No crappy ads, no ad blockers

Ad blockers have done something right that the ad industry has to learn from: putting the end-user first. 

By Adrian McDonald, Chief Product Officer at Widespace

Time is our most valuable asset

Have you ever watched the movie Citizen Kane? As good as the movie is, it is extremely slow. In fact, you can look at anything from just 15 years ago and find that it moves at a snails pace. We have learnt to consume media at an unprecedented rate and there is no sign this will stop anytime soon.

When we click, we expect something to happen and to do it fast – something positive and engaging, not something negative. But a negative experience is what we are getting: pop-ups, redirections, full-screen videos eating our data, and being bullied into downloading an app we did not even know of or need.

We have become used to the power of choosing and being in charge of our media consumption, so, unexpected content like pop-up ads and redirections become a roadblock in an otherwise pleasurable and relaxing experience. Constantly have to “x-out” or click “no” or wait 30 seconds for pre-roll videos to finally be over ruins the atmosphere big time.

This is why ad blockers are becoming more and more popular.

They increased 41 percent globally in the past 12 months according to PageFair and this is understandable; it is a quick solution to a terrible problem. Ad blockers are pointing out the problem of our precious time being unnecessarily wasted with boring, irrelevant and intrusive ads. They serve their purpose of helping clean up the industry of bad user experiences and wasted time.

Linear TV is declining while streaming services such as Netflix are on the rise and it also has to do with time and choice. We choose when to take a break and for how long. The phenomenon of taking control over viewing is old – who does not use commericial breaks on TV to check their mobile or fill up on more snacks?

For their part, advertisers most often just simply do not know what they are buying when talking mobile. With little transparency and an ad industry that is moving so fast that they may not know what is a good placement or not, they end up spamming in places they would not want to be. It takes time and money to build a brand but it does not take as much effort to ruin it.

It is really a lose-lose situation; great content on sites and apps is reduced and people are leaving because of the bad experiences. Because publishers are choosing poor ad serving partners, they risk losing the most important revenue: traffic. And bad ads feed ad blockers, which in turn scare brands away from advertising.

Adrian McDonald, Chief Product Officer at Widespace

Adrian McDonald, Chief Product Officer at Widespace

Saving the world from bad ads

If ads were engaging, relevant and inspiring while also being delivered in a non-intrusive way, there would be no market for ad blockers.

Impossible? Possibly, but somewhere along the line the industry fed the problem by providing poor ads and a poor user experience. What it comes down to is quality in ad content and ad delivery. Some may argue they would always find an ad pushy and annoying. If the ad were to be served correctly, they would not even think of it as pushy and maybe they would not think of it as an ad at all.

We know ads can be great. We know ads can add value. We know it because we study behavior and we ask.

The contradictory thing in all of this is that technology and big data today makes crappy advertising unnecessary. There is technology to do advertising right, so why do it wrong?

Crappy ads with crappy delivery will of course cause problems.

Short-term solution

With this in mind, we also know that free is never free – somebody has to pay whether in time or dollars. Nobody should have to pay with time wasted on bad ads.

When thinking of the next step, we should do as ad blockers have done: think of the end user, think of the user experience. No, things are not as free as they seem but what matters is to at least deliver high quality and relevant ads to the right person at the right time and place.

This is a wake-up call to the mobile advertising industry. If we do not find a way to deliver relevant and engaging ads without ruining the end-user experience, we will all be extinct in the blink of the tech world’s eye. Because ad blockers are just the symptoms of something worse: the bad ad disease.