Is Content the Answer to Ad Blocking?

Patrizio Spagnoletto, CMO of SteelHouse

There is a thought in the industry that publishers are swearing off display. But are they really? With the rise of content marketing, native ads, viewability and ad blockers, it's safer to say that publishers and users alike are getting tired of intrusive ads.

Who Gave Display a Bad Name?

Is the negative stigma attached to display warranted? Maybe. But it's not the fault of the ads or the technology behind the ads, rather the publishers that killed the user experience. By their very nature, display ads are not completely intrusive.  As publishers began saturating their sites with ads, they made more money, but turned off users in the process.

Not surprisingly, the overuse of ads has opened the door for ad blockers. Although adoption of ad blocking technology currently is low, the topic is top of mind for marketers. And Apple is signaling a big change by allowing ad blocking via apps. With more people consuming content on their mobile devices, it's easy to see how display revenue will suffer -- combine limited real estate on a mobile screen with slow loading ads and it's no surprise this is going to be an issue.

So what next? Is the answer simply just to put more dollars behind content marketing?

Content vs. Ads

Content marketing is nothing new. It's been around as long as print itself. If done well, content marketing and native ads are a seamless part of the user experience, adding value for users.

With the billions of dollars spent on content and the rise of the native ad unit, advertisers and publishers have found a viable replacement for display. It even sounds better. It's not a coincidence that it's called marketing instead of advertising.

The key here is to avoid the same downward spiral publishers created with display. If publishers start loading up on poorly written and irrelevant content, content marketing will suffer the same fate as display - annoying consumers. Anyone who has recently looked at their Facebook News Feed would probably agree.

How to Value Your Users (and Drive Revenue)

If you look at television, it consists of stated ads (aka commercials) and sometimes product placements, both complementing each other and most successful when executed in moderation. The same principles should be applied to digital advertising by keeping current ad revenue streams and then adding in new ones, but all in moderation.

With this model, you have distributed revenue and the experience won't drive users to block or leave the site. Successful sites and campaigns will cater to their valued audience by making balanced decisions that look beyond just short-term success, and instead to long-term viability. This balancing act, the short-term vs. the long-term, is nothing new to ad tech or any other industry, but it's something that is easily lost in a constantly evolving and fast-paced environment.

The perception of ad tech only improves once publishers and marketers alike start to value the user experience alongside revenue. Of course, there are sites and advertisers that do this well right now, but maybe it's time for everyone in tech to see their customers and visitors as more than a means to an end.

Looking Ahead

It's easy to forget that in the grand scheme of things, we are still just getting started with social, programmatic, mobile, video, and content marketing. An unbelievable amount of change in recent years has not only created great opportunity for advertisers, users, and publishers, but also lots of problems. Attribution, creative development, campaign set up, and an explosion in the number of companies providing ad tech services are just a few of the issues facing advertisers and publishers.

Looking ahead, I see only more ad formats, on more devices, and more issues for ad tech. However, if you adopt the mentality that more revenue streams in moderation create a better experience and higher value for customers, then change will need to take place. I think the natural progression will be around vendor and service consolidation, as we're already starting to see marketers experience major fatigue from working with too many providers, and those headaches will only turn into migraines as more options arise.

It will be interesting to see how the industry and publishers evolve and adapt, but the inevitable conclusion very well could be a consolidated platform approach. And as for dumping the bad rap, if you ask me, ad tech will need to give marketers a much more efficient way to spend their budgets and build meaningful campaigns, all while giving users the best experience possible.