Brands using video to capture audiences online need to put quality, creativity and relevance top of the agenda, as new research reveals lack of attention in these areas is the key motivation for consumers to download ad blocking technology.
In the display advertising world, ad blocking is becoming an increasing concern for advertisers and publishers as consumers try to avoid viewing ads they see as intrusive or disruptive to their experiences online.
Drivers of ad blocking
In the UK, 12 million people use ad blockers, with an estimated cost to publishers worldwide of around $22bn (£15bn) in 2015, according to research by consultancy PageFair.
However, there are steps that brands can take to avoid the problem. Understanding what drives visitors of websites to ad blockers in the first place is a good place to start.
Research released last month by video advertising platform Teads shows that 79% of consumers would consider uninstalling an ad blocker if they were given the opportunity to skip or close an ad.
Being able to skip an ad from the start would also lead to 57% of those thinking about installing an ad blocker to reconsider.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of the 1,000 respondents say that intrusive ads were the biggest motivator for them installing ad blockers; for video, over half (52%) said that pre-roll is the most interfering format.
When asked to rank formats by intrusiveness, respondents select full-screen pop-up ads as the biggest issue, while 55% name video ads they are forced to watch as an issue on desktop, laptop and mobile.
“The motivators behind these ad blockers are annoyance factors – advertising that bombards you or is out of context,” says Justin Taylor, UK managing director at Teads. “We need to find ways that don’t annoy the users, and formats that users accept more.”
Taylor says that because consumers are media-literate, “they navigate and find the content on their own terms”. Brands and publishers, therefore, need to find ways in which advertising can meet these demands.
Lisa Tookey, commercial director at the Jamie Oliver Group, says content that “isn’t useful, relevant or entertaining”is most likely to drive people to ad blockers.
She says: “Retargeting can be invasive; just because I looked at shoes on a fashion site does not mean I want them to follow me around for the next month.”
Tookey believes the simplest content will “always eclipse the complex” and says that simplifying and amplifying is the brand’s mission for video content (see Q&A).
As an example she cites the video titled ‘How to make perfect scrambled eggs – three ways’, which achieved 3.5 million organic views on the brand’s Food Tube channel, and its ‘One Cup Pancakes’ videos that have been viewed more than five million times on Instagram.
Last month, the brand also launched a 360-degree video on its Drinks Tube channel in partnership with Bacardi, as part of a three-year deal between the two brands to encourage cocktail making at home.
Marketers’ interest in display advertising, particularly video, continues to grow despite the issues around ad blocking.
Statistics show that display advertising revenues grew at more than twice the overall digital rate (27.5%) to reach £1.31bn in 2015, which is 33% of total digital ad spend and its largest-ever share, according to the latest Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) UK Digital Adspend report, conducted by PwC.
Within display, video ad spend grew 56% to £292m, accounting for 22% of display revenue. The IAB believes video content is growing at £1bn a year and could achieve a market share of 50% by 2020.
The report also shows that native advertising and content grew 50% to £325m, accounting for 25% of display revenue. Given this growth, the advertising industry is in desperate need of a response to ad blocking – and the answer may be to focus on the quality of creative.
Last month, Tim Schumacher, chairman of AdBlock Plus, advised marketers to “get creative or get lost”, and challenged creators of online advertising to create better advertising.
However, ad blocking is not a new problem. Jill Gray, creative strategist at Facebook’s Creative Shop, argues that “people have been fast-forwarding through TV adverts and tossing direct mail into recycling for years”.
“The underlying truth remains; people don’t enjoy ads they don’t like,” says Gray. “They are far more likely to engage with advertising experiences that complement, rather than disrupt.”
In order to strike the right balance, she advises brands to “combine the best craft and creativity with equal personalisation and insights”.
Jon O’Donnell, group commercial director at ESI Media, owner of the Evening Standard and The Independent, says the issues around ad blocking act as “a wake up call” and that it is “time to clean house”.
ESI is increasingly using video to answer brand briefs and is therefore hiring people with video creation skills. O’Donnell says: “There are things as an industry we should be trying to fix. The reason people ad block is not necessarily because they are not interested in engaging with brands, though some people aren’t, it’s that they hate badly made ads.”
He says publishers have a duty to try to help brands use sites more creatively because “a lot of advertising is lazy” display and pre-roll video. “Quite a lot of [online advertising] is just reformatted and repurposed TV and print ads and people don’t engage in the digital space in that way,” he adds.
ESI aims to help brands and agencies to approach it from a different angle, which will be beneficial to both parties.
Looking at the technical quality of the advertising being served to consumers is another logical step to solve annoyance factors.
“It’s the same problem with video as with other types of advertising but with extra issues added in for good measure,” explains Jeremy Makin, EMEA vice-president of advertising sales at digital news organisation IBT Media.
He says: “Irrelevance, poor execution, slow load speeds, and overlong formats lie at the core of the problem, but with autoplay, data usage and sound on [as default] jostling for position.”
Makin believes the industry needs to work proactively to “stop the rot” by improving load times and reducing the number of ads and the amount of ad tech deployed to serve them. He believes tighter controls on obtrusive ad formats should also be introduced, as should data solutions to increase the relevance of ads to consumers.
Mobile is the most affected channel for ad blocking, according to the Teads research, which shows that the majority of consumers find ads more intrusive on mobile devices – 71% of those with ad blockers installed on mobile devices say this. Nicolas Pochez, managing director UK and Ireland at mobile games developer Gameloft, believes that quality control is vital for mobile experiences.
“We approach the development of in-game advertising formats in the same way as the game itself, with an absolute focus on quality control,” he says. “One of the main considerations when developing in-game solutions is to integrate them as seamlessly as possible.”
Another approach is to incentivise the viewing of video as this “encourages gamers to watch video ads through to completion,” according to Pochez.
Getting around ad blockers
Native and ‘in-stream’ content are methods of bypassing ad blocking technology.
Last year, online video platform Brightcove launched Lift to defeat ad blockers by delivering a TV-like ad experience for viewers which integrates content with the ad so that it is “stitched together in one stream” and “presented immediately” to avoid a “lumpy experience”, according to Luke Gaydon, vice-president of OTT solutions at Brightcove.
Ad blockers look for a call or request from an ad server and block that from happening, but with Lift the request is being made in a different point where it is not possible to block it, therefore the ad is able to play.
It is not just about tricking the system, Gaydon claims. He says the technology removes “those jarring moments where there is a mismatch in terms of quality between ad content and [actual] content”.
Brendan Murphy, product manager of Video at Vox Media, which owns brands such as The Verge and Vox.com, uses the technology and claims to be able to deliver “a mobile ad experience without compromising user experience”.
Native content is another option as the Teads research shows that native video formats are perceived as less intrusive. Nearly half (48%) of respondents say that pre-roll on mobile is intrusive compared to only 23% who say this about in-article native video, rising slightly to 24% for desktop or laptop viewing.
However, this does not necessarily mean that all marketers should rush to use this type of content. “We should deploy native solutions but do it carefully and well,” advises Makin at IBT. “We need to think about the brand and messaging and, crucially, think about how this relates to our audience.
“Publishers should find the relevance between brand and reader and leverage it. Importantly, if there isn’t [a connection], no matter how hard they look, how creative they are and how much money is on the table, then they should walk away.”
Taylor at Teads does not believe “everything will become native” but says ads will become “more intuitive to the form and the function of the device of the screen” a consumer is viewing.
Ad blocking might not be the internet apocalypse it was predicted to be last year but marketers should still be looking at how this affects the need to make video ads as creative as possible, and ensure they fit the content around them as well as the screen the end user accesses it on.
Q&A: Lisa Tookey, commercial director at the Jamie Oliver Group
What kind of video content works for the brand?
We want people to be inspired to get into food and have a conversation with them. What we don’t want to be is preachy, so above all else our content has to be entertaining and be fit for purpose and platform.
Our audience will always come first and they are a vocal bunch. We listen to what they want and overlay that with data, so we know the next piece of content they want to watch before they search for it.
Where is this content placed, how do you ensure it’s relevant and contextual?
Every piece of content we produce is re-edited for all social platforms. Data and a deep understanding of our audience ensure it’s relevant by applying science, though gut instinct plays a huge part in what we create.
Is the rise of ad blocking technology a concern for branded content?
It depends on the quality of the content and where it lives. Most of our content lives across social media platforms, which are very commercial and relatively unaffected so far.