I’ve practiced this confession dozens of times. It never goes well. I thought I could keep it a secret forever, but it’s been eating me up inside. Finally, I’m ready to admit that I haven’t seen an Internet ad in six years. I am an Ad-Blocker. Imagine the toll this taken on my family – the countless discounts I never got, the popup subscriptions I never filled out, the Nigerian generals whose funds I never rescued. I’ve been living with the guilt of getting sponsored content for free. And, I am not alone. This is the end of many ad-supported businesses…and the rise of several new opportunities.
The last thing a third-party ad network like DoubleClick (now Google) or ValueClick want to tell their customers is how many impressions are not getting to those who block. If your company uses online networks, be sure to press the issue. If you have a business that relies on advertising impressions, get a BCG consultant or a priest because the grim reaper of commerce is coming for you.
To compound the issue, users are getting more tech savvy and likelier to fight online nuisances. Ads are to web sites what Hare Krishnas are to a quiet Sunday afternoon.
The news is not all grim. There are still plenty of users who don’t bother changing their default browser. They are likely to be older, less educated, less tech-savvy and prone to reading the Snuggie manual cover to cover. Their computer may be riddled with spyware, but their blanket has sleeves and they’ll be ordering a matching one for their cat…probably from a banner ad.
Another force working in favor of online ads is the sheer abundance of targeting data available. This allows for continued optimization and effectiveness, but on a shrinking base (in mature markets).
Like anything this situation presents a number of opportunities. I’ll share a few:
- The popularity of Firefox presents a compelling platform for developing useful add-ons. Apple gets all the glory, but Firefox has the numbers and a sexier logo.
- New rev models. Ad-dependent businesses need to focus on value delivered, not just impressions. Users have to want to see your ads. Offer them something in return. The social web is a two-way medium. One-way ads seem backwards and archaic. Deal sites like Groupon or Dealnews are good examples of opt-in ad models.
- Content embedding…in the 50’s I Love Lucy would stop mid-show to do a commercial. If it’s entertaining, people will come. Hire a comedian or an upstart animator. Think outside the banner.
- Consider hosting ads on the main site’s server (not on the ad-network), so blocking software has a harder time detecting them. I shouldn’t have given that one away…
- Focus on controlled, closed platforms that don’t let people block ads. Mobile carriers and Apple (iPad, iPhone) are notorious for this maniacal type of control. Be careful, at some point you reach a point of diminishing returns where ads compromise user experience, which will impair adoption. God, I prefer open platforms…but that’s a separate blog.