Communications strategies in the age of ad blocking

by | Apr 16, 2018 | Analysis, Public Relations

Earlier this year, Google introduced a built-in ad filter to its browser, Chrome. It’s an uncanny tactic to preserve the viability of digital ads—by blocking the most intrusive ads by default, Google is hoping that users won’t turn to more stringent third party blockers.

And while many sites scrambled to avoid penalties on launch, its long-term effects remain to be seen.

Ad blockers are on the rise

PageFair reported that worldwide ad blocking had grown by 30 percent in 2016 with 615 million devices blocking ads by the year’s end. This has been enabled by expanding ad blocking options, which now include VPNs and mobile apps in addition to browser extensions. Most usage is motivated by security concerns (30 percent) and frustration with disruptive ad formats (29 percent). While Google’s filter seems built to address this, it initially flagged less than 1 percent of the world’s most trafficked websites. That’s not a number likely to drive demand down.

Rather, Chrome’s built-in filter represents a continuation of the general direction of online advertising in recent years. Websites are moving away from disruptive formats toward more acceptable ones. The more pressing question is what compromise publishers and audiences can reach.

Other means of reaching audiences, ranging from once niche ad formats to influencer marketing, have been in practice for some time now. Some are on the rise while others may have their viability challenged as the online environment continues to change.

Alternative advertising

Because most ad blockers filter content through pattern recognition, one popular way around them is through the use of ads that blend in with their host platforms. Native advertising is a quickly growing segment. It’s predicted that native in-app ads will generate the most revenue by 2020. It’s also relatively inoffensive, with around half of PageFair’s respondents expressing a preference for it.

Social media is an especially popular alternative because ad blockers can’t block ads that show up between Snapchat or Instagram stories, sponsored LinkedIn content, or Twitter cards. In the main feeds, users have the freedom to scroll right past ads, thus avoiding the frustration associated with most formats.

Sponsored content like advertorials also remain fairly popular as they offer a chance for both advertisers and publishers to benefit. Brands gain an unintrusive way to promote themselves while publishers can augment their revenue.

Content marketing

Content marketing remains an effective means for reaching audiences, as well. Strictly speaking, it may not be an alternative to advertising—most businesses employ both simultaneously—expanding a content strategy can still bring a business closer to its goals.

Brands with relatively small online presences, for instance, can benefit a lot from guest blogging. It’s easier to boost traffic by scoring a few posts on established websites than by making the arduous climb through Google’s results pages. Posts on trusted websites also bring in less tangible benefits, such as trust, influence, and the possibility for further content opportunities later on.

Another viable tactic is contributing posts to sites in other industries. Guest blogging within the same industry might get more relevant links and advance thought leadership, but posts in non-marketing sites are more likely to bring in sales.

Influencer marketing

Snapchat lost $1.3 billion after a tweet from Kylie Jenner tweeted “[Does] anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?” And while this is an extreme in terms of online influence, it is still a testament to the potential of influencer marketing.

Digital influencers are often touted for their dedicated and trusting fan bases. A report by Fullscreen found that around half of Gen Z and young millennial consumers trust influencers more than brands. Over a third of people who’ve engaged with influencers say they trust brands more after hearing them mentioned by one.

Not all influencers are equal, however. Content creators who got their start online and have reached anywhere from one million to 20 million followers—termed Digital Trailblazers—are the ones with the greatest influence. Out of all influencers, they’re the ones fans trust most (45%) and most likely to persuade them to purchase (28 percent).

Advertisers’ outlook

While the strategies mentioned have held firm despite the advance of ad blocking, all of them are undergoing their own changes based on various influences. Perhaps the most prominent is the growing hostility toward social media ads in the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica controversy.

As online markets continue to evolve, brands will find their advertising strategies challenged by more than just ad blockers. Adapting to these will most likely involve a mix of new digital tactics, as well as picking up tricks from other types of media, which have themselves survived the threat that digital media posed to them.

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