INFLUENCER: MNSTR’s Huw Devine on why ad blocking may be a blessing in disguise
In the early 1950s, American inventor Eugene Polley
was working hard on the Zenith Flash-Matic, a hand held device that allowed viewers to activate cells in each corner of their television set by “shooting” it with light beams.
One cell changed the channel up, another changed the channel down, a third muted the sound, and the fourth turned the set on and off.
In creating what we now know as the remote control, Polley also created one of the first ad blockers. It allowed audiences to avoid the commercial messages by ‘flicking’ channel during the commercial from the comfort of their seat for the first time.
“Without budging from your easy chair you can turn your new Zenith Flash-Matic set on, off, or change channels. You can even shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen” promised the advert, ironically.
However, despite years of speculation to the contrary, it seems people, for the most part, actually hung around during the ads — with only 14% change channels during commercials, according to a 2010 study by Nielsen
. That means that in theory 86% of the people that brands paid to reach via the television had some sort of exposure to their message.
For those of us involved in digital and mobile advertising, the picture isn’t quite so rosy. In fact, the statistics make for pretty grim reading.
put the global figure of internet users that use ad blocking software on their phones and computers at 198 million — a rise of 41% since 2014 — while Reuters
estimate that almost half of all US internet users block ads.
For publishers, the cost looks to be in the region of $22bn in lost advertising revenue annually — a grave challenge to the way journalism will be funded. But for brands and agencies, perhaps ad blocking might be a blessing in disguise.
Here are two thoughts as to why.
Stop polluting, start enhancing
When the first banner ad went live in 1994, the click-through rate was 44%. Fast forward 22 years and the equivalent metric is virtually at zero. In other words, we’re mourning the death of something that’s been terminally ill for a long time.
So as our traditional methods are being muted, there is an opportunity to build a more sustainable approach around things that people choose to be part of — even if only fleetingly. Things that don’t pollute, but enhance people’s digital environment.
BrewDog — the UK’s fastest-growing drinks company — is a good example of a brand that is built to withstand the shift to ad free digital spaces.
Whether it’s launching an unofficial bid for Scotland — the brand’s home — to host the World Cup in 2022, driving a tank around the Bank of England, launching a 55% beer in taxidermy packaging or developing the first beer to be brewed underwater, the brand isn’t designed to be shown next to the content, but to be the content. Stories, not sales pitches.
To quote Kevin Spacey, “the audience has spoken. They want stories. We just have to give it to them.”
Stop hindering, start enabling
Take mobile, where 79% of data downloaded when browsing the web is related to the advertising content of a page. In other words, mobile advertising doesn’t just visually distract people from what they want to do when they’re on the internet, but slows connections — and ultimately costs our audiences money in data costs.
That’s a pretty bad deal. And who could blame people for kicking brands out of the party because of it?
In the face of ad blocking, brands have an opportunity to reconsider this value exchange. To stop slowing people down, and start enabling people to do more, more easily, faster and more enjoyably. This idea — brand utility — has long been discussed, but the fact that Nike+ remains the magnum opus, ten years after the first iteration was launched says everything.
Now, we have to shift from the rhetoric of innovation to the reality — a more valuable, long-term role for brands, and a more exciting job for agency staff.
L’Oreal’s Make-up Genius shows the power of this approach. The app transformed a mobile camera into a virtual mirror — letting people scan their own features, browse a catalog and then virtually apply makeup before making a purchase.
The app’s been downloaded more than 10 million times, with in excess of 500,000 shares, proving that in a post-display era, great customer service will become our best marketing — and satisfied customers our most powerful media.
So it's time to stop talking, start doing...
The subjects above aren’t new. We’ve been talking about them for as long as I’ve been working at agencies. Ad blocking is just an acceleration to a new way of working. A better way of working.
The parallels with the music industry’s struggle with digital piracy shouldn’t be lost on us. Faced with a similarly vast problem, industry stalwarts like Sony busied themselves with creating anti-piracy software, whilst Apple created redefined the way people paid for and consumed music with iTunes— and stole the lions share of the music business in the process.
I know which side of the fence I’d want to be on.
To finish, a quote former U.S Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, “If you don’t like change you’re going to like irrelevance even less”.
Huw Devine - Strategic Planning Director at Paris-based agency MNSTR