Why No One Cares About Your Ads (and How to Change That)

After the Super Bowl, brands have hard creative realities to face

Headshot of Scott Swanson

“I’m only watching for the ads.” We’re used to hearing this on Super Bowl Sunday, that annual bright spot for an industry in the throes of transformation. But during the rest of the year, consumers swat ads away like mosquitoes—skipping them on TV, blocking them on the web, dreading them on mobile. Imagine a friend picking up their iPhone and saying, “I’m only using it for the ads.” Cue uneasy laughter—we know this will never ever happen.

It’s no mystery why consumers dismiss advertising; we are all overwhelmed by the deluge of marketing messages in our daily life. And while some ads are well-targeted (like the Chicco Fit2 Car Seat this new dad recently received from Babies “R” Us), the glut of irrelevant, under-inspired and, particularly on mobile, poorly timed and malfunctioning experiences persists.

The industry has been addressing these issue in various ways: speeding up creative delivery, enabling opt-outs and adding new data inputs to improve targeting, to name a few. But before any of these advancements can make a difference, it’s worth taking a step back to acknowledge a cold reality: No one cares about your advertising. At all.

This is not a swan song for advertising, but a reality check.

This is not a swan song for advertising, but a reality check.

To effectively influence consumers, ads require a level of receptivity and marketers optimistically overestimate its existence. It’s easy to understand why; modern advertising evolved from a system where ad space was carved out in advance of that experience. Expectations were set in a way that continues to pay off for traditional media events like the Super Bowl.

That said, 70 percent of media minutes are now spent on mobile, and the expectations that have been set in this environment are decidedly less popular. This puts the mobile ad at a disadvantage when it comes to creating influence—at best, it’s an uninvited guest. At worst, it’s an uninvited guest showing up with the flu and asking for a favor.

The challenge for advertisers is to ensure that they land on the productive side of the “uninvited guest” spectrum. Be it in the form of information, utility or entertainment, here are a few things to keep in mind to deliver value.

Start humble

Regardless of how established or adored a brand or product may be, know that you’re the underdog in the consumer/content experience. As noted earlier, people don’t pick up their device to see what rich media campaigns are supporting their favorite publishers and games. Keep this in mind during every step of the ad creation and delivery process.

Shine creatively

Put tremendous emphasis on creative strategy. Post Super Bowl, if you’re still talking about Hannibal Lecter as Alexa, or humming “The Time of My Life,” then you know that the magic of advertising is alive and well. Be wary of over-complicated processes and technologies that suck energy from the creative soul of your media investments. It’s the simple ideas—like a faux-but-fun Australian tourism ad—that get people buzzing.

Know when to hold ’em

Recognize that the ability to deliver an ad does not necessarily correlate to the consumer’s receptivity. Particularly in mobile, brands need to be able to tell the difference between the consumer who has time to go on the fun #TideAd journey versus someone who just needs a quick reminder to pick some up on the way home. This is essential to ensuring a positive experience for consumers, but also results in a more cost-efficient campaign.

It’s probably wishful thinking to expect a world where day-to-day advertising generates Super Bowl-level buzz, but there’s plenty of room for improvement where experience, influence and delight are concerned. By recognizing and embracing the reality that, outside of the Super Bowl, no one is watching for the ads, brands put themselves in a more self-aware position that, ironically, gives them a better chance of winning consumers over.

Scott Swanson (@swanson_scott ) is CEO of Aki Technologies, a San Francisco-based mobile advertising company.

@swanson_scott Scott Swanson is CEO of Aki Technologies.