Digital Advertising Burn Out and How to Avoid It

Advertising, and Digital advertising in particular, is going through a strained period at the moment – targeting options, inventory availability and audience data have never been better and yet according to a recent Kantar study only 11% of UK consumers can say that they actually like the ads they see.

These results are not unexpected, and are compounded by  the recent Ad Association  paper  indicating that public favourability towards advertising had hit an all-time low in December 2018.

There has been a lot of debate about why consumer appreciation of advertising is suffering, and the most cited issues are around intrusive ads bombarding users, consumers losing trust about how their data is used or feeling uneasy by overly targeted, personalised ads – all issues which feel very digital-centric. Regardless, a recent forecast from Barclays predicts 2019 digital advertising spend in the UK is still likely to experience double-digital growth. It is tempting to conclude therefore that the increased budgets seen in digital advertising directly correlate with the negative impact on overarching advertising sentiment.

Year-on-year growth

If digital has the potential to turn users against advertising so strongly, why are digital ad budgets increasing year-on-year with the ‘bigger picture’ issues remaining ignored?

The answer partially lies in the fact that sentiment trends are extremely difficult to report whilst campaigns are live. Instead, metrics which matter far less form the core of many digital media strategies. Data is central in digital advertising to demonstrate its effectiveness; however, this data is limited by the metrics provided at platform level. Too often, improving platform media metrics becomes the objective for digital campaigns rather than going back to a clear business objective. Click-through rate is a metric that is commonly referenced in this context and rightly so, but the same could be said of the vast majority of engagement metrics and even basics such as served (rather than viewable) impressions.

Consumers are often portrayed in the industry as wanting everything for free online. This rationale then provides a justification for treating users as ‘the product’ rather than the customer, collecting their data through all manner of underhand / un-transparent methods and focusing on ad revenue yields rather than user experience. This position is unhelpful as it effectively positions consumers as less important than the digital advertising ecosystem – clearly an unsustainable hierarchy.

Outdated Formats

Another reason digital advertising does not always resonate is simply that the creative formats available are outdated, particularly in display. The first banner ad appeared in 1994 with the first MPU (300×250) arriving shortly after. This 300×250 ad format, alongside other standard formats the 728×90 and 120×600 and larger ‘premium’ 300×600 and 970×250 formats, continue to serve as the default ad units for display advertising despite not having significantly changed since the days of Friendster and Lycos. Browser-based mobile advertising co-opted these outmoded formats rather than giving the issue any serious thought and even video ads are just as commonly hosted via standard format dimensions as they are in a bespoke pre-roll. When billions of dollars are spent targeting users with ad formats that would not look out of place on a GeoCities page it is little wonder campaigns can feel clunky, intrusive or worse.

So, what can be done about it? Some simple first steps are:

  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes – if you buy display ads but you have an adblocker consider why; if you hate a particular ad format outside of work but still sign them off within a plan then potentially reconsider. Lowering the levels of cognitive dissonance between the digital marketer and the digital consumer can only lead to good things.
  • Consider the size of your ad format – how long will it take to load and what will that ad have the potential to do to the rest of the page (e.g. split content in two, crash the page etc.)?
  • Think from an audience rather than reporting perspective – forcing ad formats to stay in view at all times, video formats to be non-skippable or relentlessly retargeting users who have visited your page may lead to a good short-term reported performance, but in the long-term could damage your brand
  • Be transparent about your motivations – if you are paying for an influencer to endorse your product, make that clear. If you are capturing user data, tell them and allow them to opt-out easily.
  • Tailor ad buying by channel and platform – buying ‘video’ can mean incredibly different things according to what and where the video is run. Take the time to ensure your ads are tailored to work well in their environments

Focussing on metrics that matter, using fit-for-purpose creative and valuing the audience experience above your weekly reports are not revolutionary ideas, but incorporating them into your digital advertising strategy has the potential to set your brand apart from significant portion of the competition. If you would like to discuss more ways to stand out from the crowd through a more sophisticated approach to digital marketing, the MediaSense team can help.


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