In their final post of 2015, Millward Brown’s Sue Elms and Nigel Hollis looked at two possible scenarios for the post-adblockalypse world – now they consider the consequences of government crackdowns on digital ads.
Scenario A was the ‘common sense’ approach, with publishers and advertisers self-regulating to limit the amount and intrusiveness of advertising. In Scenario B, it’s ad blockers that take the reins, as either ‘digital Robin Hoods’ or self-appointed, bribe-able policemen.
Here, we imagine a third scenario: a world in which targeted digital advertising is blocked altogether, and inventory restricted.
Scenario C: Doomsday?
It’s not unheard of for governments and industry bodies to pass legislation that regulates the advertising industry. Many countries have restricted the number of advertising minutes allowed per hour on television, for example. In the US, where this is unregulated, there are frequent complaints about the creeping increase in TV clutter.
Perhaps a closer analogy is to be found in the direct marketing world, where steps have been taken to prohibit intrusive or annoying corporate behavior. In the US, the Do Not Call registry prevents telemarketers overstepping the bounds of acceptability. The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and Direct Mail Preference Service (MPS) give UK residents a similar protection from unsolicited marketing.
What if digital advertising were to follow in these footsteps?
Much of it is of a similarly interruptive nature. People also dislike their online behavior being tracked – only 25% are receptive to ads based on their web browsing history, according to Millward Brown’s AdReaction Video study. It’s not inconceivable that the regulators will be moved to take action to limit and control online ads in their own backyard.
Is it really too great a stretch to imagine a world in which all addressable advertising is blocked? Perhaps the Nordic countries lead the charge by banning it as a public nuisance, and the rest of the world follows.
So, what does the ad world look like when volumes are restricted and targeting is outlawed?
Fifteen years of innovation disappears overnight, and we go back to normal display ads sitting on web pages. No more tracking and targeting. No more ads reminding you that you once looked at a brand’s website. No more creepy ads in your Facebook newsfeed. But no more useful new offers and ideas for consumers, either.
The move to addressable TV ads is choked off in its infancy. Publishers take a hit, and the amount of freely available digital content drops dramatically. Digital inventory goes from over- to under-supply, and prices rise. And because a proportion of any target audience will have adopted ad-blockers anyway, reach will be limited. What’s an advertiser to do?
Getting mass reach (which is still necessary to connect with those all-important light buyers) will become a matter of engaging people in the social domain with something that creates enough buzz to draw mass media attention. That will set the bar for creativity higher than ever, and take marketing full-tilt into the world of events and utility. Never mind Red Bull balloons; now it’s Red Bull rockets.
“For big brands and the consumers that love them, the post-adblockalypse world looks navigable – even attractive”
This approach will demand more than money – requiring not just big ideas but gigantic ideas so compelling that people cannot ignore them, and the organization and skills to amplify them.
But what if your brand and message are not well-suited to social? Exploiting the digital environment will take careful human intervention to engage ad-blocked audiences through more native means and trade, and to secure high-stakes ad inventory in long term deals. And if the cost of (now limited) online options rises beyond your budget, it’s back to ‘dumb’ ambient media like outdoor, print and cinema.
That may not be such a bad thing: for one thing, these media have a strong potential for ROI that’s often overlooked. Necessity is likely to drive some really brilliant offline creative ideas and executions, while those brands that do use online will deliver a more engaging audience experience. This represents a return to integrated engagement marketing, rather than a myopic pursuit of performance targeting.
And let’s not forget in-store. Our CrossMedia studies demonstrate that point-of-sale activities have a big impact on awareness, attitudes and purchase intent so marketers will double down on proven channels like these – using the pack and storefront to communicate as well as sell. The yawning gap between above-the-line and activation marketing may finally be closed.
For big brands and the consumers that love them, the post-adblockalypse world looks navigable – even attractive.
Those with big budgets will create blockbuster social engagement and high reach TV campaigns. The familiar brands that people want to engage with will continue to connect with consumers, who will continue to enjoy close, interactive relationships with their favorite brands.
But the brands that rely on web advertising to build their business are often smaller, with neither the budgets to cover inflated online placement costs nor the resources to create broader media advertising campaigns. A ‘blocked’ digital environment may well pull the rug out from under the entrepreneurial SMEs that are so vital to our economies.
“Global self-regulation now is better than the pain of fragmented new legislation later”
For this reason, we hope Scenario A prevails. Global self-regulation now is better than the pain of fragmented new legislation later. The endgame will be that advertisers and publishers get better at what they do, and accelerate progress towards a better online experience for users. Creative teams will do really exciting things with small budgets. There will still be life in the ad sector, and this will fuel a healthy publishing industry.
In Scenario C, we’d be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Targeted digital advertising brings good opportunities and increased ROI for all brands; especially the growing number that depend on the digital consumer economy. Losing that would be an economic tragedy.
In reality, Scenario C is unlikely to come to pass – but it’s still worth exploring the consequences of a very ‘blocked’ world. The consumer uprising against intrusive ads has to be a wake-up call for the industry. We want neither a police state nor a Doomsday scenario, but we’ll get one of them for sure if we don’t act now.