People don’t hate ads, they hate your ads. Fashion can help you fix that

By Julian Baring, General Manager, North America, Adform

On a midwinter Sunday every year Americans cluster around their TV sets for the premiere U.S. televised sports event of the year. Of course, a huge number of the people who sit down, chips and chunky guac in their laps, to watch the Super Bowl couldn’t care less about the football. They’re there to see the year’s crop of better-than-usual ads. As a 2014 survey by Venables Bell & Partners showed, 78 percent of Americans were looking forward more to the commercials than to the game; 70 percent were even excited by the ads that showed before the game started.

A similar dynamic has long existed in the world of print. The lush ads, glamorously promoting clothing, beauty and luxury goods that – even in this digital age – still plump up fashion glossies aren’t merely incidental to those issues. They’re largely the point. People are often there to see the ads as much as any other media content.

Which poses the question: What if those of us in the digital marketing industry shifted our focus a bit? What if we thought of ads not as just an instrument for generating click-throughs and boosting CPMs, but as attractive, compelling and desired content like any other? What if we thought of these “brand communication opportunities” with the same craft as the producers of the Super Bowl do or Anna Wintour does?

Too many crappy ads = awful experience = ad-blocking – DUH!
The sad truth is that digital advertising right now is generally of poor quality. But if we thought of the creative product – the “ads” – as part of the content experience, perhaps we’d be compelled to make the executions better. We need to cater to the consumer’s experience, using the technology at our disposal to create compelling storytelling experiences ¬– via, for example, the high-impact executions and emerging technology we’ve got at our disposal. That’s a far better idea than using tech to follow users around the Web, hitting them repeatedly with the same creepy “stalker” ads.

To lay people (e.g. anyone not reading this publication), cross-device tracking and unique user-id’s sound like a scary step in the wrong direction: Another way to stalk users. But the truth is that if we use these capabilities correctly, they could actually be a boon to consumers. If we used the technology at our disposal to enable more creative story-telling where users consume media, and capped the frequency with which we bombarded them with the same creative executions, then maybe the idea of cross-device targeting and unique user-id’s wouldn’t seem so scary to the general public.

High-impact formats that allow brand marketers to communicate their messages in a rich story-telling capacity, sequencing messages along a theme or storyline to create immersive experience, would be awesome. Targeted, creative content experiences that are relevant to me make for good content and for good ads.

Fewer ad placements would also make the digital environment a more appealing one right off the bat. Less ads mean less visual clutter (and faster page-load times): There’s a reason why a full-page glossy ad still carries such mystique, while a classified page (remember those?) with two dozen ads on it screamed “cheap.”

More importantly, though, fewer placements would change the creative dynamic in the industry and give our creative brains an opportunity to shine. Give up bombarding people with repetitive boring ads and you’ll improve your users’ content experience and challenge agencies to produce more compelling creative.

More beautiful, user-friendly and compelling content would in every way present a better vehicle for a brand’s message – unleashing the creative genius that makes the advertising industry great.

We all share the responsibility
How did we get here? Publishers, agencies and ad tech companies all share the blame. Publishers share it because in the perennially hazardous financial environment they find themselves in, they’re trying to squeeze the last dollars out of everything they can.

Agencies share it because they’re shirking their duties to their clients. It might be understandable that agencies should want to maximize their clients’ ad spend, but that doesn’t make it right. Instead, agencies should be telling their clients this: “Instead of spending all your money to spray subpar ads at users, give a thought (and spend some budget) to create beautiful, thoughtful creative.”

And ad tech companies share it because they often encourage the pursuit of scale above all else. Scale, in fact, is at the core of the issue here: How can we scale something while also maintaining creative quality? That’s a question that’s relevant to the entire industry.

Saying we need to change the way we think about our work is one thing. Making it happen is another. One challenge is that there are lots of advertisers out there whose products don’t lend themselves easily to “beautiful” treatments, but that deserve marketing all the same. Again I posit that this is the perfect canvas on which to let our creative and technical genius shine.

Still, the direction we have to take should be clear and to some extent we don’t have a choice. The truth is that every time another Web user installs another ad blocker, they’re making that choice for us, on their own. But if we in the media make a collective choice to serve that user excellent, non-intrusive executions, maybe they will come around.

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