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
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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.

Don’t underestimate consumer fatigue. Take a reader-first or content-first approach to determine what would actually interest the reader instead of blasting a promotional message. Is a banner ad most effective, or would the story be best told via video? Could you substitute your display ads for organic social posts and see a greater return?

Explore formative digital channels such as Quora, Amazon and even organic search to meet your audience members where they’re already searching for your solution. Once you’ve decided where to spend your budget, amortize your team’s non-working spend (the internal costs of producing an article, for instance) across an aggregate cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) or cost-per-click model to start accurately tracking the return on investment of your marketing efforts. Assess organic methods as rigorously as you would paid initiatives.

Use third-party verification

Social networks all have different ways of defining and tracking views and visits, and their numbers often differ from the referral traffic you see in your own analytics. Whether that’s the result of simple tracking differences or intentional inflation, the discrepancies have made marketers increasingly skeptical. How are they supposed to know the impact of their campaigns if the numbers all tell different stories?

Companies like Moat objectively gauge whether humans have actually interacted with the content. Moat recently partnered with Pandora and its advertisers to change ad billing practices so that advertisers are only charged for ads seen by users, not the number of ads served in total. As a result, actual view count is used to determine costs, rather than the algorithmic impression count.

People are more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad, so stop trying to deliver messages that no one wants in the most efficient way possible. Instead, determine where there is opportunity to provide your audience with a genuine value exchange and marry exceptional content with a performance marketing mindset.

Given recent news from P&G and Unilever, the future of advertising can look bleak. But with the right partners in place, a refreshed approach to content and distribution and intelligent verification tools, brands can head into 2018 feeling confident in their plans for this new era of consumer engagement.

Sean Tyson is chief strategy officer of premium content provider Quietly.

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