In 2016 the UK online ad spend was circa £10bn with 9.5% growth forecasted for 2017. This a lot of money for an industry where many publishers see reducing yields, some advertisers believe 50% of the ads are wasted and c30% of consumer use ad blockers to avoid ads completely. Considering ads from the perspective of product management suggests there is real improvement to be leveraged, with clear problems to overcome, and the need for a genuine value proposition improvements for users and advertisers.
This has not gone ignored by the online publishing industry, with some attempts to review the advert and encourage improvement, one such example is the “Coalition for Better Ads” - www.betterads.org. They have published findings from research to highlight which advert formats are "below what users consider a preferred experience". Their finding were 12 ad formats out of 18 tested delivered an experience not acceptable to the user.
Analysing the 12 ad formats delivering a negative experience provides I suggest these 6 guidelines...
- Don’t pop up or overlay ads over content
- Don’t have ads automatically play music or have sound
- Don’t have force the user to see an ad before letting them reach the content
- Don’t have sticky ads taking up more than 30% of the screen
- Don’t have flashing ads on mobile
- Don’t have ads that take up the whole screen
The biggest online advertising publisher in the world - Facebook - who generated $26bn from ad revenue in 2016 does not break these guidelines. Yet most online publishers break these guidelines. Why?
Content production is expensive, the higher yielding advertising typically breaks the guidelines but unlocks revenues. It may be tactical, it probably has a long term damage but it is difficult for publishers to ignore advertising options with higher yields.
So why don’t publishers copy Facebook and grow yield based on the level of targeting? In many cases the publisher either doesn’t have a data layer to offer sophisticated targeting or they don’t have the volumes to offer an advertising a meaningful purchase at such a targeted level.
Users blocking ads is driven by publishers braking the guidelines, the tactical short term win is on the way out. The industry needs to pay attention to organisations like the Coalition for Better Ads and innovate beyond ad formats to discover sustainable business models.
A sustainable business model is profitable, delivers a value to the all parties involved and has longevity. I know as an industry publishers can be more creative than exploiting users with clickbait and intrusive adverts. I feel the longer term win is increased focus on transactions and far greater collaboration between publishers enabling them to act together in the marketplace with the same scale as a web giant such as Facebook.