Could Agile Marketing Solve Ad Blocking?
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So, if you’re following the worlds of marketing and advertising at the moment, you’ll be well aware of the ‘problem’ of ad blocking. For those of you who aren’t, here’s a brief recap.
- In the beginning, there was an Internet, and people published content on that Internet for free, for the good of humanity.
- Over time, people came to realise that free wasn’t a business model that worked long term, and looked for ways to earn a living from the content they were posting.
- Some people tried charging people to access the content, in the same way printed newspapers and magazines had long been charging people to read their content.
- Unfortunately, that wasn’t very successful.
- So people then focussed on another revenue stream that publishers had been using for a long time; advertising.
- This worked fine, with big companies paying the content providers a small fee every time one of their adverts was loaded on a webpage alongside some content, or clicked on.
- These ads got even more complex, and pulled in information on each person who had one load on their screen. This allowed ads to be targeted at specific groups of people, something for which content providers could charge a premium., and so make even more money.
- The people being advertised to got wise to this though, and started using software that blocked any ads from appearing on sites they loaded. They did this because ads got in the way of their browsing experience, or because ads slowed down the time the content they were after took to load, or because downloading the ads used up the data allowance on their phones, or because they knew advertisers were scraping their personal information through the ad, or just because they objected to being advertised to.
- This of course caused a problem for the content providers. If fewer ads are loading on pages, or fewer ads are being clicked on, then they don’t get paid as much money. If everyone did it, you’re back to the original ‘free isn’t a business model’ problem.
So now the UK Government is making noises about ad blocking, and whether it should be allowed to continue, given the problem it creates for many online business models. In one sense, restricting or banning ad blocking software is a simple solution to a seemingly simple problem, which is often the way governments see the world. However, if you take an agile marketing perspective, it’s actually the wrong approach.
If you take an agile approach, you look at what’s really going on, and you look especially at the customer needs and customer behaviour. From this perspective, you don’t just complain that customers are blocking ads. You look at why they’re blocking them, and look to solve that problem instead.
Of course, the reasons customers are blocking ads are potentially numerous. However, often it boils down to the issue that the ads themselves aren’t very good. They’re not useful, they’re not entertaining, and they’re not providing the customer with value. One of the biggest issues in this is I suspect the whole retargeting issue. You’ll have seen retargeting. It’s when you look at a product online, and then that product follows you round the rest of the Internet like some nagging sales assistant that won’t take no for an answer. As much as it may convert a few extra sales, I’d wager it annoys an awful lot more people than it delights. On top of this, you get sites that fill your page with adverts you need to click to skip or close before you can access the content, or when you do get to the content, you can barely see it due to the banner ads that follow you up and down the page, taking up half of the screen.
All of this has come about because of advertisers and marketers bringing their old mindset into the new world of digital marketing. Previously, advertising was all about interruption. You bought half page or full page ads in newspapers, you put huge 96 sheet posters on billboards alongside busy roads, you filled advert breaks with your commercials. So they’ve brought the same approach into the world of digital, only in this environment it isn’t working. Click through rates on online adverts are really, really tiny, and there’s a sneaking suspicion in the industry that the whole thing may actually be a waste of time. So rather than take a fresh look at the issue, advertisers have tried to get more and more interruptive, and it’s no surprise that customers have retaliated by installing ad blocking software that removes all of these interruptions.
So how does an agile approach to marketing fix this problem. Well, first of all, it acknowledges it for what it is. People don’t like being interrupted, and they can now do something about it in a way they couldn’t before the digital age. They also don’t find digital advertisements particularly interesting, relevant or worth clicking on, no matter how much advertisers may try to personalise them. Until advertisers start to admit that their online advertising isn’t working, and may actually be harming their brands, then ad blocking will continue to spread and evolve.
More than this though, an agile approach to marketing would look to shape the advertising based on actual user needs. It would make sure the adverts were useful and relevant to people, that they were open about the data they collected and used, they would give the customer choice over what advertising they see where and when. Of course some people just don’t want advertising to be any part of their online experience, but I doubt they’re in the majority. Taking an agile approach would make online advertising relevant and useful to the customer through the use of user stories, constant testing and listening to customer feedback.
I’m not holding my breath about any of this. Changing the mindset of an entire industry to see customers as people to serve and collaborate with, rather than sell to and profit from isn’t going to happen overnight. Simply banning ad blocking software is a temptingly quick and simple solution to this issue too. Only I don’t think it really is a solution at all. The real solution lies in marketers and advertisers adopting the agile mindset. If you’re interested in exploring this idea further, click here to download Agile Marketing: The Incomplete Guide.