The EU has outlawed network-wide ad blocking. But publishers shouldn’t just carry on with what they were doing in the pre-ad blocking era. The existence and popularity of ad blockers tells them that they need a fundamentally different approach.
The massive consumer uptake of ad blockers should be a sign: a sign that ads, no matter how great those who produced them think they are, are largely unwanted and annoying. By 2017, the number of consumers using an ad blocker in the US alone will be nearly 87 million! But, now that network-wide ad blockers have been banned in the EU, European businesses shouldn’t think that they’ve dodged the bullet.
For one thing, European consumers still have the right to install an ad blocker – and many of them have already done so. The ban only applies to mobile networks that want to block ads across their networks, and today’s digital-savvy consumers are likely to just take things into their own hands. But, hypothetically, even if ad blockers themselves were banned – though I’m not sure how this could be done – I’d argue that businesses still need to address their approach to marketing.
Online marketing used to consist of colorful banners, spam mail, popups, and sidebar ads. When the internet first became mainstream, these approaches worked – consumers were new to the internet, and flashing buttons and rare marketing emails were tolerated and even enjoyed. Now, however, internet users are not quite so naïve. They depend on the internet to find information, entertainment, and news, and ads are seen as, not only an annoyance but an intrusion.
For this reason, intrusive digital ads not only irritate consumers but damage brands. Rather than attempt to stuff their messaging down consumers’ throats, progressive marketers have realized that non-intrusive marketing – such as video marketing, social media marketing, native ads, and SEO – can go much further when it comes to spreading a message without negatively affecting their brands.
And there are other options available to progressive businesses, too. Paywalls, for example, are not seen by consumers as intrusive. Rather, they create an atmosphere of exclusivity and quality around content – particularly when coupled with free content. The Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal are all making use of this approach; whilst others, such as Forbes and 4OD, simply ask consumers to temporarily turn their ad blockers off, and remind them that their business depends on ad revenue.
Ad blocking exists. This shows us that traditional online ads diminish user experience and, in turn, damage brands. But this shouldn’t be seen as a scary prospect. It just means marketers need to get creative. And that should be exciting.
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