You Can’t Avoid Ad Avoidance

In a twist on John Wanamaker’s famous quote, research suggests that more than half of consumers hate what advertisers do for a living. In an online survey conducted by Vizu Answers against a broad sample of more than 2,000 Internet users, 56 percent of respondents said they want to eliminate all advertising, while only 44 percent accept advertising as it is. Even more bleak, 72 percent said they find advertising “annoying” or “extremely annoying.”

While their dislike of advertising may not be new or even surprising, the degree to which consumers hate ads, and the actions they can and do take to avoid them today, is a concern for the entire industry.

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Asked which medium’s ads they “go to the most effort to avoid,” Internet outpaces all other media, with 36 percent of respondents choosing Web ads as the biggest headache, and 28 percent pointing to TV.

On a related question — “What media has the most invasive and irritating advertisements?” — the Internet again gets top billing, with nearly 48 percent of respondents choosing it. TV is no slouch in this category either — with 27 percent of respondents choosing it, TV ranks as the No. 2 most intrusive and irritating medium.

Consumers’ displeasure with TV ads led to 42 percent noting they’d “pay an extra $20 per month to avoid ads.” (That’s in addition to what they pay for cable.)

The marketplace confirms the distaste for ads, with one in five households owning a DVR — a device used to avoid ads as much as to time-shift media consumption.

At first I was heartened to see that only 10 percent of responding consumers were willing to pay $20 per month to avoid ads on the Internet. Upon further consideration, however, it seemed obvious that consumers would be reluctant to pay for something they now get for free. Some 79 percent of survey respondents said they already had a pop-up blocker of some sort, and 43 percent said they already had ad-blocking software.

By way of illustration, Norton’s Internet Security software had ad-blocking built in because, as its product people told me, “our customers wanted it.” And the increasingly popular Firefox browser has a simple, free and downloadable add-on that strips out display advertising on Web pages.

To be clear, while these ad-blocking efforts automatically strip out display advertising, the online advertising business model is not negatively affected because industry counting methodologies do not count blocked ads as impressions.

Ad-blocking data I saw in 2005 as CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau indicated that 7-8 percent of all in-page ads were being blocked (this didn’t include pop-up ads, just the graphical ads inserted in Web pages). Lest we think Google and search ads are exempt, 5-6 percent of those ads were estimated to be blocked as well. And these numbers were trending up at the time. A further view of where ad blocking may be going is that users of the increasingly popular Firefox browser were four times more likely to block ads than users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser.

Here’s a good question for marketers: What is the future of a business where the consumer hates your product — in this case, advertising? Or where the manufacturer of that product is unresponsive to the viewpoints of the consumer? And where, apparently, the provider of the product has no respect for the consumer’s time or makes any major effort to make its products relevant, let alone liked?

My hope is that this research, which should of course be validated by additional studies, causes the advertising industry to evolve its practices. Evolution could include reducing the amount of commercial clutter in TV, or further decreasing the use of irritating and annoying online ads. The need persists to address irrelevance and sloppy targeting of ads in all media.

Additionally, as I discovered in research for my book, What Sticks, 47 percent of ad campaigns analyzed did not hit a consumer motivation that mattered or deliver an ad message the consumer understood. By any measure, that’s abysmal. It’s even worse when you consider that the 30 campaigns analyzed were developed by major agencies for blue-chip advertisers like Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s and others.

As is increasingly apparent to everyone — and as this new research confirms — as all media become digital, the consumer is more in control than ever, and tools for ad avoidance are free and require little to no consumer effort. As a result, the advertising industry can afford less than ever to be unresponsive to consumers’ views and preferences. To be insensitive to them will be painful, costly and potentially devastating. Just ask someone in the music industry about the power of the consumer in the digital world.

Greg Stuart is a former CEO of the IAB and co-author of What Sticks: Why Most Advertising Fails and How to Guarantee Yours Succeeds.