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The Dissonance of Ad Blocking

Acxiom Last Updated June 12th, 2020
The Dissonance of Ad Blocking

For many years now, an undisturbed harmony existed between advertisers, publishers and consumers. An entire media marketplace was built based on the simple equation that advertising subsidizes the production of the content consumers crave. Everyone seemed to be happy with this arrangement, until one day, consumers began singing a different tune.

No surprises here – this consumer revolution is certainly not new news. Those of us in the industry have discussed the meaning of DVRs, Netflix, native advertising, and now ad blocking ad nauseam. But while many experts are citing privacy concerns or bandwidth as the reason consumers are flocking to ad blocking software, the bottom line is that consumers are choosing to skip the ads because don’t believe the ads provide them with any value.

Whether or not they’ve embraced it fully, advertisers have known for a long time that they need to reach people where they are. And ad technologies that connect brands with individuals across channels and devices are making it possible to continue to reach people when they’re online, offline and on the go. Brilliant, right? Yes, and no.

In the musical world, dissonance is used to disrupt, to signal a change, to express pain, displeasure and conflict. Unlike days past, consumers today are not willing to wait while advertisers and their partners learn to play all the instruments now at their disposal. Ad blockers are the consumer’s way of signaling that all is not right with the equation.

Rather than discussing the ethics of ad blockers and the peril in which it may place publishers, this dissonance should be taken as an encouraging sign – it is an affirmation that consumers are now able to tell us what’s working, and what’s clearly not. And open communication with consumers should only be seen as a good thing.

It takes discipline to prevent advertising from sounding like a bunch of uncoordinated noise. Too often, the rush for marketers to demonstrate innovation and digital prowess has come at the expense of delivering actual value. To regain a sense of consonance with consumers and truly engage an audience, marketers should practice a few key techniques:

“Recognition Progression” 

What does it mean to recognize someone? If you recognize a face or know a name? Only if you are defining it in the most simplest of terms. In fact, recognition is a progressive skill with a myriad of levels ranging from basic to intermediate to advanced. Today, advertisers are experimenting with different recognition technologies and partners, but single-dimensional views assume much about consumers. Without a method to develop a more complete view that brings together information from different sources in a privacy compliant manner, you simply don’t have enough notes on the page.

“Volume Control”

The danger of not mastering recognition has implications down the line. Advertisers may believe they are serving impressions at one frequency, but without taking a closer look at their audiences, they may be serving ads to the same exact people at a much higher rate than they believe. If consumers are choosing to find their own ways to turn down the volume as a result, you can imagine why.

“Performance Practice”

As any performer will tell you, once you take the stage, it’s all over once the first note is struck. Audiences have little patience for advertisers who aren’t prepared to make the most of every interaction. Advertisers who are running campaigns without a closed-loop analytics environment, who aren’t optimizing the customer experience and learning to add value based on feedback they are receiving, are giving consumers reasons not to listen. Make every performance count.

In a follow-the-shiny-object environment, it’s easy to overlook that marketing is still an evolving discipline. The good news is that discipline, in the best sense of the word, can take us a long, long way. We will certainly continue to lament the consumers’ critique of advertising through ad blocking, and they will continue to create dissonance when the equation needs to be re-balanced. I personally look forward to finding harmony that works for all.