7 Things Publishers And Brands Need To Embrace In The Face Of Ad Blocking

on Content Trends

If you read the media trades, you’ve likely seen a surplus of stories on the rise of ad blockers; especially as iOS 9 has come out with ad blocking extensions.

Ad blockers are now being used by over 198 million users. Millennials are the most prevalent users with 41% of 18-29 year olds using ad blocking technologies. In the matter of months, ad blocking has turned from a marginally disturbing trend for ad-supported business models to a full-blown disaster that’s edging of the verge of going mainstream.

In order for an ad supported business model to thrive; consumers, brands, and publishers must have a symbiotic relationship.

  • Publishers need audiences to monetize.
  • Brands need access to publisher’s audiences in order to reach them through advertising.
  • Consumers need valuable content, which is free when funded by ad revenue.

Native advertising can produce a mutual solution for all three parties. Though native may not be a simple turnkey solution to ad blocking or the diminishing display ad business, it’s the most viable way forward for all stakeholders. If done smartly, native can scale and forge a genuine win-win-win for the advertiser, the publisher, and most importantly, the audience.

Here are seven things publishers and brands need to embrace in the face of ad blocking.

1. In-App Publishing Will Win On Mobile

Facebook Instant Articles

Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover and Apple News. These apps represent the new movement of publishing custom content (not just links) inside the walled gardens of mobile platforms. In-app publishing is important for two big reasons: Ad blockers cannot currently penetrate apps, and the content is highly native to mobile and optimized for the best user experience.

The demand for these offerings will increase as more users move more towards mobile. In-app publishing marks all the golden boxes; mobile, native, and ad block-free. If publishers and social platforms can strike a balance between mutual monetization and user experience, in-app will deliver enormous value to advertisers and publishers through large engaged audiences and premium ad rates.

The Takeaway: Yes, this could signify a risky transfer of power to social platforms, but brands and publishers have to be willing to let go of control of owning the destination. The reality is that we live in post-destination web where you must meet the audience we they live, not the address of your choosing.

2. Creating Billion Dollar Media Businesses on the Back of Native Advertising

BuzzFeed built its business off native ads like "Dear Kitten"

Publishers such as BuzzFeed, Vox and Mic have doubled down on native from the onset of their existence. Logically, modern publishers are not as worried about ad blocking as established players that mainly rely on display ad revenue. These publishers have grown thriving businesses by serving native ads that pay off their advertiser’s goals and actually provide value to their readers and brand.

Innovative publishers believe “advertising” is not merely relegated the right side of a website. Instead, advertising is more cohesive to their experience and can be as compelling as their editorial. Case in point; BuzzFeed and Purina’s Dear Kitten video generated over 23.6 million views and is one of the most viewed BuzzFeed videos despite being a "native ad."

The Takeaway: Native-first publishers have a gold mine of insights that the ad industry can adapt and scale. Perhaps the most critical learning they can offer is how Millennials, their core audience, view and react to advertising. Let’s not forget those “kids” will soon take over as the primary purchasers of goods.

3. Stand Up For Good User Experience With Programmatic Native Advertising

Perhaps the two of the hottest areas of media; native and programmatic appear to be colliding. This convergence is starting to deconstruct native ads into tiny little pieces; a headline, a logo, an image. From there the pieces are served programmatically based on a unique user’s attribution first- and third-party data, which its accuracy can vary greatly.

As a result of technology and algorithms taking control, these ads are often out of context. You may get scale and efficiency with programmatic native, but authenticity and relevance for the user frequently suffers. As Matt Crenshaw noted in a recent AdAge piece, as native ads move towards programmatic they’re beginning to look like Frankenstein.

The Takeaway: A potential programmatic takeover of native could fuel the user expectation that native ads are just as irrelevant as display, consequently subjecting native to wrath of ad blockers. User experience and data quality have be paramount to the future of native programmatic or else we may be pushing native off the same cliff as display.

4. Extend An Olive Branch To Ad Blockers

Ad blocking is an opportunity for native advertising to thrive

Judging by the developer of a major new mobile ad blocker removing his app after just 36 hours, it’s clear that most of ad blockers are not extremists. They’re not against all advertising. They’re against bad advertising that disrupts value from their experience.

Some segments of the ad blocking electorate will always defy anything deemed an ad, but it's safe to assume there’s sizable portion ad blockers that would accept a form of compromise. Here’s the proposition: replace annoying pop ups and "buy now" banners for sparingly served in-stream native ads that blend into the editorial nature and style of the site.

The Takeaway: Instead of threatening ad blockers with lawsuits, publishers and advertisers need to reach out to them to discover potential acceptable ad formats. It may be difficult to see the Venn diagram, but there’s middle ground with ad blockers, publishers and advertisers — it’s just a matter to working hard enough to achieve it.

5. Native Is Equally About Function As Form

It seems everyone tends to initially focus on the format of native, but underestimate the function of it. In order for native advertising to be intrinsically native, the content inside of the native ad unit must also amalgamate into the experience and environment.

Brands need to understand that the move to native means much more than a new fancy version of display ads. The content injected into native ads must be as good or better than the editorial content that surrounds it. It’s the only way a brand’s content can win in this new world.

The Takeaway: We can’t use native advertising to disguise overt sales and product messages inside of new formats or else native ads will be just as irrelevant as banners. Brands must double down on their content marketing efforts and resources. It’s time for brands to move beyond simply placing ads with publishers and start acting and thinking like one.

6. Change The Measurement Conversation: Impact Over Reach

Attention Web measures ad impact over reach
Impressions and clicks rule the media kingdom. Despite most media professionals recognizing that these metrics are shallow, consequential change to measurement has yet to occur. The answer to why we see sites covered with banners and pop-ups largely lie in the simple fact that CPM targets epitomize the ultimate KPIs for media agencies and brand executives.

The "attention web" has recently gained traction thanks to the endorsement of publishers such as Medium and UpWorthy. While a wholesale shift to metrics like “time spent” or “cost per minute” may not be the complete answer, it’s certainly a move towards meaningful engagement that doesn’t incentivize noise and a commoditized ad model.

The Takeaway: We’ve become over indexed for reach and lost sight of impact. Consequently, the web has suffered from the infestation of ads with little to no regard for meaningful user engagement. It’s been all about mass delivery and not the reaction to ads. We need to move media measurement beyond CPMs and CPCs to more customizable model for advertisers.

7. The Publisher-Agency Hybrid is the Future of Content and Media

Publishers like BuzzFeed and Vice are making millions from brands as both advertising vehicles and creative agencies. No longer are publishers only selling the real estate on their sites. The more innovative ones are infringing on traditional agencies by creating custom content for brands. But they don’t stop there; modern publishers also strategically amplify their co-created content to their tuned in audiences.

The value prop is very compelling: audience-driven content plus distribution. Traditional agencies can’t offer the latter unless it comes in the form of an incremental media budget. Agencies tend to be laser focused on a brand’s brief and product specs unlike a publisher who’s intrinsically incorporating their institutional knowledge of their specific audience in the content they create for brands.

The Takeaway: Brands and publishers have an enormous opportunity to come together to serve both their interests: revenue growth for publishers and more effective advertising for brands. As a result, the audience wins too because they’re now the central focus of advertising, not an arbitrary programmatic algorithm.

It's Time To Disrupt The Age Of Disruption!

Ad blocking doesn’t signal Armageddon for digital advertising; rather, it could be best thing to happen to digital advertising in years. Ad blockers push us to transform in an already rapidly changing industry. We can, and we must, change the current model and move from the age of disruption to a new era of human-centric advertising.

Advertising doesn’t have to be lame or disruptive; it can actually add value to the user experience instead of extracting from it. Pushing native to meet its full potential can bring back beauty and value to advertising. The time is now to fully embrace it!

Luke Kintigh is a global media and content strategist at Intel.

Recognized as a Rising Star in Content Marketing by the Guardian, and member of Onalytica's Top 100 Content Marketing Influencers, Luke speaks at prominent content marketing conferences and regularly contributes to industry publications such as Business2Community, LinkedIn Pulse, and the Content Marketing Institute.

Looking for the ultimate guide on content distribution? Download Luke's new eBook: How Intel iQ Does Content Promotion.