At the dawn of the age of advertising, advertisers wielded all the power over the type of media that viewers experienced. Companies were not only the sponsors, but in effect also the producers and editors of media. Consider the Kraft Music Hall, one of the most popular variety shows of the 20th century.
These days, in the era of the Internet, media is democratized, and viewers are the ones who choose what they see, hear, and read. Advertisers are still critical to media—if only for their financial support to keep it running—but ad blockers have been threatening this relationship between content and advertisements for years, and they are suddenly becoming an even more significant catalyst of change.
Ads Versus Paywalls
Someone’s got to pay for media, and if it’s not advertisers, it’s you, the consumer. Arguably, the rise of ad blockers has allowed for more paywall-enabled media. Outlets like Hulu, Netflix, and most recently YouTube Red, make it the users’ responsibility to pay for the media they’re viewing. Even traditional publishers have taken to paywalling their media to fund it. And many content outlets use a hybrid advertisement/paywall approach.
The success of Netflix and Hulu prove that this business model can be successful, but this generation of consumers still has a sense of entitlement regarding content. Information has come so easily to this generation that they think it (and content) should be free. And it probably should be. Although some outlets will be able to get away with paywalled media, for the casual consumer, a paywall won’t work, at least not a full paywall. The New York Times, for example, uses a hybrid approach to digital media. Not only does its pages have ads, but certain articles require a subscription; plus the Times also features sponsored “native content.”
Circumventing Ad Blockers
Native ads are one way to circumvent ad blockers, but the same problem comes with native ads as with any other ads: Consumers don’t like them. In fact, while advertisers spend billions on native ads, they are doing so possibly without realizing that most users don’t trust sponsored native content. The trust issue comes from the fact that native content does its best to blend in with organic content, whereas traditional advertisements are typically obviously advertisements. So native ads come off as a sneaky way to circumvent ad blockers.
But advertisers can still find ways to circumvent ad blockers, not sneakily, but by considering the game-changing notion that they might make content that people actually want to see--in a way that can reach consumers organically. You have to create content that consumers intentionally seek out. And at the same time, you have to keep your brand in front of you at all times and maintain a sense of promotion; otherwise you’re not advertising. But there’s a delicate balance with this proposition. And that balance is between creating an ad and creating organic content.
The Fine Line
If you want to circumvent ad blockers, you’re going to have to advertise in a way that walks the fine line of this delicate balance. Consider the way that Snapchat has allowed companies to advertise on its social platform by way of branded geotags. In Snapchat, if users want to share brands’ promotional content, users can choose to do so. But—and this is the key—they likely will only choose to do so if the content is “cool” or aesthetically appealing.
This Snapchat, taken in New York City’s Herald Square, has an overlay for the fashion retailer “Express,” likely because there’s an Express Outlet just a few blocks away.
Walking the fine line between promotional and organic content can give way to innovative engagement methods. To take a case study from my personal experience as CTO of Imperson, we recently created an AI-powered virtual avatar in the likeness of Doc Brown for Universal, and while our intention was always promotional and ended with a call to action, the experience was fun and lighthearted.
Although it is a promotion, consumers choose to engage with Doc Brown on Facebook Chat because this is a fun conversation experience associated with a familiar character.
The new type of branded content is both shareable and promotional. It may serve to strategically position a brand or even blatantly sell a product. If, as an advertiser, you seek to create promotional content that users want to engage, you have to make something shareable. With the rise of ad blockers, consumers already have the choice of what they want to see, so instead of forcing customers to watch an ad they’ll hate, give them the choice to share awesome content.