Why target people with ads who are turned off by targeted ads?

For several years the DNT (Do Not Track) initiative has been trying to formalise a standard feature for the worldwide web to allow users to tell a website whether they are happy to have their activities tracked by the website and their partner. These initiatives have been opposed by a group of organizations with clear interests in the digital marketing market (IAB in particular). They have confused, obfuscated and in some cases intimidated participants in the project. This lead the New York Times to describe DNT as a ‘slow death‘.

But, I came across this interesting study by Goldfarb and Tucker. Put very simply, they find that consumers respond best to ads which are contextually targeted or highly visible on screen but that contextually targeted and highly visible ads perform relatively badly. The paper speculates that consumers privacy concerns might be the explanation for this effect. A targeted and visible ad reminds consumers that the site is tracking them and makes them more critical of persuasive communication.

So, just imagine the power of knowing which consumers cared about privacy and “detargeting” them – but perhaps using highly visible ads instead. In the paper, Goldfarb and Tucker estimate that 5% of digital ad spending is wasted targeting people who are turned off by targeting. That’s a spicy meatball.

 

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 One thing which we noticed when collecting the data was that many outdoor ads are out of date.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.