How audiences grew up: From passive sponges to empowered buyers

Rob Blake, GM EMEA at PocketMath, looks at the evolution of the relationship between advertisers and their audiences and asks whether the invention of ad blocking could be the most critical obstacle to date

The advertising industry’s relationship with its audiences has been on a rocky journey. From the assumption that audiences were merely passive sponges in the 1920s hypodermic needle theory era, to the Madison Avenue years, in which they were viewed through the bottom of a whiskey glass in Don Draper’s cigarette-stained office. Since then marketers credit audiences with considerably more intelligence, with huge budgets spent on segmenting, testing and feedback loops. However, recent developments in technology have led to what might be the biggest bump in the road yet.

Exasperated by the influx of intrusive and poorly targeted advertising content, B2B and consumer audiences alike have embraced the ad blocker with open arms. Demand for ad blocking is so high that browsers, phone manufacturers and even mobile operators have begun to offer, and implement ad blocking as standard at the network level. The power has shifted into the hands of audiences, allowing them to say, quite simply, ‘no thanks’.

This reversal is driving the need for a new approach to marketing. Publishers have spent digital advertising’s formative years devoted to what, in retrospect, was a gung-ho strategy, allowing a deluge of irrelevant adverts to plague users. To fight back against the ad blockers, advertisers must take full responsibility for the content they promote, harnessing new tools and technologies to ensure that their creative is both appropriate and targeted at precisely the right audience. Marketers are now faced with the challenge of positively contributing to the user experience of any given app or website, in every instance, without fail.

Here are three ways that adverts are failing to build the user experience today:

  1. Audience segmentation: Today’s business users are becoming ever more diverse, and the differences between them more quantifiable. But often adverts don’t reflect this, as they instead use generic messages that work for their audience as a whole. This is great for the mainstream, but wastes the opportunity to engage with individual groups.
  2. Platform specific content: The platforms on which advertising content can now be shared are as diverse as the audiences that use them. Mobile content has the huge advantage of allowing interaction with the user, while print is static and must include everything it hopes to convey at once, in the same place. Audiences no longer have the patience for boring adverts that aren’t designed around the platform they are using, and advertisers who fail to recognise this will miss a huge opportunity for cut-through.
  3. Real-time optimisation: Truly responsible marketing lies not just in the planning, but in the execution. The power that real-time analytics provides to instantly view the success or failure of a campaign allows managers to gain a bird's eye view of their efforts and funnel their content to only their most interested audiences. At the next level, this then allows advertisers to test creative, offers and messaging to see what works.

In the past, considerable percentages of marketing budgets would be squandered through the use of creative that isn’t targeted by device or by audience, using data from days or weeks before. Yet these tactics are still being used, with many marketers failing to embrace the true meaning of real-time and instead using a one-size-fits-all approach to content. Working in real-time should mean building campaigns that are proven to reach the right audiences and unequivocally demonstrate their effectiveness.

Marketers now have direct access to how their audiences are interacting with their campaigns and the decision is simple: listen or be blocked.