Ad Blocking: A Problem in Need of a Creative Solution

Instead of Blocking the Blockers, Let's Focus on Making Advertising Better

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The adoption of ad blockers is climbing at an alarming rate, with usage doubling since 2013. The reason cited for this steep incline is that people hate advertising. Wrong. Sure, people hate irrelevant, intrusive and offensive advertising, but all you have to do is ask someone to tell you about their favorite ads and you'll hear a very different story.

It's true that we are moving into a period in which many more direct-to-consumer content offerings will become available, but it's also unrealistic to think that 100% of consumers are going to pay for ad-free content services. Ultimately, content will need to be paid for by someone and even the direct-to-consumer offerings will likely contain some level of advertising, whether it be dynamically inserted or sponsorship integrations. So let's stop entertaining the notion that advertising is going to go away and focus instead on improving the advertising experience -- both its relevancy and targeting -- so that, together with the content experience, we can truly delight and not alienate audiences.

A medium with a message

There was a time (and it still may be the case) that people were as excited about the commercials as they were about the Super Bowl itself. The fact is that strong, relevant, entertaining commercials have always done well. Great creative gets viewed, discussed, shared, talked about and remembered for years to come. In a digital world, the potential for creative to make a significant impact is even more possible. Unfortunately, that's not what most people are seeing now.

At its essence, advertising is a form of content. When we look at the evolution of digital content, things have certainly improved from the first generation of cut-and-paste online experiences. As professional content companies, we continuously experiment with ways to create the kinds of new and engaging experiences that are possible in digital media. And advertising must do the same. We need to set the bar higher to see advertising truly break through on digital. As with all other content, technology offers incredible tools. But tools have never been enough. Creativity is what's called for.

Invest in creativity

If we are going to shift consumers' opinions about ad blocking, we need to change their opinions of digital advertising. Like so many issues in digital media, it can be easy to focus on the technology and create a dynamic where we're focused on blocking the blockers. But technology is neither the problem nor the solution. We need to reframe the discussion so that we focus on creating advertising experiences that people actually enjoy -- those that are relevant, in context and ultimately enhance the overall experience.

And once we can openly address the underlying issues that are causing consumers to block advertising, we can invest in a new breed of advertising creative and in talented people who can create experiences that are memorable, sharable and yes, move product. Consider the amount of VC money flowing into the ad-tech sector. Now imagine if some of it were redirected to fuel a truly new generation of hotshop agencies, which put digital at the center of the creative experience and leverage the medium to its fullest. We'd be looking not only at a profitable investment, but an incredible opportunity to positively disrupt the marketing world.

There is a fear that with the proliferation of media choices, platforms and devices, we can no longer keep someone's attention for more than a moment. But in reality, people are consuming more content than ever before, including long-form -- even content marketing and mobile video. The strategy for success is the same as ever: It has to be great content, compellingly delivered. Unfortunately, particularly in digital media, there's a desire to boil everything down to the transaction. This borderline obsession with transactions misses a hugely important point: Every transaction begins with an initial point of engagement. We need to embrace more of a courting process and resist the temptation to abruptly attempt to close the sale.

It's time to pause and remember that at the end of the day, the media business is all about engaging audiences to consume content that they find interesting and compelling, and hopefully want to talk about and share with others. The rise of ad blockers has sent a clear message, and it isn't that people hate advertising. It is that the advertising and marketing industry -- along with their publishing partners -- have an opportunity to step up and create compelling digital advertising experiences. And we need to make that happen fast.