This post is by Stephan Loerke, Managing Director of the World Federation of Advertisers
By June 2015, almost 200 million internet users were estimated to be actively using ad blocking technology.
A week following the launch of iOS 9 in September 2015, ad blockers occupied first and third place in the most downloaded, paid-for apps across the entire app market.
These are very concerning developments for all responsible brand marketers.
The explosive adoption of ad-blocking solutions which we are experiencing today around the globe will disrupt the way international marketers communicate with the people of tomorrow.
So far, much of industry’s response has been directed at ad blockers themselves. Some have tried to use technology to circumvent ad blockers, raising the prospect of a highly damaging technology war. Some have launched legal proceedings, while a number of publishers have attempted to educate users on the consequences of ad blocking on the creation of editorial content.
All these responses highlight legitimate concerns around either the business models being used or the lack of sophistication of these tools, which often not only fail to improve the advertising experience but destroy it all together by blocking the good along with the bad.
However, they also all focus their attention on the symptoms of the problem and not the underlying causes.
As brand marketers it is incumbent upon us to consider the consumer first and to focus our efforts, not on the tools being used, but on people’s motivations for using them.
Research has identified a wide range of reasons why consumers use ad-blockers. Whether the concerns relate to quality, irrelevance, frequency or impact upon device performance, all are indicative of a common truth. We, as an industry, are guilty of losing sight of the importance of the consumer experience.
As a result, we find ourselves in a perfect storm.
We have created a complex and fragmented ecosystem incentivised by metrics and often guided by what is technically possible, much to the detriment of the consumer experience.
All of this has taken place at a time when both the online experience and product performance have never been so important in the mobile environment and when consumer control has never been greater.
Today, we cannot be adrift of consumer expectations without inviting negative repercussions.
Today, things must change, and for this to happen change must be embraced by all actors in the chain.
Change must be informed by consumers at the core, but conceived, implemented and monitored, not by any single entity but by industry as a whole.
Such an ecosystem should not be primarily guided by what is technically possible but by what enhances the online experience and drives value for the consumer.
It should deeply embed the principle of transparency, removing excess complexity and unnecessary cost.
That we have arrived at this point also raises broader questions regarding the role of brand marketers in guiding the actions of the marketing ecosystem and the harmful consequences of today’s increasingly aggressive battle for ad dollars.
Advertising is ultimately the responsibility of the brand. It is therefore incumbent upon brands to lead the industry as we move to a more sustainable ecosystem, an ecosystem which must, in all respects, be more reflective of the importance which brands place on building and maintaining trust with the consumer.
And so, as the international body for brand marketers, we challenge the entire marketing supply chain to demonstrate that they are putting the consumer at the heart of what they do and to be accountable to brands in the shaping of an online environment which enhances, rather than harms, the consumer experience.
As a first step, WFA will meet with our partners to begin work on the creation of a marketing ecosystem which:
- Effectively, and on an ongoing basis, monitors consumer sentiment and advertising’s impact on consumer experience;
- Identifies highly disruptive digital advertising and marketing practice and establishes, to the extent feasible, international standards that reduce or eliminate the use of such practice by brands and their partners;
- Provides tools to consumers, which allow them to express their preferences and choice on the type of advertising environment they wish to experience.
Ad blocking is a global disruptor and so it is not sufficient that these solutions be applied solely in a single country or across a single region. As such, WFA will pursue a global plan, which leverages the expertise and scale of the brands and national associations we represent around the world.
We firmly believe that advertising has a place in the future of the online world, delivering relevant and engaging campaigns, whilst supporting the growth of innovative technologies and the creation of quality editorial content.
Collectively, and with people placed firmly at the heart of marketing, we intend to embrace that future.