The current web ecosystem is in the midst of evolving to meet consumers on consumers’ terms. We have just seen Google is following in the footsteps of Safari and Firefox in planning to phase out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser by 2022. This is adding to the new standard for data privacy ushered in by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2016.
These changes have not come out of the blue. Rising public understanding of how their private information is shared for advertising purposes, following Cambridge Analytica, as well as the considerable increase in ad-blocking users over the last few years are testaments to the frustration users have felt with the growing frequency of intrusive adverts and more visible tracking mechanisms.
Advertisers are understandably concerned about these changes, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has added further fuel to their fire of concerns, with some reports suggesting that advertising budgets are expected to plummet dramatically over the coming months. Aside from the financial implications, the pandemic will also have an impact on how consumers work, what they buy, and how they interact with others.
In light of this dramatically altered landscape, we as an industry need to quickly acclimatise how we advertise to consumers with significantly altered needs, in a time where purse strings are getting tighter.
As such, there are a number of points advertisers must consider going forward if they are to survive, particularly the serial digital polluters.
Consumer demands now matter more than ever
The first, and possibly most important consideration, is that paying attention to the needs of the consumer is now more important than ever.
The recent wave of decisions around increased data regulation, such as GDPR, as well as the crumbling of the third-party cookie, are no coincidence. Users are demanding greater privacy – including transparency, choice and control over how their data is being used – and it’s clear that the web ecosystem is starting to evolve to meet these demands.
Additionally, in light of COVID-19, consumers’ online behaviour is likely to change further and become even more value-focused, while we might also expect their preferences to shift to different, more essential products. In addition, evidence suggests that consumers now want simple and reassuring brand messages about COVID-19, not for brands to disappear.
However, advertisers have not always been receptive to the frustrations held by consumers. But this will have to change going forward if advertisers are to survive.
The reality is consumers are now expect a meaningful and relevant experience on content and especially advertising. As such, advertisers must now bring the spotlight back on online audiences and identify them as people again, rather than amoebic pools of faceless cookies. Put simply, it will be essential for the industry to understand who their audience really is, what their preferences are, and how best to reach them. That is, just give ‘em what they want. The money will follow for publishers as the value increases for advertisers.
Hold that tiger: less is more
This leads on to a second (and equally important) consideration; namely a reemphasis on quality over quantity.
Previously, many have been guilty of littering web pages with ads at the expense of a respectful user experience. However, not only are consumer demands evidently changing, but the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that advertising budgets are being significantly reduced. This means they now cannot afford to treat it as business as usual.
However, there is an important trade-off here. While consumers now want to feel safe online and their behaviour is likely to now become more value-focused, they will still spend money, especially online, and advertisers still need to communicate with them as a brand to keep that money directed toward their brands.
This is where a more balanced value exchange will be key for the advertising industry. In particular, as budgets continue to reduce, the focus for advertisers needs to shift to ad quality rather than on ad frequency. In turn, this will allow advertisers to not only operate within their means, but also deliver ads in a manner that does not disrupt the user experience and respects the changing needs and values of the consumer.
Broadening your playbook
Reducing the level of online waste, focusing in on quality and putting the consumer first sound really great, but how can this be achieved in practice?
One thing advertisers should be doing to adapt to this new environment is opening themselves up to a broader and more innovative playbook.
For example, there are a number of technology platforms that will allow them to take a more balanced approach, such as working more closely with ad-blocking software companies. According to our own research, ad-blocking users tend to be younger, tech-savvy and more educated as an audience. Figures also suggest that they are comfortable completing their entire buying lifecycles online, which means that they are a very valuable audience to engage with. All they ask for in return is for advertisers to treat them with a more respectful advertising experience.
It may seem contradictory to say that advertisers should strive to engage with the over 200 million ad-blocking users and consumers who already block their ads. But now is precisely the time where they have to pay closer attention to them and their needs. In doing so, and by showing users a small number of ‘user friendly’ adverts, this not only helps to advertisers to consider the consumer and avoid polluting the web ecosystem, but it also allows them to touch a previously unreachable audience in a period of increased uncertainty.
Now is the time for advertisers to adjust to the new environment around them. Those that do will reap the rewards.
By Ben Williams, Director of Advocacy at eyeo
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