For digital media marketers, ad blockers are kind of the modern-day equivalent of your big brother blocking the TV during an advertisement while simultaneously taking your lunch money. Super annoying, and he prevented you from seeing your favorite celebrity endorse the next soda everyone would be drinking at the mall.
But for the majority of internet users, ad blockers are a welcome relief; slowing down the onslaught of unwanted ads and cookies and stopping distractions while online. According to an eMarketer report in 2019, approximately one in four Americans online were using an ad blocker, with a slight increase to 27.0% in 2020. The overall number of people using ad blockers is slowly decreasing, though, because the increase in ad blocker users is surpassed by the overall increase in internet users across all devices.
Why Do People Use Ad Blockers?
Understanding why people use ad blockers is an important step in rescuing your digital media campaign from ad blockers. For many, it’s about protecting their privacy and lowering the number of HTTP cookies that are part of ads. Others want to avoid malvertising: uncontrolled downloads, opening new tabs, and popups. For anyone who pays for bandwidth, avoiding extra usage is important. Some people don’t want to give companies a chance to make revenue off of their searches and clicks. Others just like the online experience better without ads—there’s less clutter, pages load faster, and it’s easier to read text.
One of the greatest opportunities here are the users who find ads annoying or irrelevant. When we make the ads interesting and directly related to products, services, and, information that users want, we can reach new customers (provided, of course, these ads aren’t blocked).
Solutions to Ad Blockers
Whitelist notices, paywalls and micropayments, native and affiliate ads, ad reinsertion, and anti-ad block technology are all suggested solutions to ad blockers—with varying degrees of success.
Whitelist notices rely on the actions of users to whitelist your site, which allows ads to run unimpeded. You use an ad block detection script to note when an ad blocker is running and to ask the users to whitelist your site. If you have a website that provides a great deal of value through content, this may work, but it’s only as effective as the number of visitors who choose to whitelist you.
Paywalls are often used by large media companies and publications. Every time you click on a news link and are asked to buy a subscription/make a donation to be able to read the full content, you’ve faced a paywall. Often, if a consumer can’t get the same information anywhere else, is very interested in what’s behind the paywall, or are motivated to pay for content that won’t be stuffed with ads, they’ll consider making a payment. Micropayments are also sometimes used in this manner. But for either to work, you need to be a strong, established brand with desirable content.
Most native ads work when they’re run on programmatic native ad platforms, although they don’t stop ad blockers. Affiliate marketing campaigns currently aren’t affected by ad blockers. Bonnie Harris writes for Business 2 Community that “53% of consumers are more likely to look at a native ad than a banner ad… and native advertising increases purchase intent by 18% over normal display ads.” Harris goes on to say that native ads “can help your business engage specific consumer branded content in a non-disruptive format that can be developed fairly quickly.” We’ll look further into native ads next.
Ad reinsertion is an ad blocker solution proposed by Eyeo’s AdBlock and AdBlock Plus services. In this case, Eyeo will reinsert select ads in exchange for a portion of the revenue generated by the ad. As you can imagine, this method is not without controversy, and it only works if the internet user has chosen Eyeo’s ad blockers.
Anti-ad block technology attempts to find ad blockers and block them. It doesn’t always work though, and when it does, the ad experience is often poor.
The Case for Native Advertising
In December 2019, Verizon Media released findings from their report about native assets from surveys across the UK, France, and Germany. Discussing the report, Anita Caras, Insights Director EMEA writes that “having native on the page increased active user engagement by 63% – suggesting that if done correctly having a brand present on a page (i.e. ads!) can actually increase the time spent with online content instead of turn people away.”
The Verizon study also revealed that the purpose for someone going online relates to how they respond to various ad environments. Someone looking for inspiration/ideas will respond more to things like native video or AR ads that grab the customer’s attention. If, on the other hand, someone has gone online for information/resources, they’ll respond better to formats with large amounts of information.
Native advertising isn’t camouflage or trickery, it’s authentic storytelling. It’s not an advertorial, a misdirection, or clickbait. Native advertising drives people to an experience, story, or entertainment that reinforces your brand narrative—the opposite of ‘salesy’.
When it comes to rescuing a pharmaceutical media campaign, there are some direct applications here. A patient trying to find general information about symptoms will respond to formats that present facts and understanding. A patient researching a specific condition will respond better to formats that provide links to treatments, prognosis, and specialists. As Caras points out, “Brands need to offer a utility, a service, something of interest or value to a consumer – if not then of course people will block you out.”
Using a native tiles format, where users can swipe across ad content, provides an opportunity to present product images/videos, dynamic messaging, specifics about treatments, diagnosis, and clinical trials, and 360° images—all very workable options for pharmaceutical advertising.
When native advertising is done well, it has the same look and feel as the content surrounding it, and contributes to a positive user experience. Colin Strachan writes for adCenter Blog that, “Native ads are expected to product 74 percent of ad revenue by 2021 because their click-through rate (CTR) is four times more than non-native display ads. Regardless of whether they are sponsored or their format, native ads are sure to bring in revenue if they provide value to your viewers.” (Emphasis is ours.)
The Case Against Native Advertising
Advertising—even native advertising—can be viewed as intrusive or misleading. In this chart from 2012, we can see how consumers see native ad types and how they feel about them.
Consumers who think they’re viewing non-advertorial content can feel tricked and manipulated when they realize it’s paid content—not a good result for any company. Even John Oliver had a few things to say about native advertising, especially when it completely blends in with news content.
There’s also a concern with ethics. Is it ethical to design your ad so it blends with content? Companies need to carefully think through their campaign strategies and be sure that the way they are presenting information is the right fit for their brand and messaging.
Tips for Native Advertising
You can’t create a native ad and pay to play it across all platforms in the same way. Take care to choose the right platform for each version of your ad. Look at who you’re targeting. The audience on Facebook is a lot different from the audience on Buzzfeed. People reading an article on healthy aging are different than those reading an article on One Meal A Day. Do you need to target by specific times people are on a platform? What about buyer intent, or location? The accessibility of your audience is different on different platforms, so make sure you’re creating ads that appeal to a specific consumer and then placing those ads where they’re most likely to be viewed and acted on—and not blocked!
Choose the best placement for your ad on each platform. A recommendation widget may work well on a news platform, and native tiles may work better on Facebook. In the beginning, use a small budget to test different formats and platforms until you can generate enough data to spend more in the places you know will work.
The look of your ad must blend seamlessly with the experience. As Neil Patel says, native ads “are a form of advertising that is so tightly interwoven within the site it’s being promoted on that customers can’t tell that it’s advertising.”
Native advertising must come across as authentic. Product raves and thinly veiled advertorials are absolutely out. Campaigns that talk about the real work brands are doing in communities, that address past mistakes, and that promote specific strategies of inclusion and justice are definitely in—as long as they are backed by real policies that the company lives out.
Always ask, ‘What will the user think of this content? Will they find it helpful? Misleading?’ The answer determines whether your native ad is effective and whether it’s on the right platform.
We’ve found some incredibly creative examples of Native Advertising on Outbrain, AdEspresso, and nudge where you can see how companies in every industry are taking advantage of Native Ad opportunities. The Susan G. Komen campaign (Know your breasts like you Know Your Girls™) is described by Outbrain as having a “cheeky, friendly approach to appeal to the target audience via native ads on AOL.” The page visitors click to is another great example of including real, usable content that doesn’t feel pushy.
Native Advertising: In-Feed Ad Units
In-feed ad units are one of the best native advertising options. According to Google’s own AdSense Help, in-feed can consist of “an editorial feed (e.g., a list of articles or news) or listings (e.g., a list of products, services, etc.). In-feed ads are native which means you customize them to match the look and feel of your content… Typically, you place In-feed ads in between the content of your feed, or where your feed begins or ends. As visitors scroll down your content they encounter In-feed ads. Because In-feed ads fit seamlessly inside your feed, they’re not intrusive and they don’t break the user’s flow.”
Google goes on to say that In-feed ads give a better user experience and are ideal for mobile. They’re much more customizable than standard ads and use “high quality advertiser ad elements.”
Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are all working hard to maximize opportunities for native ads—sometimes users scroll past more ads than content on their feeds, so it seems as though it’s working for social media companies and their advertisers.
Native Advertising: Recommendation Widgets
Recommendation widgets are usually found at the bottom of an article/content as a widget. Sometimes they are prefaced with phrases like ‘you may also like’ or ‘recommended for you’, and often these suggestions do appeal to the reader. They’re distributed by content amplification networks that handle the pairing of recommendations based on the audience.
Native Advertising Must Be Strategic, Authentic, and Informative
Choosing the wrong platform can backfire. If enough people comment and complain about the inclusion of an ad on a site, the site may go further than just removing it, and actually denounce the company and its policies. In an era where people are increasingly triggered and willing to speak up about content that offends, it’s important to remember that what your digital media campaign says and how it says it will always be under a microscope.
If you do choose to use native advertising to rescue your digital media campaign from ad blockers, follow this advice from Joline Buscemi: “Don’t create ads with the intention of tricking your audience. Those who can tell it’s an ad will see right through you, and those who realize it’s an ad after reading it will feel deceived. The negative view of your brand will stay after them long after they leave the page.”
As in all advertising campaigns, be authentic, provide real and usable information, and avoid anything that hints of deception or manipulation.