Ad Blockers & Brands: How to Join a Party You are no Longer Welcome to

Vikas Mehta, CEO, PointNine LintasVikas believes in ‘omni-channel’ approach to building brands (vs. multi-channel) where delightful user experiences are built seamlessly around user-journeys

It’s Friday night, you have had a long, hard week. There is the most elite nightclub in town where you booked your place weeks in advance. You paid a ransom to enter the VIP section. You get there, dressed to kill, in a stretch-limousine. As you walk through to the entrance door, you are stopped by the guard and a rude awakening hits you. The guests are already in the club and have chosen to deny you entry. Sounds unlikely? In a nightclub, it is. However, if you are a brand and you replace the people in the club with your audience, you have just experienced what it feels like when an ad blocker blocks your ad.

In the last couple of years, digital marketers have had a rude awaken-ing. Google recently admitted that more than half of the ads (56 per cent) on the Google Display Network (GDN) were never seen. Over the last couple of years, the use of ad blockers has increased sharply on both mobile & desktop. By December 2016, there were 136 million users of ad blockers, with almost 59 per cent of smartphone users installing one.

Ad blockers are the start of an era, where people can and will exercise their choice of not wanting to be interrupted by ads. It is the time when media dollars are no longer able to buy you people’s attention and the entire framework of reach starts crumbling. This brings us to the real question; how do you get into a party you are no longer invited to? Here are two things I have found useful. Hope you do too.

Put Discovery above Reach

If you can no longer reach this audience do something that will
make them seek you out. People hunt for things that interest them (and your brand may not be one of those things). While seemingly simple, this requires a fundamental shift in how you think about marketing your brand. Brand communication starts with a product proposition, which leads to a brand proposition and through a consumer insight you figure a way for it to find a role in people’s lives. The rules of discovery are the exact opposite. You start with what interests your audience. Within that set, you find a common ground your brand shares with them and then find ways to weave your brand into that narrative, hoping people will get your product proposition.

Put Content above Communication (or Ads)

This bit is about the ads themselves. The people who block ads most of the times also search for content in equal measure. While these searches are unlikely to be about your brand, they could very likely be a subject relevant to your brand. A simplistic example – people may not search for Brand X shampoo, but they are likely to be looking for stuff around hair styling, hair problems, haircare and so on. In a post ad-blocker era, you are better off as a shampoo brand creating meaningful content about these searched topics than having your banner stand between people and the content they are actually looking for. You can use content to inform, educate, entertain or do something completely different and expect results as long as you’re putting people’s interest above your brand’s interest. In fact, if you do it well, they may just spread it for you, for free.

We need to keep in mind that if communication was the way to win the reach game, content is the way to win the discovery game

Now, assuming you make both these shifts, the next question – how do you measure its impact? Just like hygiene metrics for communication are reach, frequency, OTS and others; the usual metrics for content are views, likes, comments and shares. However, another easy way to see if content is leading to discovery is to look at search metrics. A piece of content designed to aid discovery of your brand could also be evaluated on basis of its impact on search volumes for your brand or a set of surrogate keywords.

We need to keep in mind that if communication was the way to win the reach game, content is the way to win the discovery game. In a time when consumers have tools like ad blockers to filter what they see (and more importantly, what they do not), intrusion without permission will be increasingly harder to scale or sustain. To find a work around against ad blockers is not about finding newer ways to intrude, but better ways to engage.