It might sound extreme to suggest that adver­tising could die but if serious actions aren’t taken soon the adver­tising industry is going to turn off consumers for good. Recep­tivity to adver­tising is essential for marketers to build brands and encourage purchase.

The recep­tivity problem

There are two vicious circles which seem to be fueling the recep­tivity problem. The first is the “share of voice” arms race as brands clamor to be heard. This tactic has been encou­raged by the proof that ad awareness impacts brand saliency and sales. Increasing clutter tends to lower ad awareness response, and with so many new channels available clutter has been increasing signi­fi­cantly. So brands shout louder and more often because they’re afraid of being out gunned by their compe­tition. Brands know that increased share of voice – over time – leads to increased market share but do they know that too much frequency in too short a time frame can have a negative effect on brand percep­tions?

The second issue is that consumers are suffering targeting torment. As online response rates have dropped, the reaction has been to target consumers more frequently and more intrusively. Millward Brown’s AdReaction Video report, a 42-country study, gives us genuine insight into the perils and promise of targeting. Consumers have a highly negative reaction to targeting that is perceived as intrusive stalking, but a more positive reaction when targeting is based on relevance and topics of interest.

The AdReaction Video study demons­trated that giving people more control over how they’re served ads increases recep­tivity. Two good examples of giving people more control are YouTube’s Trueview and WeChat’s Moments system.

Failing to give consumers control can have a very high cost. It was recently estimated that 50% of Europeans will be ad blocking in 2017 and that the US will hit the same level by 2018.¹

What to do?

The adver­tising industry needs to under­stand that conti­nuing to boost the volume and intrusi­veness of adver­tising isn’t going to engage the audience any better. We need to adapt to a new reality. Here are some sugges­tions for a better way forward.

Get more emotional

Brands need to change what they value and develop a more balanced way of defining success. Neuro­mar­keting has shown us the impor­tance of emotional connec­tions. BrandZ, a global study of consumers’ opinions of brands, puts a dollar value on brands based on their impact on brand strength, brand growth, and their ability to charge a premium price. Emotional measures should have equal weight to the transac­tional ones that appear to have become the favored – myopic – way to define “perfor­mance”. Share of heart should be as important as share of voice, emotional connection as important as transac­tional response.

Demand quality

Currently there is no real value placed on the improved return on investment of less cluttered and higher quality online publisher environ­ments. Less clutter means stronger response to adver­tising but it takes a brave publisher with a great sales team to push down this path, and make it work econo­mi­cally. Therefore adver­tisers need to play a bigger role in requiring and rewarding place­ments with less clutter, and more evaluation work to prove their value. This will improve the audience experience, protect recep­tivity and perhaps quell the blockers.

Max the mix

In today’s world brands need to assess and then use the right moments to talk. This means using the media mix to increase the likelihood of reaching a receptive audience and identi­fying entirely new moments to talk through media. Millward Brown Cross­Media studies show that brands using a media mix – which extends to PR and point of sale for example – increases brand uplifts. The award-winning print campaign by Nivea in Brazil, which gave parents the ability to track their children’s wherea­bouts on the beach using a print ad and a smart phone, is a good example of a brand finding the perfect moment to talk.

Engage, don’t threaten

Audience targeting needs to become more quali­tative because if it’s used in the right way it can be positive. The Millward Brown AdReaction Video study showed that consumers themselves are slightly conflicted in what they want and the sources of data that they’re happy for brands to use. The solution is for brands to use data to target judiciously and to focus on the consumer’s experience of what they are delivering over the volume of inter­ac­tions they deem to be “engagement” (which may simply be irritated consumers clicking to try to clear the ads away).

Listen to the consumer

Positive consumer feedback should be the test before any content in any form in any media goes live. However you choose to measure it, the consumer voice matters. It’s a small price to pay for a more assured return on investment, and to avoid worthless adver­tising pollution.

Go native

Native adver­tising – sponsored branded content – has more potential than is currently being explored. Media owners have some amazing skills which adver­tisers should work with to make the format work better, rather than allow it to become ad spam. A great example of effective native adver­tising is a recent partnership between Netflix and the New York Times, as part of the promotion of Orange Is the New Black, the show that looks at issues faced by women inmates in the US penal system.

Be remar­kable

It might sound obvious, but now more than ever, when there is so much compe­tition, brands need to focus on creating truly remar­kable ideas and experi­ences in order to cut through. Good creative lasts a long time and delivers a higher ROI. The 2011 People’s Car project in China was remar­kable in the way that it harnessed the creativity of the audience by creating a conver­sation about what a car could be, which then drove users to a Web site where they could actually build the car of their dreams.

If adver­tising is going to have a future, we should act now. The most precious asset for adver­tisers is the audience’s willingness to engage with their brand. Adver­tisers and media buyers need to change if they want to commu­nicate with a receptive audience.

Key Takeaways

  • Consumers are becoming increa­singly fed-up with adver­tising intruding in their lives, but their recep­tivity to ads is critical to success.
  • Share of voice, noise, frequency and intrusion shouldn’t be used as a substitute for thought and effort to create emotional – and transac­tional – connec­tions.
  • Under­stand what the consumer finds valuable and deploy it creatively across a range of touch­points to deliver a more positive adver­tising experience.

By: Sue Elms, Head of Global Brand Management, Millward Brown,