ADVERTISING DEAD 1…or is adblocking not the end after all?

Advertising is getting a lot of stick again these days. For one fundamental reason: advertisers have by-and-large forgotten to engage, entertain and enthuse their target audiences. And therefore many people are frustrated with advertising and turning it off wherever they can. This is why adblocking came about.

Adblocking comes in two forms: First, where people turn on the Private Browsing, Incognito or Do Not Track (DNT) button in their web browser. This stops advertisers putting a cookie onto a computer so that the advertising that person sees is now random not tailored to the user. The other form of adblocking is to stop all advertising completely. Currently adblocking is mainly on Google Chrome and on Firefox, but Apple’s IOS9 will include a feature to block advertisements.

Adblocking is a growing phenomenon. In the US, 16% of people blocked advertising in Q2 2015 and the same report (by Adobe) estimates a global lost revenue of US$21.8 billion – which is 14% of global ad spend. And this is set to rise to US$41.4billion in 2016.

For those of us in the advertising industry this is terrifying. But it’s not new: everyone has always moaned about advertisements; the doomsdayers have been talking about the death of advertising for years.

Ever since the video recorder was invented, people have been “zipping and zapping” through the TV advertisements. Before that, we went out to make tea or simply swapped stations for 3 minutes or more.

Next, the internet was touted as the end of television advertising. Ten years ago, when I was living in Sydney, Australia, the acclaimed New York based business writer, Joe Jaffe landed in town to promote his new book, Life After The 30 Second Spot. Advertising as we knew it was in for a radical change, he informed his crowd. Indeed, he concluded his book with the statement, ““Today, some 65 years after it was first used, the 30-second spot is like Sean Connery – still sexy as hell but not much of a long-term prospect.” Well, ten years later, television ads still work, they are still “sexy” to many advertisers and they are still an important part of many a media schedule.

BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD

Digital advertising is all about niche advertising. And niche advertising used to be very expensive – because of the waste involved: in my early days of advertising, in London, I recall the one billboard that was always booked by L’Oreal before the Hammersmith Flyover. It stood out always among the car and alcohol ads. It was a very expensive billboard as it had a target audience of one: the president of the company, who flew in from Paris regularly and went straight to the office via that same road. Advertising on billboards for one person’s eyeballs is a very expensive thing to do. Advertising for the president is important. But what percentage of the budget should go towards that?

Sure, engaging audiences on the available mass media still works. Sales spikes after ad campaigns have run on Sheikh Zayed Road prove it. But at what cost? You see, in a given hour thousands of people drive past the ad and optimistically let’s say a few of those cars will have a passenger or driver who is in the target audience. And some will take heed of the ad and will have better awareness, better attitude and be more likely to purchase. But most people drive past oblivious. Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day.

The other way of niche targeting is to use digital devices. It’s widely considered to be a cheap and effective method of advertising.

And this is where the problem lies. Conventional wisdom positions mass media to come with a high cost and digital media as cheap. But as Oscar Wilde would say that’s the wisdom of a cynic, “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Both are poor value if the implicit waste is not managed. No one wants to be told a boring story. And it’s boring if it’s not engaging.

Advertising will live on. This is where good creative storytelling, coupled with good media targeting, will change the face of communications, once again. Today, we can drive better advertising – and better value – through being more creative with digital channels.

The writer is Managing Director of Blue Logic, a digital media and data consultancy.

A version of this post was first published in Gulf News‘ media section, September 2015.

Gulf News, 23rd September 2015
Gulf News, 23rd September 2015