When it comes to digital advertising, the key to success isn’t in thinking of clever ways to display content, but rather in thinking like a consumer. This year global digital spending surpasses that of television for the first time; judging by how ad agencies have reacted to this forecast, especially in their commitments to improve digital ads by adopting new standards, you could be forgiven for thinking that digital might one day replace TV in effectiveness. But in their euphoric predictions, agencies seem to forget that we are not the consumer. Most people don’t want to be interrupted by advertising, targeted or not, when online.
Together, Facebook and Google accounted for 67% of digital growth in 2016, 18% of global advertising growth, as well as 93% of global digital billing, according to the 2017 Interaction Report from GroupM. Programmatic advertising is the “use of software to purchase digital advertising”, and this year will constitute nearly 80% of digital display spending. YouTube suffered a recent controversy over programmatic advertising placing ads next to hate speech. Several companies initially pulled their ads from YouTube until Google could prove they police their content satisfactorily, but despite the damage, many returned to the fold.
In March the Media Rating Council (MRC) released its new digital standards; the Association of National Advertisers called for seven of the “walled garden” websites to allow for independent audits by the MRC; and the Coalition for Better Ads pledged to improve the quality of their digital ads by adhering to new standardized measurements. These announcements speak to the fact that for many agencies, we can only create strong work, and must then hope our blood, sweat and tears didn’t go to waste when our efforts are displayed online. Although some may be wary of Facebook and Google as “too big”, the industry should temper its digital mania with the knowledge that these are the avenues where ads are most effective. If over 80% of Google’s revenue is purely from advertising, then most other digital may even be failing. Tightening up our own work is only part of a solution.
Digital may be a new frontier in the battle for customer attention, but unlike the passivity of television, digital is also an inherently active medium and lifestyle – stopping someone to show them an unskippable ad is more likely to irritate than interest, evidenced in the concurrent rise of ad blockers. Successful digital advertising must invite users to engage and, outside of the advertising industry bubble, this may be more difficult than it seems without a complete understanding and honest application of what makes the consumer tick.