Zombie ads

A little while ago, I did some empirical research on outdoor advertising. We travelled round Nottingham photographing every outdoor ad we came across. One thing which we noticed when collecting the data was that many outdoor ads are out of date.

Time and time again we saw adverts for movie’s which opened months before and special offers that had ran out. I’ve been thinking about these and I think the best way to describe them is zombie ads. My guess is that outdoor media owners have some low value inventory where it simply doesn’t make sense to remove ads but people don’t want to use the space that much. So once they’ve put ads up, they get left in place.

This seems like a sneaky way for advertisers to get a lot more exposure for their ads than they pay for.


Are ad blocker breaking the internet?


According to this report they are.

But it is wrong – I think.

First, if a website does work when an ad blocker is installed that could be because the web designers have put in a guard against ad blockers that stops the website working. Think of it like this: on some DVDs you can’t fast-forward through the commercials and if you try it just  starts them again. No one would say that trying to skip them “breaks” your DVD player. So the findings of this report might just be: some websites are designed not to work if an ad blocker is installed.

Second, a website not working is not the same as the internet breaking. That’s like saying, “My computer is broken” when your Microsoft Word shuts down unexpectedly.

Third, an ad block may stop a website from appearing in a user’s browsers in the way the designers of the website intended but that does not mean that it is broken from the perspective of a user. If users has made an informed choice to install an ad blocker, it is most likely because they want their browser to filter out some content. This might mean that some useful content is also filtered out but that’s the choice they have made. I’m sure many users consider this a minor inconvenience that is more than covered by the benefits of blocking ads or they wouldn’t use them.

Forth, and a bit ore technically, I take issue with this conclusion: “publishers whose content we access have the right to protect the Integrity and Delivery of their web content from any form of manipulation, change or censorship”. Really? Publishers have the right to deliver web content without any form of manipulation, change or censorship? Do you really mean that? So cyber bullying is okay? Isis videos? Child pornography? Good luck arguing that with the Chinese authorities? What is the content includes malware? Presumably you don’t mean this. You mean publishers have the right to deliver ads without interference.

Finally, it is a bit disingenuous to say that a webpage should be “delivered to a user as intended by a publisher”. To my knowledge, most ad blockers try to block third party content that is not provided by a publisher but one of their partners often without any knowledge or intention on the part of the publisher. I doubt that journalists are losing sleep that their articles aren’t read alongside ads served through Google.

Perhaps if digital marketers understood the difference between what they want to show audiences and what audiences want to watch there would be no need for ad blockers in the first place.

Superbowl commercials: It’s not how you start it’s how you finish

While it seems most people have moved on from the Superbowl, I’m sticking with it. Monitoring YouTube engagement a couple of weeks down the line shows some interesting things are happening. Without the driver of TV, the engagement with ads is changing in notable ways. The chart below shows the growth in views, likes and dislikes over two weeks. For most ads, there’s a marginal increase in the number of views and an roughly equal increase in both likes and dislikes. But there are some notable exceptions.

  1. Mobile Strike Super’s Arnold’s Fight has seen a massive increase in views. On Feb 12th, it had 51% the views of the number one commercial (Hyundai’s The Chase). Now it is at 90% of it’s total views! That’s around a million more views while the Chase has risen just 200,000.
  2. Colgate’s Every Drop Counts has seen a massive 238% increase in views over the last two weeks compared to the average of 117% for all Superbowl ads.
  3. People are growing to dislike Pokemon. It’s seen a 114% increase in likes but a 172% increase in dislikes.superbowl.jpg

Superbowl Commercials: The game in numbers

Along with my class at the University of Nottingham, I’ve been looking at the recent Superbowl adverts. Not being American/interested in NFL, we were interested in the engagement with the YouTube videos of the ads rather than the broadcast versions. The Superbowl commercials are a microcosm of the best and most expensive creative executions. But do they drive audiences to engage with brands?

This is incredibly hard to measure, of course. But we can look at the social media stats for an indication. Looking at the viewing figures from the first week, it seems to me that there’s a real “superstar” economy at work in adverts. The few standout ads, really outperform the rest.

In terms of overall views, this morning the most viewed ad had 24,116,618 views (Hyundai). The least viewed had  6,153 (McDonalds). As this chart shows, there’s a steady decline in between.


However, YouTube has a decent enough measure of the success of an ad – at least an indication that the viewer ‘likes’ it – through its like/dislike buttons. Generally, there’s a positive association at work between views and likes (indicated by the straight line on the graph below).


Put simply, the more times an ad gets watched the more times it gets liked. But this positive association is really driven by five standout performers who really drag things up. These, I would argue, are the superstars from the big game. They are (in order of most liked):

#Pokemon20: Pokémon

First Date:  Hyundai

Coke Mini (Hulk vs. Ant-Man): Coca-Cola

Puppymonkeybaby: Mtn Dew Kickstart

Ryanville: Hyundai



Tesco: The ideology of basket dating

In the 1960s and 1970s social theorists were in agreement: advertising not only promoted specific products but also promoted a way of life (commonly called “consumerism”). The idea, put very simply, was that advertising presented some overaching messages. For example, it always presented the consumption of new products as the solution – no matter what the problem was. Ugly: buy make up. Hungry: buy a burger. Thirsty: Buy a Coke. Lonely: buy a car.

This type of analysis seems glib and outdated now. This is, for the academics out there, another way of saying top marketing journals don’t publish this kind of argument. It seems too left wing. But I think this Tesco ad is a prime target for a return to “ideology critique”.

Here we see consumers with a problem: they are lonely. The answer is not to buy something to make them happy. But to trust Tesco to analyse their shopping habits to find them the perfect partner. The subtle subtext of this ad: we know what you want better than you do.

It is entirely possible for Tesco – or more, accurately, Dunn Humbly their data provider – to match individuals based on buying behaviour. Tesco doesn’t do this for its customers. It used the data for targeted promotions and behavioural nudges (think, “How can we get people to buy more processed food/fags/alcohol?”).

I would love to see an ad showing these processes and discussions. Instead we get a silly execution with some strange “Matchmaker/Psychotherapist” who can – supposedly – figure out people’s age and sexuality from one basket. Fortunately, all the people involved have model-good looks, otherwise this might be hard to believe.

Badvertising rating: pathetic.