Digital advertising needs to put the user first

| Digital advertising

Over the past two decades, a series of digital innovations have made it possible for advertisers to reach global audiences with unprecedented speed and precision. But for all that these “programmatic” tools have done to drive revenues for brands and media companies, it has become increasingly clear that the entire media ecosystem has forgotten a rather important piece of the puzzle: the real, live human beings who look at the ads we serve them.

Don’t believe me? Try to remember the last time you clicked on an ad. If you can’t, you’re not alone. According to Google, the average click-through rate for U.S. display ads is a measly 0.12 percent, meaning that people click on just one out of every 833 ads they see.

After years of ad experiences that are irrelevant to the user, out of context, and not creative — and suck up their smartphone data — it’s no surprise that more and more of them are turning to ad-blocking software to ignore these messages.

If the digital advertising industry doesn’t want consumers to tune us out entirely, we need to start putting the user first, by delivering creative, compelling solutions. After all, even the world’s best data-targeting and media-buying tools will be ultimately useless if no one is paying attention on the other end.

Digital advertising needs new priorities for a mobile-first, user-controlled world

At this point, you may be wondering how digital advertising became so unpleasant. In order to find the answer, it’s helpful to look back to the early days of digital advertising.

When the web was first emerging, brands reached consumers exclusively on desktop devices. Direct response advertisers were the first to embrace digital, and primarily with the intent of getting them to click a link that led them to a website, perhaps to a product online. From this focus on ecommerce came ad formats like pop-ups and banners that were designed to get people’s attention at all costs. And while they evolved over the years, when publishers and brands started transporting ads made for the desktop to mobile devices, small screen sizes and more focused user activity made the ads even more disruptive.

It was only a matter of time before consumers began exercising their power over the digital user experience, downloading ad-block software on computers and x’ing out of mobile ads. In order to be successful moving forward, advertisers must acknowledge the user’s power by developing creative solutions that are enjoyable and appropriately aligned with the mobile devices people are spending more and more of their time with.

How new standards and interactive ad formats are creating better digital environments

Fortunately, all hope is not lost. In fact, many in our industry are already hard at work building exciting mobile-first ad formats designed with the user’s best interests in mind.

For instance, the digital advertising trade group IAB has spent the past year developing new ad units that can be used across publishers and devices as part of its LEAN Initiative. Crucially, these formats are being designed with an eye toward making them non-invasive, lightweight and opt-in — giving people a choice of whether they want to engage with an ad that won’t take too long to load or deplete their monthly data supply.

As an example, BMW has recently been testing a unit on mobile devices where a short animation plays out across the screen before disappearing into a corner. The ad momentarily catches people’s attention before allowing them to decide for themselves whether they want to tap on it to learn more about one of the brand’s cars.

Elsewhere, social networks like Facebook and Snapchat are leading the charge with ads that take advantage of the best aspects of their mobile-first platforms. With Facebook’s Canvas, advertisers can easily build immersive, scrollable experiences that load directly within the company’s mobile app when people tap on them inside the News Feed.

Meanwhile, Snapchat has leveraged its insanely popular camera to help brands create their own custom filters. A filter made by Gatorade for this year’s Super Bowl, which allowed users to take video selfies of an animated bucket of the soft drink being dumped on their heads, generated 160 million impressions.

Each of these formats gives the user’s mobile experience top priority while allowing the consumer to control how they engage with the ad.

Rebuilding consumer trust, one great ad at a time

Needless to say, a handful of great formats won’t be enough to persuade people to start paying attention to digital advertising all by themselves. But by devoting our time and energy to building experiences similar to the ones we mentioned a moment ago, we can begin the process of changing minds.

As Facebook, Snapchat, and BMW are proving, people aren’t averse to interacting with digital advertising so long as there’s something in it for them. For marketers, the time is now to start putting the user first and delivering the contextually appropriate, hyper-engaging ads we know you’re capable of.

Published on VentureBeat

Eric Franchi

Eric Franchi is co-founder of Undertone and serves as senior vice president of business development, leading the company’s relationships with its most important partners. A respected industry leader, Eric has been featured in publications including Ad Age, Adweek and The Wall Street Journal, and on stages worldwide including IAB MIXX, Advertising Week and Cannes. He has held a place on the board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) for several years, helping guide the digital advertising industry through a period of rapid growth and change.

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