3 Ways to Stop Wasting Money on Ads No One Sees

Opinion: People are more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner

Only one-quarter of all digital ad spend ever reaches actual people
Damon_Moss/iStock

When Marc Pritchard uses choice language to call out the advertising industry, it listens.

As chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble, Pritchard manages a significant share of the global advertising budget—which is expected to hit $600 billion by 2021—and he recently issued an ominous warning: P&G would no longer waste money on digital media channels that can’t prove that customers are seeing its ads.

According to the Association of National Advertisers, only one-quarter of all digital ad spend ever reaches actual people. It’s no wonder more and more brands are joining Pritchard and reconsidering where their money is going.

Shots fired: Now what?

Most people don’t want to be bombarded with ads. In fact, they hate ads so much that they install blockers and abandon pages when they break through. Almost 400 million devices used ad blockers in 2016, and as 2017 numbers are analyzed, that number is only expected to rise.

As our optimization tactics become more sophisticated, we get better at targeting the very ads nobody wants to see.

Rather than paying to interrupt their online experience, smart brands are earning attention by offering people something of value in exchange for their time. But that’s a tall order when agency and brand goals aren’t fundamentally aligned.

Let’s take a step back for a second. In our industry, if 3 percent to 5 percent of our carefully targeted audience engages with a campaign, it’s deemed a success. But in what other industry would 5 percent be considered successful?

Another big factor here is bot-driven ad fraud. When bots make up more than one-half of all internet traffic globally, how much of that 5 percent click-through rate is from a robot? Enough to cost businesses $7 billion annually, according to Imperva Incapsula.

And don’t even get me started on the brand safety concerns recently vocalized by Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer.

It’s time to stop asking how many “impressions” an ad got. Brands and agencies both need to refocus on delivering experiences that people will appreciate and trust.

With most advertisers competing on the same points of differentiation, brands and their agencies need to shift their energy away from traditional ads and toward the strategic creation and distribution of quality content.

Agencies are good at identifying what the consumer wants, but they too often waste that insight on classic media buys. With so many organic social channels creating genuinely good conversations, throwing ads in the mix can ruin the whole experience.

The job of the agency is to come to a specific campaign with creative ideas, but they need to start addressing the underlying business problem itself, as well. And it shouldn’t take Pritchard’s announcement to know that people don’t like being interrupted by ads.

Thanks to rampant fraud, questionable ad placements and bot traffic, traditional tactics are falling on deaf ears. But what options does that leave for brands to make their mark?

These three steps will help ensure they’re not wasting money on ads that no one sees.

Find more specialized partners

Content marketing, experiential marketing and influencer marketing are all proving to be effective alternatives. Partnering with industry-specific agencies and contractors with niche expertise in your category can help you understand the specific needs of your target audience and develop more nuanced campaigns.

Large agencies provide good economies of scale, but no matter who’s executing the strategy, you need to come up with great content and then target, promote and push it out in smart ways. In many cases, smaller players are scrappier, more innovative and better at listening to specific audiences.

Change up your media mix

You’ve cookied them, retargeted them and now you’re messaging them in their personal inbox? It’s all so invasive and repetitive.